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How to Differentiate Reading Fluency Practice

How to Differentiate Reading Fluency Practice

Differentiate Reading Fluency Practice

Educators value the importance of reading fluency practice. High fluency scores are positively correlated with high reading comprehension scores. The converse is true as well. Repeated reading practice and reading along with modeled readings have shown to increase accuracy, speed, intonation, expression, and attention to punctuation. Additionally, practicing along with modeled readings at a slightly faster pace than students’ assessed word counts per minute seems to help students push through habituated reading speeds to read faster with greater automaticity.

As a reading specialist with significant experience in using a myriad of publisher-produced reading fluency resources, as well experience in using different instructional fluency procedures and assessments, a few been there, done that remarks may prove helpful to fellow reading specialists and teachers who are looking into differentiating reading fluency practice.

Avoid These Types of Reading Passages for Differentiated Reading Fluency Practice

Reading specialists, teachers, and publishers make two mistakes regarding using fluency passages for modeled, repeated fluency practice.

1. Using Grade-level Passages

Some teachers use grade-level only reading passages. Our students are not all cookie-cutter, grade-level readers. You wouldn’t be reading this article on differentiated reading fluency practice if you thought they were. Using grade-level passages provides challenge-level fluency practice for only a narrow group of any teacher’s classroom.

2. Using Diagnostically-determined Passages at the Reader’s Instructional Reading Level

Expensive publisher programs with software peg student reading levels at precise figures and assign 20 or so stories and/or articles at that level for practice. This is a waste of time and money. Publishers provide more product than most students need to increase profit margins. Reading intervention should always be about hurried and dynamic instruction. Students improve their reading fluencies at vastly different and unpredictable rates. A day of unnecessary fluency practice at a specific level that the student has already mastered is another day of below grade-level reading. 

Furthermore, too much practice at any one reading level habituates students to that level, and is, therefore, counterproductive. Plus, as an aside… these leveled passages vary greatly in their reading difficulty from paragraph to paragraph. Despite lexiles, reading level is still somewhat of an arbitrary misnomer. Real and natural reading has a far greater range of reading difficulty than passages with controlled vocabulary and content.

Choose These Types of Reading Passages for Differentiated Reading Fluency Practice

1. Select reading passages with a variety of reading levels, preferably within the passages themselves. Expository articles usually accomplish this end better than do narrative passages. Besides, struggling readers have far more difficulty reading social studies and science textbooks than short stories or novels.

2. Choose reading passages which provide embedded vocabulary and comprehension questions. Although not part of targeted fluency practice, these components are at the heart of reading instruction and shouldn’t be divorced from isolated fluency practice. Why waste instructional time and money with two different passages–one for fluency practice and another for comprehension and vocabulary

How to Differentiate Fluency Practice 


Although students implicitly practice fluency when they learn phonics (especially blending), spelling, syllabication, vocabulary, sight words, rimes (word families), and reading (oral and silent), explicit fluency practice necessitates diagnostic assessment. Teachers and students need to know levels of fluency competency to determine if targeted practice is advisable and how to best remediate reading fluency deficiencies. Jan Hasbrouk, co-researcher on grade-level fluency norms also argues that diagnostic reading fluency assessment can serve as a “canary in a coal mine” to identify potential struggling readers and to continue with other diagnostic reading assessments to identify sub-skill deficits which adversely impact fluency (and comprehension). As a cautionary note, I (and many other teachers) do have problems with the time, cost, teachability, and evaluative nature of many reading fluency assessments. Click HERE for my article on these problems.

I recommend using my own two-minute diagnostic fluency assessment. The two minute reading provides much more accurate timings and affords a much better “canary” to guide further assessment. Plus the assessment is leveled in a unique pyramid design, beginning at first grade reading level and proceeding to seventh grade reading level at the end. Teachers learn a tremendous amount about instructional reading levels, degree of vocabulary acquisition, etc. from this design. Download my Pets Fluency Assessment absolutely FREE.

Assign Groups with Printed Copies of the Fluency Passages

Assign one of three reading fluency groups (A, B, or C) to each of your students based upon their fluency scores on the “Pets” Individual Fluency Assessment.

Two Instructional Fluency Options:

