If you want to help developing readers improve reading fluency skills, using repeated readings is one of the most impactful strategies out there. You really can’t get more bang for your fluency instruction buck than with repeated readings! But there are a few key components needed for a successful repeated reading.
Accuracy and Automaticity in Reading Fluency
Of all the components of reading fluency, accuracy is the most important.
Why? If a student is using most of their brainpower to figure out the words on the page, they can’t focus on the meaning of what they’re reading. And since comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading, that means we need to focus on building automaticity for readers.
When students read more accurately, their reading automaticity improves.
According to Reading Rockets, “Automaticity is the fast, effortless word recognition that comes with a great deal of reading practice. In the early stages of learning to read, readers may be accurate but slow and inefficient at recognizing words. Continued reading practice helps word recognition become more automatic, rapid, and effortless.”
When we prioritize building automaticity, reading becomes more efficient so mental energy is freed up for comprehension.
This is where repeated readings come in.
Using Repeated Readings to Improve Fluency
Repeated reading is just what it sounds like–a student reading the same text multiple times. The number of times depends on the situation, but 3-4 times is a good average.
The student is timed reading the chosen text aloud for 1 minute. The teacher notes each mistake (it’s helpful if the teacher has her own copy of the text for this reason) and counts the total words read in 1 minute. The errors are subtracted from that total leaving the score how many words correct per minute (WCPM).
At this point, you can ask the reader to give a retelling or answer questions about the text. Then after giving feedback (more on that below), the student rereads the text again with a goal in mind. The repeated reading practice continues, sometimes over several days, until the student reaches a goal (specific level of accuracy, rate, understanding, etc.) or until the student has read the text 3-4 times.
Why You Should Use Repeated Readings
Repeated readings offer a reader the opportunity to become more familiar with a text by rereading it aloud multiple times. As they repeatedly read a text, they get opportunities to practice using their sight word knowledge and word attack skills, getting more efficient with each reread. Then as they become more comfortable with the text, their ability to comprehend increases.
Studies have shown that repeated readings improve reading ability across the board for all students. So this is a strategy you can use for all of your students, no matter their reading level.
Repeated reading improved reading fluency and comprehension…not only on the passages with which students previously used the strategy, but also with new passages.”
– Therrien, W.J. (Study: Fluency & Comprehension Gains as a Result of Repeated Readings, 2004)
That study showed that the skills they gain in their repeated reading practice actually transfer to reading new texts too!
How You Should Use Repeated Readings
Now you know that repeated readings are important but how should you use them to build reading fluency skills?
Repeated Readings Should Be Adult-Led
Research has shown that adult-led repeated readings lead to significantly greater gains than peer-led repeated readings. This finding indicates that adults, not peers, should implement repeated reading. So it’s great to have classroom reading buddies, but it shouldn’t be your sole method of practicing fluency with repeated readings.
You can outsource this! We want repeated reading to be adult-led, but that doesn’t mean it has to be led by YOU. Parent volunteers or aides can be trained on what fluent reading sounds like. They can listen to students and give feedback.
We tackle the need for repeated readings to be adult-led by sending home fluency homework (with parent instructions and weekly parent tips). It’s a great opportunity for parents to learn about fluent reading and give students that adult-led support they need. Read more about how we many fluency homework here.
But that may not be the best solution for your class. Do what works for you!
Give A Purpose for Repeated Readings and Offer Feedback
It’s also important to give students a purpose when they reread a text. You can ask the student to reread with a fluency goal in mind by giving feedback and then offering a suggestion. For example, “Can you reread the text, making sure to continue reading each sentence until you reach the punctuation?” or with a comprehension goal like, “Let’s reread to find out why the main character’s feelings changed.”
When students finish their repeated reading, give them feedback. Point out what they did well with specific examples related to the goal they were given before reading. Offer tips for further practice on another re-read. Making students aware of the skill they’re demonstrating will help them continue to use that skill in the future.
Feedback and goal setting gives students a goal to work toward during subsequent readings so that additional practice is purposeful and not a mindless drill.
When students are cued to focus on either speed or comprehension before they begin reading, their rates in BOTH areas increase. A 2004 study says “the greatest improvements are seen when students are cued to focus on comprehension alone or on both fluency and comprehension together.”
Another way to give purpose to repeated readings is by practicing a text that will be performed, such as a reader’s theater, a poem, or maybe even a joke! All of those texts provide a built-in purpose for re-reading and an end goal. They learn to adjust their reading fluency skills (rate, emphasis, tone, phrasing) for maximum effect for their audience’s enjoyment and understanding. This is a really authentic way to do repeated reading practice.
A Repeated Reading in Action
Let’s give an example scenario with a student named Jorge.
- I give Jorge a copy of the passage and I have one copy for myself too so I can note what words he reads correctly.
- I ask Jorge to read the text aloud (while I time for one minute).
- After the minute ends, I note home many words he read, subtract the errors he made, leaving the total score of words correct per minute. WPM (Words Read Per Minute) – Errors = WCPM (Words Correct Per Minute)
- After the reading, I ask Jorge to tell me a little about what he read or ask him a specific question about the text.
- Then I give him feedback on his reading, “I noticed that you used your voice to emphasize a word in this sentence. That helped me know that word was important to the meaning.”
- Next, I give Jorge a purpose for rereading the text again. “Let’s reread to figure out what the author’s purpose was in writing this story.”
- And then Jorge reads the text again.
Remember, this might happen in one sitting or it may happen over several days.
Want to try out repeated reading with your students?
We have a free sampler of fluency passages for you to try out this impactful method with your students!
The Pitfalls of Repeated Readings
Make the most of your repeated reading practice by avoiding these pitfalls:
- Don’t make the mistake of replacing your reading instruction with fluency practice. Students grow in fluency as they learn the skills of successful readers. Repeated readings are a means to accelerate that process, but they are not enough to drive it. Keep teaching reading!
- Don’t make the mistake of focusing solely on rate. Fluency is more than speed, and reading is more than fluency. Students need to know that! Keep the importance of fluency in perspective and make sure that students aren’t always working toward rate goals. Help them develop expression, phrasing, and accuracy as well.
- Don’t make the mistake of expecting all students to have the same rate. Adults read at different rates and children do too. When you look at charts of suggested words per minute, a successful student only needs to be at the 50th percentile to be on-target. It is unrealistic to expect all students to be at the 75th or 90th percentile. Acknowledge that there’s a wide-band of “normal” rates. (This post from Reading Rockets breaks down some grade level rate goals.)
- Don’t make the mistake of forgetting comprehension. The reason we want to increase fluency is to aid comprehension. Make sure your students recognize that they should be thinking about what they read and not just racing through it to get a higher score.
Essentials for Repeated Reading Success
- Choose a text that’s on the student’s independent level. Students can’t read fluently if they can’t read accurately! We like to use leveled passages so we can be sure we’ve chosen a text that’s in the student’s independent level range (about 1-4 reading levels easier than the student’s instructional level.)
- Give feedback. Don’t be shy with complimenting your student on their reading fluency skills. And also offer a suggestion for something specific they can work on the next time they read the passage. With some students, we like to graph their reading fluency growth so they can celebrate how their reading has improved over time. Read more about using reading fluency growth charts.
- Remember comprehension. The goal of reading is for students to comprehend what they read! Give students opportunities to use their comprehension skills with their repeated reading practice by asking them to retell what they read or asking them specific questions about the text. We like to use close reading style questions with our repeated reading practice.
- Give a purpose for rereading. This can look like rereading a text to improve skills before a performance, rereading to learn more about the text, or rereading to practice a fluency skill like phrasing or emphasis.