Evidence-Based Practices: Read Connected Text to Support Reading Accuracy and Fluency

Read Connected Text to Support Reading Accuracy and Fluency



What is reading fluency?

Reading fluency is a combination of three different skills: rate (how quickly one reads), accuracy (miscues made while reading), and prosody (reading with expression and pausing for punctuation). Fluency is the focus of the 4th Reading Rockets module as part of Eagle Academy’s professional development program around literacy skills.  Reading Rockets defines fluency as “the ability to read a text with accuracy, automaticity, and prosody (expression) sufficient to enable comprehension. Fluency is a key skill to becoming a strong reader because it provides a bridge between word recognition and comprehension.”

Although practices such as building sight word recognition will benefit a student’s overall reading fluency, a bulk of research indicates that students also need to read “connected text” (multiple related sentences, not just isolated words or phrases) daily for maximum improvement of reading fluency skills.  Teachers should begin reading connected texts with students as soon as students can read a few words.  Students need to read texts of varying levels (easier texts to practice reading rate and more challenging texts to practice reading accuracy), decodable texts, informational texts, narrative texts, a wide range of genres, a wide range of content, aloud with a more skilled reader providing corrective feedback, silently without feedback, etc.

What does research say about reading fluency?

  • Fluent readers can focus their attention on what the text means since they do not have to exert as much energy toward decoding the words. They can make connections among the ideas in the text and their background knowledge. In other words, fluent readers recognize words and comprehend at the same time. Less fluent readers, however, must focus their attention on figuring out the words, leaving them little attention for understanding the meaning of text (Reading Rockets, 2017).
  • The connection between silent passage reading comprehension and oral reading fluency rates is directly linked, with the number of words read per minute impacting proficiency scores on national comprehension assessments (LETRS, Module 5, 2009 analysis of NAEP data).
  • Reading fluency issues are evident in the early stages of reading development, at the time students are acquiring word attack skills (LETRS, Module 5, 2009; Speece and Ritchey 2005).
  • Early reading instruction needs to target not only word recognition but also fluent word recognition (LETRS, Module 5, 2009, reference to Chall study).

The What Works Clearinghouse report, “Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten through Third Grade”, indicates “moderate evidence” for teaching reading connected text to support reading accuracy and fluency (pgs. 38-44, portions of report excerpted below):

(https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/PracticeGuide/wwc_foundationalreading_040717.pdf#page=20 )

Teaching students to read connected text was one of the practices identified by the National Reading Panel (NRP).

How should reading fluency be taught?

The progression of skills from easiest to hardest is less clear for reading fluency than for other reading skills. There are, however, specific areas of instruction that can be targeted to enhance a student’s reading fluency, and each skill can be taught with a progression from easiest to most difficult (Ex: teachers start with easier high frequency words first and move to more challenging ones, and teachers select the number of high frequency words to target weekly based on the age/grade/skill level of their students).  Skills to target include:

  1. Practicing letter-sound fluency
  • Move from less challenging to more challenging sound patterns
  • Pick an appropriate number of sound patterns to target per week based on student age/grade/skill level
  • Practice all sounds with a focus on rapid naming/automaticity
  1. Teaching students to apply word-reading strategies
  • Outline transferable strategies such as:
    • Looking for parts you know (letters/sounds, expectancies such as final e, prefixes/suffixes)
    • Sounding it out (start at beginning and blend)
    • Checking if it makes sense (reread sentence to see if word fits)
  • Model the strategy as a teacher when you read an unfamiliar word on the board, in a book, or in the morning message
  • Regularly encourage students to apply the strategy when they encounter difficulty
  1. Targeting and reinforcing high frequency words
  • Move from less challenging to more challenging words
  • Pick an appropriate number of words per week based on student age/grade/skill level
  1. Completing varied oral and silent reading activities
  • Guided reading
  • Choral reading
  • Partner reading
  • Echo reading
  • Modeled reading
  • Repeated reading
  • Timed Reading
  • Readers’ theatre
  • Morning message
  • Variety of texts (decodable, slightly challenging, informational, narrative, etc.)


Each skill is outlined below, with sample activities to target each skill. A more comprehensive list of sample activities is available via the “reading fluency” tab on the literacy portal.


  1. Practicing Letter-Sound Fluency


Research demonstrates that if students are spending less time figuring out the sounds in words, they can read more fluently.  For this reason, practicing rapid recognition/naming of individual sounds or letter patterns will benefit students as they build the “orthographic representations” of sounds needed for rapidly reading/spelling words.