  1. Show students a list of the fluency groups on the board or display and place an asterisk by the first Fluency Leader chosen for each group. Inform students that you will rotate Fluency Leaders and that these students have two duties: Collect and return the group materials and ask the teacher when a student in their group needs help or has a question. Ask the Fluency Leaders to get the materials (fluency folders, pencil box, and one fluency passage) for each student in their groups.
  2. Have students each create their own fluency folders (a simple file folder is fine) and put a bar graph inside the folders. A quick web search will bring dozens of fluency bar graphs for your selection. Select a bar graph that best matches the fluency speeds of your students. If in doubt, pick the higher level bar graph, because students tend to “overestimate” their scores on the fluency timings. Collect the fluency folders.
  3. As the Fluency Leaders gather and distribute the materials, show students the location of their fluency group and the desk/tables and chairs configuration on the board or overhead. Tell students that they will move desks/tables and chairs to form their fluency groups as shown. To signal readiness, the students will raise their hands. Inform them that fluency groups will receive participation points and incentives for “quick, quiet, and cooperative” transitions. Tell students to now move into their fluency groups.
  4. When all groups are ready, award participation points for “quick, quiet, and cooperative” transitions. Tell students that they will read the fluency passage out loud, but softly, for a two-minute timed “cold” (unpracticed) timing. Ready the stopwatch or use the second hand of the clock to time. Say– “Point to the first word of the fluency passage. Ready, begin.” As students read, monitor the groups to ensure that students are reading quietly, but above a whisper. All words must be said out loud for effective practice. After two minutes, say “Stop and Record.”
  5. Tell students to tally their words and record their “cold timing” score on the fluency bar graph in pencil. Model how to record the timings on the board or overhead. Inform students that after they finish recording the “cold timing,” they are to continue reading where they left off, then re-read the passage over and over until the teacher visits their group.
  6. Visit the lowest level fluency group and quickly pre-teach a few challenging words from the passage by saying the word and asking students to repeat the word. Briefly define the words, if they are necessary to the meaning of the fluency passage.
  7. Tell students that the Fluency Leader will lead the group at the reading pace set by the teacher and finish choral reading the fluency passage. Have the Fluency Leader say “Ready, begin” and begin reading. When the group is following the direction of the Fluency Leader and is reading at the appropriate rate, move on to the next group. Afterwards, the group is to re-play the YouTube video or chorally re-read the whole passage together one more time.
  8. After the second fluency practice, students are to individually re-read the passage out loud as fast as they feel comfortable until the teacher says, “Stop.”
  9. After the last group visited by the teacher has completed its choral readings, interrupt the class to complete a two-minute “hot” reading of the passage. Have students tally their words per minute and record their score in pen on the fluency bar graph, directly above the “cold” timing.
  10. Tell Fluency Leaders to collect materials, while the groups re-organize the desks/tables. When all students have returned to their seats and all materials have been properly collected, award participation points for “quick, quiet, and cooperative” transitions.

Helpful Hints

Work on attention to punctuation and expression. Students should read softly, but above a whisper. An entire class reading at this level provides a “white noise” that promotes individual concentration. Play the YouTube videos at reasonable volume levels or use headphones.

Assess progress by examining the day to day recorded “cold” readings. Although students may tend to “inflate” their “cold” and “hot” timing differentials, emphasize improvement in the “cold” timings over time.

Use your Fluency Leaders! Only Fluency Leaders get out of their seats during Fluency Remediation to gather materials or ask the teacher questions.

Integrate fluency and comprehension instruction. Teach students to “talk to the text” as they read to improve concentration and understanding. Periodically do a “Think-Aloud” to model interactive, metacognitive reading. Teach comprehension questions that will emphasize reader independence.

Also tie in vocabulary development by having the students write context clue sentences for the vocabulary words that you pre-teach.

With these procedures, your fluency groups will thrive and students will significantly improve their reading fluency.


Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Word Recognition includes explicit, scripted instruction and practice with the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities every reading intervention student needs: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spellings (including handwriting) 4. Heart Words Practice 5. Sam and Friends Phonics Books (decodables). Plus, digital and printable sound wall cards and speech articulation songs. Print versions are available for all activities. First Half of the Year Program (55 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Language Comprehension resources are designed for students who have completed the word recognition program or have demonstrated basic mastery of the alphabetic code and can read with some degree of fluency. The program features the 5 Weekly Language Comprehension Activities: 1. Background Knowledge Mentor Texts 2. Academic Language, Greek and Latin Morphology, Figures of Speech, Connotations, Multiple Meaning Words 3. Syntax in Reading 4. Reading Comprehension Strategies 5. Literacy Knowledge (Narrative and Expository). Second Half of the Year Program (30 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Assessment-based Instruction provides diagnostically-based “second chance” instructional resources. The program includes 13 comprehensive assessments and matching instructional resources to fill in the yet-to-be-mastered gaps in phonemic awareness, alphabetic awareness, phonics, fluency (with YouTube modeled readings), Heart Words and Phonics Games, spelling patterns, grammar, usage, and mechanics, syllabication and morphology, executive function shills. Second Half of the Year Program (25 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program BUNDLE  includes all 3 program components for the comprehensive, state-of-the-art (and science) grades 4-adult full-year program. Scripted, easy-to-teach, no prep, no need for time-consuming (albeit valuable) LETRS training or O-G certification… Learn as you teach and get results NOW for your students. Print to speech with plenty of speech to print instructional components.

SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE for detailed product description and sample lessons.

FREE DOWNLOADS TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

Get the Pets Fluency Assessment FREE Resource:

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