I’m continuing to look at ways to improve my students’ reading fluency using The Fluent Reader by Tim Rasinski. In this post, I explore building reading fluency through read alouds. You can also read my post on building fluency through supported reading and an introduction to The Fluent Reader. As with nearly everything in teaching students, fluency should be taught and practiced following a gradual release model. (Note: Links in this post are affiliate links)
The first way Dr. Rasinski suggests to increase reading fluency is by modeling fluent reading to students by reading aloud. Read alouds help build interest in reading. They increase students’ vocabulary by exposing them to words they likely wouldn’t hear in everyday speech. Read alouds help build students’ syntactical understanding of language. By reading aloud, students hear a model for intonation, expression, and phrasing. They learn that reading isn’t only about reading the words accurately, though that is one component. They hear what “good reading” sounds like.
The great news is that elementary teachers read aloud daily, usually multiple times a day. However, as students move up in grades, the frequency of read alouds decreases. Students are also more likely to only hear fictional texts read aloud, as opposed to non-fiction texts. These are things to be mindful of and consciously work to change. Dr. Rasinski also suggests some things to consider:
Find a time of day to dedicate to oral reading. For myself, and many other elementary teachers, that’s the time after lunch and recess. I use this time to read chapter books aloud. In the past, I’ve generally reserved picture books as mentor texts in reading, writing, and content minilessons. However, I’ve recently implemented Classroom Book a Day and I’m so happy that I did. Classroom Book a Day includes a read aloud text every single day. While I don’t always stick to the “reading aloud only for enjoyment” intention with it, 90% of the texts I read aren’t an interactive read aloud. Having an additional 180 texts in common with my students has allowed us to deepen our comprehension work as well. You can read more about Classroom Book a Day from Jillian Hiese on her site.
Create an atmosphere of comfort for read alouds. Have a special location with dim lights and a homey feel. This helps keep students excited and engaged in the read aloud, and also helps to build the innate comfort of reading. I do all of my read alouds together with my students on the rug. I like the closeness with my students and I think it helps bring them into the stories we read.
Book Selection for Read Alouds
Book selection is probably the most important component of reading aloud. Books you know well, books you are excited about, will be read with the best expression and will ooze with your excitement. Think about the books you remember from your childhood, the ones that were the most impactful on you, and those are the books you want to share with your students.
Expose students to well known authors that they may not yet be exposed to. Some of my favorite authors with books that beg to be read aloud are Chris Van Allsburg, David Shannon, Mo Willems, Jan Brett, Judith Viorst, Dr. Seuss, Kate DiCamillo, and Roald Dahl.
Award winners are a great source for book selection. The ALA, the American Library association, awards many different achievements throughout the year. The Caldecott Medal is awarded to an illustrator with unique and amazing illustrations in a book. The Newbery Medal is given to the author of the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature. The Coretta Scott King Awards are given to outstanding African American authors and illustrators each year. There are a number of lesser known awards and lists that the ALA also distributes. The Seuss award is given to notable beginning reader books. The Sibert Informational award is given to the best informational book released during the preceding year. The Schneider Family Book Award honors an author or illustrator that demonstrates the experience of a child with disabilities. The ALA also gives a list of notable contributions to children’s literature each year.
There are also a number of different awards given throughout each year. The Best Books for Young Adults was given by the Young Adult Library Services organization through 2010. It also included a list of the Top 10 YA books for the year. That list has since evolved into the Best Fiction for Young Adults lists. The Printz Award is given for literary excellence in young adult literature. The Edwards Award honors an author, and that author’s work, for a significant and timeless contribution to young adult literature.
Dr. Rasinski, in The Fluent Reader, offers many other award lists and ideas that are great resources for read aloud texts.
The Read Aloud Handbook
Now in its 7th edition, The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, offers 380 pages detailing the importance of reading aloud to children as well as more than half the book dedicated to suggested read aloud books.
One of the best ways to find ideas for books is from other teachers. On Instagram, the hashtag #childrensbooks gives many amazing suggestions with a pictorial glimpse into the book. Some of my favorites accounts and hashtags: DiverseReads, WeNeedDiverseBooks, #diversebooks, #diversereads, and Pernille Ripp. Teacher bloggers often share books they’ve loved in their classroom on Instagram, blogs, and their Facebook pages. Pinterest is filled with book recommendations for read alouds as well as mentor texts for mini-lessons. I have a Pinterest board dedicated to children’s books.
The teachers and staff members at your building, as well as local librarians, often have favorites and ideas for books you may not yet know about. Perhaps you can have a shared spot in your building where teachers can share fantastic texts that are less well known. Finally, your students are often great resources. Are there ways you can have students offer book recommendations for each other? Technology has allowed us to give this opportunities in new ways: video recommendations, commercials, etc. are fun ways for students to get involved in the process. You could also tie in persuasive writing as well.
Modeling & Thinking Aloud
Read alouds are also a time for you to demonstrate the components of reading fluency for students. They are an opportunity for you to reinforce your previous lessons on fluency, or to give them for the first time. There are 3 major areas of reading fluency: prosody, accuracy, and automaticity. Automaticity is automatic reading; being able to read without having to focus on the words. This is typically done through analyzing a student’s reading rate (the number of words read in one minute). Accuracy is just that; the accurate reading of a text. Of course, students increase their accuracy through improving their decoding skills as well as increasing their vocabulary. Self-monitoring, and self-correcting, should be taught explicitly to students, and read alouds are a perfect time to showcase students what self-monitoring looks like. You can see more about self-monitoring in my post.
Finally, prosody is the reader sounds when reading aloud. Prosody incorporates expression, punctuation, inflection, phrasing, and again, pace. Typically we explain it with students by telling them it means they are reading like they’re talking. Or, they aren’t reading like a robot. Prosody is crucial in read alouds as it’s our opportunity to show students what good reading sounds like. It’s our chance for them to listen to us, instead of their peers or themselves.
Dr. Rasinski includes additional components of read alouds, including conducting the read aloud and various aspects of responses. You can find that information, plus much more detailed information on reading aloud and reading fluency in his book The Fluent Reader.