Sample Activity 1:


Speed Air Writing Sound Patterns: Teacher calls out a sound (can be a sound made by an individual letter such as /p/ in “pig” or sound made by letter combination such as /ou/ made in “out”.  Students must quickly trace the letters that match the sound in the air.  Teacher monitors by watching their tracing and corrects/prompts students as needed.

Sample Activity 2:


Timed Reading: Timed reading is not just for books or short passages! You can use timed letter or timed sound reading to assess students’ letter-sound fluency.  This is a good way to practice letters/sounds, track student progress, and build letter-sound fluency.  Create a list of all the letters/sounds you plan introduce over the course of a year.  List them clearly and separately on a sheet, and administer this as a timed letter or timed sound reading quarterly.  Ask the students to say the letter or sound (or both) as quickly as they can.  Record their speed as well as sounds they miss.

  1. Teaching and Applying Word Reading Strategies


Students need to become careful readers who look for patterns, sound out words, and check to make sure their reading is correct.  This process starts with teachers giving students strategies to approach unknown words, modeling these practices, and encouraging students to use the strategies when they encounter unfamiliar words.

Sample Activity 1:


Fix It: Teacher writes sentences with errors in them and encourages students to read the sentences and determine which word should be in the sentence to make it correct.  For instance, a teacher might write: “The car ran down the hill.”  The teacher would encourage students to read the sentence independently and assess what doesn’t make, or read the sentence aloud to students and ask: “Does that make sense? Why not? What word should be in place of run? Help me fix it.”

Sample Activity 2:


Look for What You Know: Teacher would provide students a list of real or nonsense words to sound out in pairs.  Students would be encouraged to “look for what they know” first.  They may identify a sound pattern they know such as /sh/, a rule they know such as “final e”, a prefix or suffix they see such as /pre/ or /tion/.  Once they identify what they know, students work in pairs to sound out the word.  Teacher could provide a sentence for each real word at the end of the activity, so students could check to see if the way they sounded out the word fits in context.

  1. Targeting and Reinforcing Sight Words


The more words students know by sight, the more fluently they can read.  High frequency words occur so much in books, that students will need to know them by sight to increase their reading speed.  Further, many words do not play by English phonetic rules and must be memorized for reading and spelling purposes.  Keys to reinforcing high frequency words include:

●       Repetition

●       Limiting the number of words introduced at once

●       Practicing in multiple contexts (in isolation, books, classroom print, shared writing/reading, games, etc.)

●       Using multi-sensory instruction (spell in air, tap out on arm, trace in sand)

●       Contextualizing words by using them in a sentence

Sample Activity 1:


Air Writing: Air writing is a great technique for reinforcing letters and sounds, but it works for sight words as well! The teacher practices 2-5 words, depending on student age/grad). Teacher holds up a card with a sight word (ex: the) and asks if any student knows it.  If no one does, the teacher says: “This word is ‘the,’ t-h-e spells the. Now I am going to hold up the word for a few seconds.  Then, when I put the word down, I want the whole class to air write the word together, saying it as you trace it in the air.  T-h-e spells ‘the’” (while tracing).  Once you feel like most of the class has mastered the words, you can have them try to air write sight words you’ve been practicing without seeing the spelling on a card.  Pair students up and have them monitor each other with air writing sight words


Sample Activity 2:


Morning Message: A daily morning message is an excellent way to routinely build reading fluency with your students, and you can target sight words daily or weekly in your morning message!  Encourage students to gradually take charge of reading and/or writing in the morning message daily (you can leave out sounds, portions of words, or entire words for students to fill in).  Underline sight words you want to target every day of the week or write them in a different color, so the words stand out. Be sure to use some repetitive words daily in the morning message, so students begin to feel confident that they know most of the words (Ex: “Good Morning Third Graders,” “Today is ______,” “Love, Ms. Stanton.”  Encourage students to use the same word reading strategies when figuring out words in the morning message each day.

  1. Complete Varied Oral and Silent Reading Activities


Teachers should begin reading connected texts with students as soon as students can read a few words.  Students need to read texts of varying levels (easier texts to practice reading rate and more challenging texts to practice reading accuracy), decodable texts, informational texts, narrative texts, a wide range of genres, a wide range of content, aloud with a more skilled reader providing corrective feedback, silently without feedback, etc.

