Path to Fluent Reading for EFL Children

Mari Nakamura

Hello, colleagues!

I hope you all have had a great start to the 2016 school year. Have you renovated your curriculum this spring to even better serve your students? Perhaps some of you have already seen some positive effects from the changes you have made. If so, let us hear about them in the upcoming issues.

I started this column last summer by sharing the Three-Stage Literacy Program at my school, English Square, with the hope of discussing ways to improve young learners’ literacy skills. So far, we have examined the teaching of pre-literacy skills to young children by taking a look at Stage 1 of my literacy program and also by learning from a case study by Cynthia Akazawa. 

In this installment, I’d like to shift our focus to the promotion of reading fluency among elementary school age children, which is one of the main goals of Stage 2 of my literacy program. 

What Is Reading Fluency? 

Do you have any students who read connected text in a laborious manner even though they have a good understanding of oral language, love to be read aloud to, and have basic phonic rules under their belts? It is a sign of a lack of reading fluency, which can be left unnoticed or ignored, especially when we see our students only once a week and feel as if we always have a lot more than we can handle in the limited face time. I have to confess that I had been unaware of the importance of this skill until I set out to make literacy education an integral part of my school’s curriculum in 2005. 

What exactly is reading fluency? According to McKeena and Stahl (2003, p. 72), “There are three components to fluency: Fluent reading should involve accurate and automatic word recognition, with appropriate prosody or inflection.” Fluency in very early grades also refers to the rapid and accurate naming of letters, sounds, words, and sentences (Linan-Thompson & Vaughn, 2007). 

There is one thing to note. The whole point in reading texts is to understand the message and achieve various and often personal goals, such as expanding knowledge and communicating with the writer of the message. When a student reads a text slowly, “memory is clogged with decoding tasks and is not available to assist with understanding reading.” (Linan-Thompson & Vaughn, 2007, p. 59) The goal in fluency instruction is to have students improve accuracy and speed so that they read effortlessly, leaving a large enough cognitive space for comprehension. It is “a link between phonics and comprehension” (Rasinski, 2010, p. 31).

What Materials Should We Use? 

The best strategy for developing reading fluency is to provide children with many opportunities to read an easy passage orally and repeatedly with explicit guidance (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000; Texas Education Agency, 2002; Lenters, 2004; Linan-Thompson & Vaughn, 2007). 

How easy is easy enough? They need text at their independent reading level which they can read with no more than one error in word recognition for each 100 words. Such text allows children to engage in practice with a high degree of success and construct meaning from the text. This is very important to keep them motivated to read. 

The content of text plays a major role in the effectiveness of instruction as well. If the content is not interesting to the children, beyond their real world knowledge, or immature for their age, it is likely that students will become less motivated in engaging in repeated reading. We want to be sensitive to individual children’s interests, their general knowledge, and their maturity level so that we can make informed decisions in choosing reading materials. 

With the generally small vocabulary size of my students, it has been rather challenging to build my library with reading materials that match their needs. In search of tips from experts, I have found the book reviews by Ben Shearon, a lecturer at Tohoku University, on his blog <> to be interesting and informative. I would like to recommend that you check them out if you have not done so yet. 

Let me add that we can use various kinds of text materials besides graded readers for EFL/ESL children, such as authentic picture books, poems, stories from a course book, song lyrics, chant scripts, or student-generated text, to familiarize young learners with different text types. 


As mentioned above, research in reading fluency informs us that children need ample opportunities to read a simple text aloud again and again with guidance. This is more challenging than it may sound as children have a short attention span and have not yet fully developed metacognition or the ability to be aware of their own learning. The key to success in our teaching context is to implement a variety of engaging activities with appropriate levels of support. 

I have coined the acronym R.E.A.D. to remind myself of the primary features of effective reading fluency instruction. 

  • R – repeated reading
  • E – easy text 
  • A – assistance
  • D – developmentally appropriate activity

Here is one of the simplest R.E.A.D. activities that all my students love. 

R.E.A.D. Activity: Revisiting a Big Book

If you teach preschoolers and kindergarten children, perhaps you have some big books in your library. “Revisiting” big books that children enjoyed through shared reading in their younger days and letting them read from the text is an effective way to boost their confidence in reading aloud independently. The students’ own auditory memory of the story and illustrations in the book work as support in recognizing the words in print. In a typical “revisiting” activity, the teacher first reads the story aloud, and then, with verbal support, the students engage in choral reading a few times while the teacher gradually reduces her support to zero. In choral reading, some students may not be able to read all the words aloud. However, they can follow along and participate whenever they can by using their auditory memory without feeling left out. These children also benefit from hearing the text being read with good pacing and phrasing by more able peers. As an extension, I have individual students pick their favorite page and read it for the whole class.

What’s your favorite reading fluency activity? What works and why? I am eager to hear what you have to say! Please share them on the JALT Teaching Young Learners SIG Facebook page.  <>


Lenters, K. (2004). No half-measures: Reading instruction for young second-language learners. The Reading Teacher. 58(4). 328-336.

Linan-Thompson, S., & Vaughn, S. (2007). Research-based methods of reading instruction for English language learners grades K-4. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 

McKeena, M. C. & Stahl, S. A. (2003). Assessment for reading instruction. New York, NY: Guilford Press. 

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Teaching children to read: an evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Retrieved from What Works in Fluency Instruction on

Rasinski, T. V. (2010). The fluent reader (2nd ed.). New York, NY. Scholastic. 

Texas Education Agency. (2002). Guidelines for examining phonics and word recognition programs. Retrieved from Fluency: Instructional Guidelines and Student Activities on