Fluency is the ability to read text with automaticity, accuracy, and good prosody.

According to the NRP (2000), fluency instruction is one of the five major components of a research-based reading program. Good prosody involves chunking words into appropriate phrases of meaningful units based on the syntactic features of the text (Kuhn & Stahl, 2000); it is what we refer to as good expression. Prosody aids comprehension.

In other words, fluency is that quality of oral language that allows the reader to read text quickly, accurately, and with almost effortless comprehension. According to Kuhn & Stahl (2000), prosody includes: (a) stress (some words may receive more emphasis than others); (b) pitch (the rise and fall in sound patterns); and (c) juncture (appropriate text phrasing). Fluent reading is the bridge to comprehension.

Fluency is more complex and essential to comprehension than most of us realize. It is not about learning to read faster; it is about the time it provides the reader for constructing meaning from text as she or he is reading - the ultimate goal of reading. The more time a student saves by fluent decoding, the more time she or he has to monitor the text for meaning, and the more likely she or he will correctly interpret text.

Fluency is a complex, lengthy, developmental process that involves all the early phases of reading acquisition. It also includes all the levels of reading from sublexical letter fluency to word-level to connected-text level fluency. The phonological, orthographic, morphological, syntactic, and semantic linguistic systems contribute to fluency.


Why do so many striving readers have difficulties with fluency? - Select Question 2 and read the transcript of the four reasons why a student may have difficulties with fluency.

The importance of fluency instruction for comprehension development is also highlighted in Put Reading First (Armbruster, Lehr, & Osborn, 2001), where it is second only to vocabulary instruction. Teachers should be as explicit in helping a student read fluently as they are in teaching them to decode a word accurately. Until recently, fluency had been one of the most neglected skills in reading (Allington, 1983). Fluency instruction is included in phonemic awareness, letter naming, sound-letter associations, sight words, and oral reading of connected text. Teaching the subskills of fluency makes them readily available to combine them with other skills and perform more complex tasks (Chard, Simmons, & Kameenui, 1995; Haughton, 1972; Johnson & Layng, 1992). For example, when a student learns to recognize letters fluently, this skill readily promotes the fluent acquisition of letter sounds, which enhances fluent word recognition, which then leads to improved comprehension.

Carreker (2002) notes that for many striving readers, reading difficulty manifests itself in a lack of fluency skills - even when students have improved decoding skills. Moreover, it is well established that many students with reading disabilities have difficulty with fluency (Lyon, 1995; Mercer, Campbell, Miller, Mercer, & Lane, 2000). Fortunately, fluency instruction appears to be a promising intervention for students with and without reading problems.

Fluency in reading text is highly correlated to reading comprehension. Why should teachers target fluency instruction?

  • In a sample of fourth graders, the NAEP found a close relationship between fluency and reading comprehension (i.e., low fluency students had difficulty with comprehension) (PRF, 2001).
  • When a lot of effort is expended on decoding a word, less energy and capacity remain for comprehension (Pressley, 2000).
  • Students lose motivation in reading-related activities and tend to fall further behind when prosodic cues are not used (Nathan & Stanovich, 1991).
  • Systematic fluency instruction improves both oral reading rates (Rasinski & Padak, 1994) and students' fluency and comprehension, when compared to traditional instruction using a basal reader (Kuhn & Stahl, 2000).
  • In a sample of middle school students with reading disabilities, Fuchs, Fuchs, and Maxwell (1988) reported a .91 correlation between oral-reading rate of text and reading comprehension scores from a widely used standardized measure.

Fluent readers are more likely to read independently on their own time. As reported in the table below, Anderson found that students who read at higher percentiles (i.e., fluent readers) do more independent reading than students who read at lower percentiles (i.e., nonfluent readers) (Kameenui, 2000).

Table 8.1

Percentile Rank

Words Read Per Year: Books

Words Read Per Year: Text
















Theories on Fluency Instruction

There are a number of potentially promising theories that could help educators understand the role of fluency in learning to read and reading to learn. Please click on the information icon on the left to learn more about these theories.

Research from NRP

The NRP reviewed 364 studies on guided oral reading research (of which 16 met criteria for meta-analysis and 21 were used for qualitative interpretations). This review found that:

  • Guided repeated oral reading procedures that included guidance from teachers, peers, or parents had a significant and positive impact on word recognition, fluency, and comprehension across a range of grade levels.
  • Similar results, with a variety of instructional materials, were achieved across special- and regular-education classrooms.. The results apply to good readers and those with reading difficulties.

In the NRP findings on studies of independent silent reading (of which 14 met criteria):

  • Positive correlational data exist between amount of independent reading and fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
  • Causal data are lacking between independent reading and improvements in reading achievement, including fluency. More research is needed to support independent reading.

Parallels in Reading Development and Fluency Development

The stages of reading development provide a nice context for understanding the parallels in reading development and fluency development. These parallels offer insights about when and how to conduct fluency assessments and fluency interventions.

Please see the Parallels in Reading and Fluency Development chart. In stages 1 and 2, reading subskills are primarily the target of assessments, and fluency instruction focuses on building speed in reading subskills. In stages 3 through 6, oral and silent reading rates, along with comprehension checks, are the primary targets of fluency assessments, and interventions focus on building oral reading rate as vocabulary difficulty increases.

Stage 3, Confirmation and Fluency, is a key stage for understanding the learning progress possibilities of older students. Many older students who struggle with reading may be in this stage and are capable of rapid progress, if given reading instruction that includes oral reading, fluency practice, and progress monitoring (Mercer, Campbell, Miller, Mercer, & Lane, 2000). Many of these students may be poised to make significant reading progress, especially if they experience the feel of fluency reading for the first time in their school career. The fluent reading experience can be accomplished by having an older student repeatedly read a lower grade-level reading passage at a fluent level and then gradually increase the reading difficulty of subsequent passages selected for repeated readings.

Techniques for Improving Fluency

We need to remember that the goal is reading comprehension. We want our readers to read fluently and understand what they have read.

We want students to comprehend what they are reading. For students to become fluent readers, teachers must incorporate fluency instruction in the classroom.

There are many things students can do to improve decoding skills, build sight vocabulary, and improve fluency.

When working on these reading subskills for fluent reading, always spend some time reading to these students and identifying some of the letters, words, or sounds used in stories that they are learning.



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