Sample Activity 1:


Guided Reading: Group students into small groups of 2-4 based on their IRLA levels.  Start your small group by doing a quick mini-lesson that involves anything from introducing a sight word/sound pattern/vocabulary word to giving a quick book introduction and encouraging the students to look for something in particular.  During reading, help students with decoding words or thinking through content. After reading, ask questions or encourage students to write/draw about what they read.

Sample Activity 2:


Reading With Expression: To practice prosody, show students that the way you read sentences can have very different meanings.  You can do this by showing how simple punctuation can change the way you read a sentence (Ex: “Let’s eat, grandma” and “Let’s eat grandma” (without the comma) can carry a very different meaning!  Practice having students read sentences with question marks, exclamation points, and periods.  Model how each should sound, and then invite students to try it on their own.


Important terms to know:
Word Definition
Letter-Sound Fluency: The ability to quickly and fluently recognize the sound a letter or letter pattern makes.  Research demonstrates that if students are spending less time figuring out the sounds in words, they can read more fluently.  For this reason, practicing rapid recognition/naming of individual sounds or letter patterns will benefit students as they build the “orthographic representations” of sounds needed for rapidly reading/spelling words.
Sight Words: Words that are recognized instantly without conscious effort or sounding out.  Many people also refer to sight words as words that don’t follow phonetic rules (thus they can’t be easily sounded out for reading/spelling and must be memorized).
High Frequency Words: The most commonly occurring words in print.  The Frye and Dolch lists are examples of high frequency word lists.
Frustration Level: Level of text where a student struggles to read and may get frustrated.  The student will generally read less than 90% of words correctly.
Instructional Level: Level of text where a student might encounter a bit of a challenge (with reading fluency or comprehension), but the text is generally manageable for the student.  A student may need some support/scaffolding from a more skilled reader.  The student will generally read 90-94% of the words correctly.
Independent Level: Level of text that is relatively easy for the student. The student requires very little support and can read and comprehend a text on their own.  Students generally read 95% or more of the words correctly.
Guided Reading: A practice of grouping students with similar reading levels, generally their “instructional” reading level, with a teacher providing guidance or cues on anything from reading errors to comprehension, vocabulary, word patterns, etc.  Teachers play a role in supporting students before, during, and after reading.  A teacher might introduce a sound pattern or vocabulary word in a mini-lesson before reading a text.  A teacher might provide decoding cues to each student during reading.  A teacher might ask open-ended questions about the book after reading.
Repeated Oral Reading: Reading texts repeatedly to enhance a student’s fluency and/or comprehension.  Students may read a text a number of times until fluency is reached, generally four times is sufficient.  Repeated reading may also occur through a student following or repeating an adult or peer that models the text first, following a recorded reading, etc.
Silent Independent Reading: Strong readers spend more time reading independently.  For that reason, some teachers designate a classroom time such as SSR (silent sustained reading) or DEAR (drop everything and read) for independent reading.  Such a block can often facilitate a teacher working with a small group of students at a teacher table (i.e., rest of class completes independent reading at their independent reading level, while teacher completes guided reading with a small group).
Echo Reading: A more experienced reader (generally a teacher or an advanced peer) reads text aloud first, then another student serves as their “echo” and rereads the text.
Choral Reading: Reading aloud in unison, the teacher and students read the same text aloud together.  The teacher can set the pace for the reading and see how students keep up.  If this practice is used, the teacher should monitor to make sure students are actively following along with their finger or pencil in the text.
Self- Monitoring: Teaching students to monitor their own reading and understanding as they go.  Skilled readers can monitor a text and determine if it is not making sense, correcting their reading as they go.  This process must be taught, modeled, and encouraged by a teacher before students will self-monitor on their own.
Partner Reading: Pair a lower and higher reader.  Assign roles like first reader and second reader (with the first reader being the more skilled reader).  The first reader reads the text along as the second reader follows and plays the role of coach (correcting any errors).  Then, students flip roles and the second reader repeats the same text.
Readers’ Theater: Students rehearse and perform a play for peers or others, using scripts that are rich in dialogue.
Decodable Text: A text where most words can either be sounded out or are high frequency words that a student may already be able to read by sight.  Decodable texts encourage students to use previously taught phonics patterns rather than relying on guesswork, picture cues, etc.