Children who can read fluently have a head start on comprehending what they've read.

Forty-five percent of American fourth-graders are not fluent readers, reports the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Fluency is the ability to read aloud accurately at a normal rate using stress and intonation correctly. Reading aloud repeatedly, especially practicing reading the same text over and over, can help students become more fluent readers.

Act It Out

In a kid's mind, reading text over and over again can easily become boring. Ask kids to take a part in a play, though, and many will find it much more absorbing. Organize a "reader's theater" in which each child reads the part of one character in a play. Emphasis should be on reading with emotion, speaking the words as the character would speak them in an actual play. Kids can give each other advice on how to inject the words of the play with more emotion, and they may want to redo some lines over and over again until they feel they're perfect. Let them have fun, and don't tell them that they're getting fluency practice at the same time!

Choppy Phrasing

When children are just starting to read, they'll often read each word separately. Fluent readers, however, separate text into logical phrases as they read. You can show children how important proper, fluent phrasing is by writing down sentences on sentence strips and cutting them into incorrect phrases. For example, cut "A zebra has black" from "and white stripes," then ask children to identify the correct break between phrases. Discuss why the first phrasing would make the reader seem nonfluent.

Silly Sentences

Children can read fluently even when they don't understand the information in the text. Although this is not the end goal, it is an admirable step towards becoming a competent reader. To help students concentrate on fluency without getting distracted by the actual content of the text, create silly sentences that make sense grammatically, like "I riggled to the pockle, but there were no wozzy deggers on the frond." Children will have fun reading these nonsense sentences fluently, and they'll be more motivated to read them again and again.

Play It Back

To help students recognize the difference between fluent and nonfluent reading, you can have them record themselves reading a text -- such as a poem -- for the first time. Then encourage them to practice the text over and over again until they can read it fluently, and then record themselves again. If they play back the "before" and "after" tapes, they'll be able to hear the difference between fluent and nonfluent text.