Gain Reading Fluency through Repeated Readings and My Fluency Drills

December 22, 2011 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Articles

Once children learn a word, they become more and more automatic at recognizing it with repeated exposure to it. After awhile it becomes something like a logo, recognized instantly. The more words a reader recognizes automatically, the more fluently the reader will be able to read text. When readers don’t develop fluent reading, they have difficulty understanding what they read, so fluency is critical to skilled reading. Unfortunately, while some beginning readers learn to recognize words automatically after very few exposures, other readers need to read the word many, many times before it becomes automatic. For a thorough discussion on fluency, there’s an excellent article on the ldonline website written by N. Mather and Sam Goldstein(2001)

Regardless of what you read about fluency development, repeated readings continue to be recommended as a means of promoting fluency. After reading the suggestion to do repeated readings with high frequency words in phrases in places including the National Reading Panel Report, Perspectives, and the Journal of Learning Disabilities, I began creating such a set of drills for my students. The result was a set of 12 drills that are fairly simple, and easy to use in a variety of settings.

To begin, I needed to research high frequency words. It’s interesting to note that there are a number of lists out there. When you put them side by side, there are some variations, but, as you’d expect, a great deal in common. The words taught in my drills are numbered according to the Rank Listing of word frequencies in the American Heritage Word Frequency Book (Copyright©1971 by Houghton Mifflin Company, adapted and reproduced by permission from The American Heritage Word Frequency Book). With my fluency drills you receive a list of the words taught in each of the 12 drills, generally 8-10 new words and some review words. The words are listed with their frequency number, and generally proceed from one to 100, with some give and take in order to create sensible phrases. There are around 7-10 phrases per page, which repeat randomly.

Because of the sequence in which they are taught, the first drills are appropriate for reading practice even as young as kindergarten, if the children have been taught them. By taught, I mean that many can be sounded out, especially if syllable types are taught. Those that can’t, need to be creatively taught and practiced. During my years in the kindergarten classroom we did art projects, used rubber stamps, playdough and letter cookie cutters, and other fun activities to practice spelling and reading those special “naughty” words that didn’t follow the rules.

The first 100 high frequency words tend to be words that tie the important, or content, words together in a sentence. They are the frequent little words like “the,” “of,” “his,” “my,” “is,” or “has.” Because the first 25 words are about a third of the words children will be reading, and the first 100 are about half of the words in all written material, mastering these 100 can help produce fluency and natural phrasing. For instance, if the child has mastered fluent reading of “is in the,” (drill one) then reading a story with the sentence “The cat is in the hat.” will leave just cat and hat for the child to figure out.

I’ve had motivated kindergarten students, after a year in a good phonological program with instruction in syllable types, complete all 12 drills, and be remarkably fluent readers. I’ve used the drills in special education as well, with good success. Older students can be tested on spelling these words, and given practice mastering those that haven’t been learned at the same time. Spelling teaches reading.

The drill package comes with a progress chart you can use to track student work. I used to tape the chart on the left side of a laminated manilla folder, and then staple succeeding drills on top of each other on the right side. Once the children pass a drill, based on recommendations for a given age, you can put stickers on the progress chart as part of celebrating their success. When I used these drills in a large school with many first and second grade special education students, the children all cheered each other on. There was great excitement every time someone passed a drill. When your students pass the 12th drill, be sure to reward them with a certificate, which you can download free from this site.