Moving From Phonics to Fluency (Part 2)

In October I wrote about the necessity of phonics as a precursor to fluency. I believe this to be necessary so that readers spend less cognitive time on decoding an unknown word and more time on reading to learn. Fluency is part of that "reading to learn" journey.


The reading journey begins with hearing sounds, identifying letter-symbols, using a variety of tools to automatically decode words, to understanding how complete thoughts are written. What you want for your early reader is to effortlessly identify words, when that occurs then they can spend time thinking about complete thoughts. What do I mean about complete thoughts? Complete sentences:

  • Who or what is the sentence about? What do you know about this subject?

  • What are they doing?

  • What punctuation did the author use to end the statement?

Answering these simple questions helps the reader determine: emotion and understand it fully.


Another aspect to consider for early readers are the pictures. Pictures are a wonderful indicator of emotion. Depending on the illustrator of course, you can determine whether the character speaks with sass, anger, sadness, excitement, etc.


You want to give your reader tools to help them read with expression, with accuracy and at an appropriate rate. What I outlined above will help your reader read with expression. Here are a procedure anyone can easily implement to help your reader with accuracy:

  1. Read the text to them.

  2. Go through and identify any unknown words.

  3. Give them the tools to identify them on their own and define them. (There are many word identification tools that should be in their belt by now: chunking, identifying words in context, recognizing prefixes, suffixes, root words, etc.) They should also be learning how to use a dictionary and thesaurus by this time. Here is how I taught my early reader: Dictionary & Thesaurus Skills.

  4. Give them time to practice the text on their own as much as they need (reading to the family pet or favorite stuffed animal is perfect because there is no judgment).

  5. Allow them to record themselves reading it or you record yourself reading it so they can listen and follow along as often as they need.

Going through this same procedure can also help with reading at an appropriate rate. Explain to them that the first few times of reading the passage might be slower as they learn the words and how the author intends the passage to be read. If the author wrote a sad poem (for example) talk about the rate that might match that emotion (most likely slow and quiet), but if the author is excited practice speeding up because we tend to talk faster when we're excited. The point is to identify the rate that fits the text and practice it. That is why when I talk about rate, I'll also talk about "appropriate" rate. You want to find what fits and practicing at a rate that helps you read the passage well. Fast isn't always best.


I know this is a lot to think about, but once you move from automatic word identification it is time to really hone in on these fluency skills. Once those fluency skills are mastered it is super easy to move into comprehension skills because (if you haven't already guessed by now) it is impossible to separate fluency from comprehension.

If you find any of this overwhelming contact me, I can help.


If your reader is struggling with automatic word identification, fluency, or comprehension, contact me, I can help.


If your reader only has one tool to identify words (i.e. sounding out), contact me, your reader needs more than that to be successful.


If your reader is not fluent, contact me, let's get to the root of the issue.



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© 2019 Rebecca Lowery, M.Ed.

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