No More Robot Reading!

Hi everyone!  I am thrilled to be here collaborating with the talented teachers at Adventures in Literacy Land! It is such a fun journey we are embarking on and I am excited that you are joining us!

First, a bit about me. I'm Bex from Reading and Writing Redhead. I grew up in New England and after college went straight to Lesley College to get my M.Ed because I wanted to teach elementary school. Soon afterwards, I began teaching second grade. I love it but have always been an avid reader and had the idea of becoming a reading teacher in the back of my mind so a few years ago I began a program and got my M.Ed in the reading specialist program. I am looking forward to becoming a reading specialist or literacy coach. For now I am delighted to be able to use what I have learned to improve my teaching and help my second grade students. As a member of the teaching team, I also bring my skills and knowledge to the table when we collaborate, which I hope also benefits other teachers who read these blogs.

Today I want to share some ideas with you about fluency.

Teaching children to read can be a challenge! Once they start to get the gist, I start to think of what to do to encourage them to read with expression. It seems like some students just are naturally good at it but others needs more specific guidance than just my first strategy of teacher modeling.

There are a few things I have tried that really help students learn to become better at reading with expression.

I was discussing repeated reading with a colleague recently. Repeated reading of short stories and short non-fiction articles is terrific for fluency in general, as is rereading phrases, but working on phrases, especially those that go from one word, to two, to three, until the full phrase is great. It gives students opportunities to try different voicing.
For example:

I found that the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR)  website has some terrific resources in this area and I am using their phrases for my fluency partners right now. We are only using the single phrases, like here (pages 20-24), but I have uses the repeated  phrases like above in small groups with success. A link to their Fluent Phrasing which I use is here, on pages 1-7.

Perhaps one of the best ways to improve student's use of expression when reading is to start at zero on how emotion is expressed in dialogue.

A simple way you can work on this is to come up with a bunch of situations that students could act out in front of the class or in a small group. You could either wing it or write them down on index cards in advance - perhaps even on Popsicle sticks and have students draw them at random when you have 3 minutes to spare. For example, a situation might be: "You think your brother stole your diary and are going to accuse him". Ask the students what you would say (maybe "You stole my diary!", "I know you took it!", or "Don't lie!" ) and ask for volunteers to play the kid and the brother in a brief skit. Really encourage the students to imagine what they would sound like in real life and use that to put some emotion and expression into their voice. I can imagine maybe an example with you showing how it would sound with no expression would have an impact, too.

Here is a cool resource with little mini lessons by Nora Zabst (click here). She states that the goal for students is to work on "using different strategies to read texts with dialogue with expression and prosody". It is broken down into sections: Read fluently by noticing dialogue, understand different ways dialogue can be written, read dialogue by using dialogue tags and more.  Each includes kid-friendly videos that you can show to your students.

Somewhat related to the last idea is Reader's Theater. When you use reader's theater scripts, students are encouraged to use pausing, intonation, and inflection and to read with expression.  I found this is one of my favorite activities to do in RTI Tier 1 with all of my reading groups. There are so many great free resources out there that it makes it easy to implement and easy to differentiate. Little tip: To prevent arguments over who gets what part or having to decide myself, I take the littlest sticky notes, write parts on them, fold them in half, drop them in a plastic bag, and have students pick them randomly. Then I attach the bag to the scripts for the next time. If I have forgotten to do this in advance, I sometimes write each part on a small index card, fan them out upside down like playing cards and have students pick one.

Additionally, there are some videos that show students using great expression which are useful for teachers but also could be shown to students as an example. Check this one out from The Balanced Literacy Diet channel on YouTube:

Reading (and writing poetry) is one of my all time favorite things to do with students. It is so rich with opportunities. When reading poems like those of Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky, it can seem easier for students to use expressions. Rather than rephrase what someone else has explained well, check out this great resource from the site Poetry Teachers (click here). It has a terrific short poem ( I think short poems are great to start with when working on using expression- start short and work on longer poems over time) and discusses varying pitch, volume, rate, and what words could be emphasized.

What are your favorite ways of helping students learn to read with expression?


  1. Great post with lots of wonderful suggestions. I love using reader's theater to practice fluency. I just recently recorded them on the iPad, and we are going to self-assess with a fluency rubric.

    Eclectic Educating

  2. I love recording my students too. A variation of reader's theatre is radio reading where you have partners pretend they are radio announcers. They rehearse (repeated reading) to perfect their expression, and perform their final version for the class. You could make a fake microphone for them to use and even videotape them for an end of the year parent gift.

  3. Great post, Bex! I LOVE the FCRR site, even though I'm a Canadian teacher! There are so many awesome center activities all ready to go... love them! Thanks for sharing all these ideas and resources! :)

    Mrs. Beattie's Classroom

  4. How did I miss this post?!? Great post on fluency. My students really enjoy the fluency builders. Thanks!