Teach ESL: Student Reading Fluency

Are your ESL students good at reading? Are they slow? Here is a quick classroom activity that can be used to check student reading fluency levels.

Reading Fluency 

This 20-25 minute lesson shows teachers how to run a timed repeated reading exercise in class.

The results provide a crude measure of student reading fluency. There are more complex assessment techniques. Though this one is simple, it is easy for students to perform and understand.

Step 1. Provide Context (5)

In some classes, a teacher might want to provide students with some reading fluency context. To that end, here is a short slide show.

Step 2. Prepare Reading Material (3)

For this activity, students need something to read. It doesn’t need to be long; perhaps 300 to 500 words.

The degree of complexity should match the students’ level. Teachers might use a page from a class textbook. Maybe students already have a reader.

Step 3. First Round Instructions (5)

Here is what a teacher might say in class in order to start the activity.

I will ask you to read a short passage.

Read the story at your normal reading speed. It’s not a race, so there is no need to rush.

After 1 minute, I will call time. 

Mark your spot in the story with a line. Count the number of words that you read.

Write that number in your notebook.

Step 4. Round 2 Instructions (3)

This step is needed to engage the repeated part of the activity. Here are the suggested instructions:

Now, I will ask you to read the same story from the beginning again.

No need to hurry.

After one minute, mark your spot and count your words again.

Step 5. Round 3 Instructions (2)

This is exactly the same as Step 4.

Step 6. Results (5)

By now, students should have 3 reading scores in their notebooks.

What do the 3 numbers mean?

They represent a range. One number is not enough to accurately reflect a skill level. That’s point one.

Point two, the numbers represent change. It is likely that wpm for most students increased between the first and third reading task. (It is likely but not certain based on my classroom experience with this activity.)

That increase can used as a kind of social proof: reading more improves reading fluency. It’s a bit of a stretch, but it talks to the main the point: reading fluency can be improved.

Finally, I would not ask individual students for their reading fluency scores. Kind of embarrassing for some, perhaps.

Instead, I would write the benchmarks on the board. Then, ask students to see where their own scores fall compared to those numbers. Understanding that they might need some improvement could motivate students to take action that improves their reading fluency.


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