Finding Fluency through Oral Reading

I’m a big believer in the power of reading and the need to maximize the benefits of a text. With private students, I’ve often asked them to work with a particular reading multiple ways. We read for comprehension. We study vocabulary and new structures in context. We discuss the content and make time for summaries and reactions. Additional readings can then be done. For example, I  can select lines or paragraphs from the text and ask students to listen and repeat after me until fluent reading is achieved. I see the confidence and satisfaction grow when a student finally reads a passage smoothly.

What about independent reading? Of course, there’s reading for pleasure, reading for academic  coursework, and reading that needs to be done at the workplace. But those all tend to be silent forms of reading. How can learners continue practicing oral reading to improve general fluency? What materials and strategies can be used?

Since last year, I’ve been toying with the idea of creating oral reading passages for independent practice. I hope to post my initial ideas in the near future in the form of video. How would you go about composing these texts and how would you ask students to work with them? Here are some of the factors I believe need to be addressed.

  1. A language learner needs to read a text multiple times. Therefore, the texts for oral reading practice should be short enough so that a busy person would be willing to reread it. A one-minute reading seems ideal to me. The shorter length would also more easily allow varied types of reading, from listen-repeat to choral reading.
  2. The texts need to be comprehensible. If a learner is going to read with expression, the content must be understood. That implies that the vocabulary and grammar must appropriate. For a mass audience, I think a set of readings needs to increase slowly in difficulty. When higher-level vocabulary is used, enough context must be provided so that the meanings can be inferred. Also, when new vocabulary is introduced, the words should be high frequency words to make them worth learning.
  3. Comprehension also comes through readiness. Simple pre-reading activities are used to engage and prepare a learner.  From predicting to discussion, a pre-reading task activates prior knowledge and taps into relevant personal experience.
  4. Fluent reading is guided by knowledge of punctuation and sentence structure. I think some simple slashes or other markings make natural thought groups clear for a reader. I hope my series on punctuation will support my set of texts for oral reading.
  5. A learner needs a model. In a live lesson, we can serve as models for our students. But for independent practice, learners appreciate having access to recordings. For that reason, I have often selected podcasts online for private lessons. The recordings and transcripts are on-demand. I have also recorded my own reading of original texts in the past and shared those recordings with students. For the new set of videos, I will certainly provide a model for learners to follow.
  6. The content needs to be interesting. The learner must want to do this form of practice. Texts should be informative, entertaining, and/or reflective in nature.

Wish me luck as I move forward. Please feel free to comment and make recommendations.

16 Comments Add yours

  1. sultan23c says:

    Jennifer, really fluency through oral reading is very important, I’m also a big believer in the power of reading, reading fluency is important because it provides a bridge between word recognition and reading comprehension. Reading fluency allows the reader to pay attention, develops comprehension and accuracy. I struggled with reading comprehension when I was in elementary school. I think it’s helpful for students to do a bit of record keeping during independent reading time. Thank you soooooo much, Jennifer.

    1. Hello Sultan!
      I’m glad you agree. I may start with a few videos and see what the response and feedback are. Adjustments might be needed along the way, but I think others will share the value we place on reading, especially reading aloud. Feel free to post specific suggestions about the record keeping you mentioned.
      Kindly,
      Jennifer

  2. Hi Jennifer, I train mainstream teachers who work with English Language Learners. One of the many things I emphasise is the need for texts to be accessible, enjoyable and yet challenging enough for learning to take place. I am a believer of pre-, during and post- skills, too. It would be great if you could be a guest blogger on my site, mrsmissoveness.wordpress.com. I could not find a link to your email. I look forward to your reply. Vannessa

  3. Hi Jennifer,

    I practice oral reading for other reasons:

    – Both audio & visual memory are working. I use McLuhan theories here.

    – The learner gets used to his/her own voice in English (as sounds change, different muscles act & our voice is different when we talk other languages)

    – I do not teach them ‘official’ intonation. I want them to find their own style talking in English as they do in Spanish. We need our personality even in our second language. They need to love English, to find themselves comfortable with it if they are to move forward.

    Your other points come later. But it’s mandatory for me these 3 first.

    Thanks for sharing your techniques.

    1. Hello. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! I think you make a valid point about learners finding their own voice. That’s important whether they are reading a text or having a conversation. They should sound like themselves and not see the end goal as sounding like someone else. That said, I still think that a model is needed. There needs to be something to guide one’s efforts. As the fluency and confidence increase, the learner can settle on a style that differs from the model.

      Have a great weekend!

    2. vannessa says:

      I agree for how often are we asked to read anything aloud to an audience. If we do ‘read’ it’s usually from a script that we have prepared for a presentation. And here, I advise my students to prepare at home and come with bulleted points on an index card. I remember a CELTA adviser asking us the benefits of making learners read aloud in class when a trainee did that. What is the point? she asked. Nevertheless, I do ask my students to read aloud to hear themselves, before a presentation, for pronunciation, pacing and pausing for what we ‘hear’ in our heads during silent reading tends to be perfect.
      The skills of reading for comprehension, for gist and to skim and scan are valuable in all walks of life.
      And I do like your point about ‘finding their own voice’. Cheers

      1. Hello Vanessa. Thank you for joining the discussion. You are so right about what we “hear” in our heads during a silent reading sounding perfect. Only when we actually read aloud can we take note of how our message is structured.

        I think a run-through of a presentation is really important. Even experienced public speakers need to gain comfort and familiarity with their content. TED Talks demonstrate how practice pays off. The speakers give very fluid, confident deliveries.

        In my new series, I’m going to be focusing on the benefits of reading aloud short texts in language learning. I think in a classroom setting oral reading can be a wonderful way to demonstrate certain skills, from decoding to scanning. Oral reading can bring a story alive. Different readers will also demonstrate different ways to interpret a text and expose listeners to a range of accents. As a part of independent study, oral reading can force the learner to pay attention to the pronunciation of new words (which could be more easily brushed aside in silent reading) and the use of punctuation. Mostly, I want to help learners achieve smooth, confident reading and transfer that confidence to their speaking.

        Regards!

  4. Dung says:

    Hi Jennifer!
    I’m Dung, and i’m from vietnam.
    I learning english and i don’t know where start? I’m beginer.
    You can help me?
    Thankyou so mach Jennifer!

    1. Dung says:

      Sory, thankyou so much Jennifer! My english not very good.

    2. Hello Dung,
      Please use this playlist.

      You might also like USALearns.org.
      Kind regards!

  5. Dung says:

    Thankyou so much Jennifer for all lesson on Youtube. They’re very very good and very very interesting.

  6. Hi, Jennifer!! The first thank you for sharing your video about learning English. Those videos are useful and easy for learners. And I’m just wondering if you can share video how to pronunciation in English.❤ ANW, thank you again❤

    1. Hello Nguyễn Dung!
      Thank you for studying with me.
      Here’s a list of all my videos. They are organized by playlist.
      http://www.englishwithjennifer.com/youtube_videos.html
      Regards!

  7. Marco says:

    Hello Jennifer I’m Marco, a boy who is learning self-taught American. I have difficulty in reading, I never know how to read a word I meet for the first time. There are rules of pronunciation/reading?

    1. Hi Marco.
      1. Have you worked with my Oral Reading Fluency series? You’ll pick up patterns, especially with rhythm and other pronunciation aspects.

      2. You can use a learner’s dictionary to help you with new words.
      http://www.ldoceonline.com/
      Regards!

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