When it comes to fluency practice, students need something to read. But what? Really, any text that students can read independently works for practice:
- rereading familiar books
- Reader’s Theater scripts
- student newspapers (Scholastic News, Weekly Reader, etc.)
- joke books
- short poems
But if you’re looking for more targeted practice, leveled passages are an excellent resource.
Your mandated assessments may not recognize it, but you know: your students are different. They have individual strengths, worries, talents, skills, struggles, hopes…A single text cannot meet the needs of all your learners. To foster reading growth, we have to account for student differences. To teach fluency, students have to be working at their independent levels.
This doesn’t mean you need a separate passage for every student (although it can). An independent level doesn’t only mean just the next step above the student’s instructional level. Independence covers a broad range. Students reading on a middle-of-the-year level can practice fluency on a beginning-of-the-year difficulty.
Think about a grade-level text. With beginning 2nd graders, that might be a Henry and Mudge book. Some students in my class would be very frustrated if I expected them to read that book. But there are many students who could read it independently. For another group of students, this book would be a bit challenging, but with my support could read and understand it.
So if I’m assigning fluency passages, I look at my students’ levels. Let’s imagine my 4 lowest kids are on levels E, F, and 2 are on level G. I can give them all a passage on level D to practice. They will know all the words and can concentrate on reading in phrases, not pausing until they reach the punctuation, and all those other fluency skills.
My very lowest and very highest students may need personalized assignments, but typically I can select passages that will serve a large group of students. I separate my readers into low, medium, and high groups (based on my guided reading running records) and assign fluency passages accordingly (although if I have a wide range of levels I might need 2 medium groups).
Think about what works in your classroom. Another teacher on my team was a pro with Quick Reads. Her students had folders and they worked in partnerships to time and support each other. They graphed their data and tracked improvement. She used the themes from the Quick Reads to enrich her science and social studies times. It was beautiful! It was awesome! And it didn’t work for me–at all!!!
What did work for me was to send the passages home. Students read the same passage for a week. They work one-on-one with a parent, get corrective feedback, and track their progress on the page. If a child didn’t have the parental support to complete the assignment, I tried to have a parent volunteer work with that child during the week.
There are lots of ways to make leveled fluency passages work in your class. You just have to find a system that fits your style and the flow of your schedule.
Please note: timed repeated readings aren’t best practice for the earliest readers. They’re still learning concepts of print and basic sight words. Reading rate isn’t the biggest concern for them. Wait until students are at least at a mid-first grade level before starting timed readings.
As the issue of reading fluency has come to the forefront, the proliferation of resources has exploded. There are packaged curriculum available and dozens of passages on Pinterest. They all claim to help students, but how do you know what will best serve your readers?
- Is it leveled? Students need practice on their independent levels. You need to know which students the passage best fits.
- Is it short? It gets tedious to practice repeated readings on very long texts. 100 words is plenty for young readers. For higher reading levels, if it doesn’t fit on a single page, it’s getting too long.
- Does it use sight words? Students can’t be fluent if they don’t know the words. They need multiple exposure to sight words to really internalize them. When selecting passages, you want students to be exposed to new vocabulary, but not overloaded. If the text is full of words like photosynthesis, exculpate, and hermitage–uncommon words in every day language–they will have a hard time reading fluently.
- Does it introduce children to a variety of genres? A single passage would fit in a single genre, of course, but our goal is for children to read widely in a variety of genres. Look for collections of passages that make use of personal narrative, how-to, informational, realistic fiction, and simple fantasy. For more advanced readers, look for historical fiction, biography, persuasive, science fiction, mysteries…different genres require different skills. We want students to develop those skills.
- Does it foster comprehension? The ultimate goal of all this fuss over fluency is to increase comprehension. A quality passage (or program) has a built-in comprehension focus.
Students read 5 passages on related topics during the course of the week. Teaches vocabulary and sight words. Students must answer comprehension questions.
Uses leveled audio texts to improve students’ fluency. [I have not personally used this program.]
Leveled plays for groups of students.
Fluency passages from levels F-Z. Also Reader’s Theater scripts are available.
Many teachers have posted fluency passages on TPT. Be selective; not all passages are created equal! We have worked hard to make ours effective at boosting students’ fluency and comprehension. Check out Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade. You can find passages organized by level here. We also have letter name, letter sound, and segmenting and blending fluency available.
If you decide you want to send home fluency homework, you might be interested in this post about getting the most out of fluency homework.
Whether or not you use our fluency resources, we hope that this post has provided you with some insight on why fluency is important and how to tackle it with your students.