Reading Fluency Activity: Read and Record

While reading aloud, my 8-year-old has been known to read the most gripping passage in such a bored, deadpan voice that I have to stop myself laughing. Sometimes I let it go, but occasionally I stop him. "Hey, that sounded a bit like a robot", I might say. "Why don't we try it again?" I will then read the passage aloud to him full of expression, and ask him to have another turn, copying me as much as possible.

Although my son tolerates these re-readings, he is not very keen, and he certainly objects if I ask him to re-read it a second time. So I wasn't too sure how he would take to this reading fluency activity, where I was going to ask him to re-read a book a number of times, putting more and more expression into each reading.

reading fluency activity

Happily, he really enjoyed it. I think the combination of a tape recorder (well, a voice recording app) and a bell, to signify turning the pages, made all the difference! Also the idea that he was creating something for his little brother to read seemed to motivate him further.

When your child can read fluently, they are then better able to concentrate on understanding what the text actually means. Getting meaning from the text is, after all, what reading is all about. There are two key elements to becoming a fluent reader and this reading fluency activity helps to practice both of them.

The first challenge is for your child to read accurately and quickly. This requires fast, effortless word recognition which is best developed through repeated readings of the same books. In this activity your child records and re-records themselves reading aloud a picture book. There is something about pressing the record button which makes repeated readings much more fun!

The second important skill for your child to learn, if they are to become a fluent reader, is to read with expression. In this reading fluency activity you and your child listen to the recording of your child reading and together you identify what they need to improve in order to read more expressively. Then your child tries to put these improvements into practice during the next recording.

Below is the detail of what we did in this reading fluency activity.

Step 1

First I asked my son to choose one of his favourite picture books and explained that the plan was that we would record him reading it out aloud for his younger brother to listen to later. He chose "The Jolly Christmas Postman" by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. It was March. Oh well, he's clearly looking forward to Christmas! This is, however, a great book for reading aloud with lots of scope for expressive reading, if perhaps a little long for this exercise. Next time I might let him pick from a short-list which I have chosen.

Step 2

Before starting to read the book, we discussed different strategies for reading with expression:

  • Use a storyteller's voice when reading.
  • Divide the text into phrases or chunks of two, three or four words and pause after each grouping.
  • Change your voice to match the mood which the author is trying to convey.
  • Notice punctuation and match your voice to it.
  • Change your voice to sound like the characters.

These points are summarised in an excellent printable reading fluency bookmark by Danielle Mahoney.

Step 3

We then chose a page from the book and looked through it together. We looked for clues which might indicate the mood of the text or how the characters were feeling.

We looked at the punctuation and recapped how our reading should change at each punctuation mark. For example:

  • Period/Full stop - stop reading.
  • Comma - pause or slow down.
  • Question mark - raise the tone of your voice.
  • Exclamation mark - read with excitement.
  • Bold print or italics - read louder.

Finally, we grouped the words into chunks of two, three or four words and used a pencil to lightly draw looping lines under each chunk. I showed my son how he should pause briefly after each chunk of words. When he tried it, I was amazed how just this small change made a big improvement to the expressive quality of his reading.

chunking words

Step 4

Having analysed the page, I then modelled the reading of the full page to my son. Then I asked him to read the page, explaining that we would tape him reading so that we could listen to it afterwards. There are many voice recording apps available. We liked the free and simple app Voice Recorder by TapMedia.

We listened to the playback together and discussed how it might be improved. I asked questions such as:

  • Was the reading smooth or choppy?
  • Did you pause between phrases?
  • Did you pay attention to punctuation?
  • Did the dialogue sound convincing?
  • What mood did you try to convey?

Step 5

I then asked my son to read aloud and tape the entire story. We used a bell to signify each time a page was turned. The result was not bad, but there was still room for improvement. Since my son's attention was beginning to lapse, we agreed that we would record it again the next evening (there was even an eagerness to do this on his part, which was great). If we had chosen a shorter book for this reading fluency activity, we could probably have recorded it one or two more times in the same session.

Step 6

The next evening, before my son tried reading it all through for the second time, we spent some time chunking together all the words in the book. This seemed to make such a difference to the expression my son could put into the reading that I thought it was worth it. Instead of looping lines, we put slashes between the groups of word, to make it easier to rub out at the end.

The second reading improved significantly from the first, and the final third reading was excellent! I felt that my son had really made a lot of progress in this reading fluency activity, and his younger brother was also thrilled with the results!

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