A couple of years ago my husband and I took our daughter skiing for the second time. The first time had been so many years before she couldn’t remember so she was starting from scratch. She spent most of the morning standing up and falling down. Little by little the distance she went between falls expanded and she was actually making it down the hill but it was still kind of painful. This continued for much of the afternoon but by the end, she was able to make it all the way down the slope without falling and she was even able to pick up speed and turn a bit. That is when skiing stopped being painful and started being fun.
The same holds true for reading. In the beginning all of the energy is going into connecting symbols with sounds, then, once that is achieved, looking at entire words and understanding them without sounding them out. For most of us, in our first languages this happens in elementary school but when we learn a foreign language we have to start all over again (especially if our first language doesn’t use the same alphabet as the language we are learning). This is kind of like the experience of going snowboarding after years of skiing. When I did this, I learned that even though it kind of looks similar, it is totally different and I was a total beginner all over again.
Attaining fluency is the goal of most language learners but when most students think of fluency, they are usually thinking about speaking, not reading. Reading fluency is just as important though because without fluency, both comprehension and the enjoyment of reading go way down.
Strategies for Teaching Reading Fluency
1. Choose a text that is at a level accessible to the students (both grammatically and lexically). Fluency exercises are not the place to introduce a whole bunch of new vocabulary or get them all tangled up with the future perfect conditional in the passive voice. Fluency is about building speed and grace while reading. It is about opening up enough mental space that the reader can read and comprehend simultaneously.
2. Repeat readings – this is a fairly simple exercise that takes very little preparation and can be used as a warm up. Put students into pairs, one person is the reader and the other is the listener. Give them a set amount of time, say 90 seconds, and ask them to read as much as they can. When the timer goes off, they need to mark the last word they read. Then switch roles and the reader becomes the listener and visa versa. After round one, keep the time the same and ask the students to try to read faster and again mark the last word they read. Do this for 3 rounds challenging students to read faster and faster.
3. Echo Reading- Read a paragraph (or two if they are very short) at a natural, fluid rate so students can listen to pronunciation and hear how a text read aloud fluently sounds. Then ask them to read the same passage back to you (if you are working one on one with a student). If you are working with a whole class full of students, have them read it to another student.
4. Recorded Reading– ask students to read a paragraph or a page of text depending on length and student level. Have them read along to their own recording listening for places they want to practice more, (either they made a mistake or they struggled with something in the text) and highlighting those places. Working with you or with another student, practice the words and phrases that were difficult. Then have them record themselves reading the text again paying special attention to those places they wanted to improve.