Why does it matter how fast my child reads?

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Before I became a reading tutor, I thought of fluency as a secondary skill; something to work on after we mastered decoding skills. If a student can read and decode words, why does it matter how fast he reads? He’ll become faster eventually.

Do I still believe this now?

Absolutely not.

What is Fluency?

Fluency is the ability to read aloud accurately, quickly and with appropriate expression.

Fluency may not seem important in the early years but think about the reader as he gets older. A 5th grade student reading a class book at 50 words per minute is not going to be able to keep up with his peers reading 180 words per minute.  He’ll inevitably fall behind, feel frustrated and miss out on instructional material.

Someone decoding accurately but not fluently, has a reading disability (Shaywitz).  We just assume a slow reader will become faster eventually. But, just like reading, fluency must be practiced and drilled consistently. 


What do I need to become a fluent reader?


 An accurate reader, correctly reads each word in a sentence.  

Ex. sentence:  The giant dog jumped out of the window.

  Student reads it as : The giant dog jumps out the window.

The student had 2 errors. He changed jumped to jumps and removed “of”. 

NOT accurate. This may seem trivial when your child is in 1st or 2nd grade, but in the long run, if a reader is not reading each word accurately, comprehension will suffer. 



Also known as automaticity. 

A reader that reads with automaticity can read a word instantly without sounding it out. Our goal is to have our kids read the word “cub” without having to sound out the c….u…b.  Once words become automatic, students begin to read more quickly. If a student is still sounding out each word, he is thinking about how to read the word rather than what the word means. 

The following are the grade level norms for reading speeds as found in Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz:

       Grade Level                        Correct Words Read Per Minute

     End of Year 1st Grade:                         40-60

     End of Year 2nd Grade:                          80-100

     End of Year 3rd Grade:                         100-120

     4th Grade and Up:                                     120-180



Just because you don’t read like a robot, doesn’t mean you read with expression.

Reading with expression involves phrasing, stopping at the end of sentences, pausing at commas and reading aloud like you speak -with tonal ups and downs.

For example, a student reading aloud without proper phrasing may read “Brown Brown Bear” as :

bear brown/ 
bear what/ 
you see.

 A more fluent reader will read it as:

 Brown bear/
Brown bear/
What do you see?/

Without proper phrasing, the meaning of a text can become jumbled or lost.


********What can you do at home?*******

-Fluency, like a sport, must be practiced. 5-6 minutes a day can get the job done.

- Budding readers need to hear how a text is supposed to be read first. Model good pacing and expression by first reading stories aloud to your child.

-listen to audio books (also Storylineonline.com- have an actor read you a book)

-have your child read along with an audio book (have the text and a recording)

- Chorus Read- read the text aloud together so your child can follow your lead with tone, expression and pace.

-Let your child record themselves reading (on your phone, computer…) Then, have them listen to the recording. How did it sound?

- Dr. Sally Shaywitz says automaticity comes after at least 4 accurate readings of a word. Read a text a few times, then read the same text a few days later. Fluency comes from reading a word over and over again.

For our emerging/non readers:

-“Read” wordless picture books and have your child tell the story with expression and different voices.

-Tell stories with puppets. Use different voices and different scenarios.

-Practice your letter sounds. Show your child a letter and have them produce the sound. Repeat!  

-Practice reading in silly voices (ghost voice, mouse voice, giant voice etc)



Most gains are made by reading aloud with your child (and hearing your child read aloud).

The best thing you can do is read a story aloud to your child, have them read it aloud with you then have your child read it aloud back to you. Give them feedback and reread familiar texts.


Holly Turner