Children who can read accurately, quickly and with expression will have an easier time understanding what they read because they won’t be stuck on sounding out words. Building fluency is like building a muscle, it takes practice by doing repeated readings to get stronger and faster. Fluency also improves comprehension by adding expression and appropriate phrasing. Children will love to hear how their fluency breathes life into a story they read aloud!
The goal for the beginning of 3rd grade is that children can read 80-90 words a minute. By the end of the year they will build up to reading 120 words a minute. Fluency also means the reader can read the same way as they talk, using expression and changing their voice to reflect what is happening in the story. Along with reading smoothly, fluency helps children better understand the story.
Just like in 2nd grade, the teacher will give “timed reading passages,” where students will read a story and be timed for one minute to keep track of how many words they can read.
Your child needs a model of reading fluency. They begin to develop their own fluency when they can hear how you change your expression throughout a story and read with ease. Tell them how you raise your voice at the end of question sentence (“Do you like eating broccoli?”) or how you change your voice for different characters (“This character is really afraid, so I’m going to make my voice shaky when I read his words.”) Have them match your expressions and speed after you demonstrate.
At all costs, we must prevent children from experiencing frustration as they try to read. This means finding a book that they are able to read comfortably and offers only a slight challenge. Meaning, they can comfortably read 90% of the words they see.
When children get in the swing of reading, they still are reading word-by-word and decoding more quickly but still don’t know how to craft their voice into a story that is pleasing to hear. Tell your child that you are going to work hard to break the habit of “Robot Reading”. Demonstrate how a robot would read a sentence from their favorite book. Now have them read the sentence and ask them how they can make it sound better. The most helpful thing you can do for your child is to pinpoint where they need help and help them fix it. (“I noticed that when there is a period at the end of the sentence you forget to stop before starting the next sentence. Let’s try that together and pause when we see a period so we can hear how a sentence should end.”)
Research has shown that as soon as children show the ability to decode (sound out) words, they must practice re-reading sentences to get their expression to “sound like talking” and make a sentence come to life.
Pick a sentence from a book that is on your child’s reading level and have them read it out loud. If they skip a word or mispronounce have them read the sentence again. Read it again for a third time. This activity, in less than five minutes, shows your child that they have the power and control over how the story sounds!
A chorus read is when you and your child read at the same time, like how singers sing in a chorus! Pick a paragraph in a story and let your child get practice in reading fluently with you.
While reading a book to your child, have them repeat a sentence from the story after you have read it. Let them practice making their voice sound natural and changing the tone as the sentence ends. If a character in the story speaks, model how they talk, then have your child repeat after you.
Have your child re-read their favorite poem each night. Doing repeated readings of your child’s favorite poems will help them control their voice, tempo and expression. Even after 40 years, Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends still delights and captivates children.
Do your own at home “reader’s theatre”. Using any picture or chapter book, have your child read it as though it was a performance, acting out each page from the story. Let them pretend to use a microphone like they’re on stage or as if they were an actor in a movie.
Captivate your child’s attention by listening to an author read a story with rich expression. If your child has a chapter book, find the audio version so they can hear it being read.
Have your child tell you why they enjoy listening to a “storyteller” (someone who uses expression and reads like they talk) instead of a “robot” (reading word by word slowly).
NC Kids Digital Library (Free, requires library card number)
E-books, audiobooks, streaming videos, and Read-Alongs. This collection was specifically designed for youth ages pre-K through 4th grade and includes picture books, youth fiction, youth nonfiction, and more.
Libby, by Overdrive (Free app for iPhones and iPads, Google Play, or Windows Mobile)
This app can be used on your phone or tablet to access the NC Kids Digital Library.
These are sample 3rd grade reading passages that are used for timed reading to show parents how their child is tested. A teacher would select a passage based on your child’s reading level and have the student do a “cold read,” meaning the student has never read or practiced the passage before. Once the student begins, they are timed for one minute and the teacher follows along on a copy of the same passage. The teacher notes the places where your child skipped words or misread. After the minute stops, the child stops reading and the teacher counts the number of words read correctly. Students are typically tested three times throughout the year.
Use phonics games to help build kids’ “decoding” or sounding out skills. This will make your child a stronger and faster reader.
Using the free Voice Memo app available on most phones, let your child record themselves reading. They could pretend to be reporters! Listen to the recording – give your child corrective feedback and guidance about how they can drop their voice at the end of a sentence or raise their voice at the end of a question. Have them practice phrasing or emphasizing a single word to give the sentence a powerful effect. (“Did you KNOW that tornadoes could tear the roof off of your house?)