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Handout: Building fluency

Fluent readers can read with speed, 

Fluent readers can read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression and usually have well-developed word recognition skills (National Reading Panel 2000). If a student takes a great deal of time to figure out each word in a text, however, the meaning of a sentence or a paragraph is usually lost. As Hirsch (2003) describes:

Have you ever tried to understand what is being said in a movie in a foreign language (say in French) that you have studied in school? Even if you know the words, isn’t it frustrating that they speak so fast? While you are trying to work out what the actors just said, they are already saying something else, and your mind gets overloaded.

Fluency is inter-related with word knowledge and what Hirsch (2003) calls domain (or subject area or content) knowledge. That is, knowing many words helps the reader recognize other words and speeds up reading in general. Also, prior knowledge about the topic aids in basic comprehension and lets the reader focus on making connections between new information from the text and information the reader has already learned.

Recommendations for effective instruction

Studies support the use of repeated reading—that is, having students read passages aloud multiple times while receiving guidance or feedback from peers, parents, or teachers. This practice helps improve students’ reading ability, at least through fifth grade, and helps improve struggling readers much later as well (National Reading Panel 2000).


This research review was prepared for the Center for Public Education by freelance writer Eileen M. O'Brien with additional editorial contributions from Sally Banks Zakariya. Much of O'Brien's work has focused on access to quality education for disadvantaged and minority populations. She has a master of public administration from George Washington University and a bachelor of science degree in psychology from Loyola University of Chicago. Zakariya, a free-lance writer based in Arlington, Virginia, is former editor-in-chief of American School Board Journal and director of publications for the National School Boards Association.

Posted: March 6, 2009

©Center for Public Education

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