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Fluency entails reading words automatically and with expression.

Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately and quickly. Fluent readers recognize words automatically and read aloud effortlessly and with expression. They are able to group words into meaningful phrases and extract meaning from what they have read. They simultaneously relate what they are reading to the entire selection, as well as their own background knowledge. Unless students can read fluently, reading comprehension is hindered.

Fluent reading takes practice, and therefore the skill is honed slowly. Additionally, students do not develop fluency until they have a solid foundation of word analysis skills. Most students who cannot read fluently must put too much effort into decoding. They read slowly, word for word, with unnatural phrase grouping, and this negatively impacts comprehension. Other students recognize words automatically and understand what they are reading, but their reading still lacks expression. They may need to be taught the phrases and clauses that signal appropriate breaking points in the text.

Sight Word Acquisition
As people read, their eyes move in jumps across the lines of print. The length and speed of the jumps are determined by the reader's familiarity with the material. Eyes move more rapidly when the person knows the words and comprehends the text. However, when an unknown word or concept is encountered, the jumps slow down to give the reader time to analyze the passage. When reading orally, unknown words stop readers and cause deterioration in fluency.

The human brain looks for meaningful whole units and patterns. Since words are meaningful units, young readers soon begin to recognize them, regardless of the methods being utilized to teach them to read. During the primary grades, children continue to expand their repertoire of sight words. They are not learned as a result of specific lessons, but mastered over time (Dolch suggests three years). This section suggests strategies for speeding the acquisition of sight vocabulary.

Why is the Dolch 220 the most commonly used list of sight words? Certainly the longevity of Dolch's list attests to its value, even though there are some discrepancies. Dolch also developed a list of 95 nouns. It is more dated by time, with many of the nouns relating to a more rural lifestyle. Few nouns have the frequency of use of pronouns, articles, and other parts of speech. Those that do (i.e., thing, people) often appear in other high-frequency word lists.

Step 1 - Make flash cards or word lists
Teachers of beginning readers should come up with a plan to teach or review words that have a high rate of occurrence. At the end of this section is a downloadable Dolch 220 resource list sorted according to decoding characteristics. Flash cards are a worthwhile instructional aid. Consider color-coding the cards by these categories, as is done in the Reading Manipulatives Dolch Sight Words product.

Step 2 - Integrate sight words with phonics instruction
Amazingly, half of the Dolch 220 words are one-syllable words that follow short and long vowel patterns. Another 14 percent have variant vowels, and 14 percent are words with more than one syllable. That leaves only 48 words, or 22 percent, that are phonetic rule breakers. If sight words are taught in tandem with phonics lessons, children master sight words at a much faster rate. Identify the words that are rule breakers to help students remember them.

Step 3 - Use sight words to plan spelling lists and lessons
As children are learning to read, they are also starting to write. They need to know these high-use words when writing. Consider building spelling lessons that include these words and correlate to phonics instruction.

Download Dolch 220 Sightwords Tips

Scrambled Sentences
Students are eager to do scrambled sentences because of their puzzle-like qualities and interesting facts. Yet using scrambled sentences sets that represent increasingly complex examples of written language builds fluency while improving linguistic and grammatical competency. Completed sentences provide opportunities for oral reading.

As students put the sentences together, their awareness of sentence structure improves. Without getting bogged down in terminology, they soon identify subjects and predicates; organize words into phrases; link adjectives and adverbs to the words they modify; and use conjunctions to provide cohesive ties. Scrambled sentences also model accurate capitalization and punctuation. Students learn to utilize these as organizational cues. Topics can teach facts that complement the curriculum and improve vocabulary.

Step 1 - Select topics and gather resources
Scrambled sentence sets are ideal for teaching interesting facts. Once students move beyond decoding, use nonfiction topics for manipulatives. Not only do students enjoy the challenge of arranging the sentences, they are motivated by learning about a topic, especially if sentences are engaging and well-written. If possible, find photos or graphics to go along with the sets. These quickly draw students into activities.

Step 2 - Write sentences and organize into levels
Scrambled sentences are tedious to make, but it is time well spent. Students develop multiple skills and learn interesting facts as they put the sentences together. Products in the Reading Manipulatives scrambled sentence series had five different colored sentences in each set. These are always put together in the same order since they relay an orderly progression of facts (not available as PDFs at this time).

As you write the sentences, consider linguistic difficulty level. It is important to make multilevel series. Each of these should have at least ten sets. After students work through those, they develop skills that enable them to succeed with longer, more complex sentences. One scrambled sentence set from each Reading Manipulatives level is shown as an example in the downloadable resource. Notice that sentence length and syntactical sophistication increase in each level.