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How to Differentiate Reading Fluency Practice

Educators value the importance of reading fluency practice. High fluency scores are positively correlated with high reading comprehension scores. However, practicing repetitive reading passages with one-size fits all fluency recordings does not meet the diverse needs of your students. Instead, save some money on expensive fluency programs and truly differentiate your fluency instruction.

First of all, find multiple reading level fluency passages on the web or from your favorite educational bookstore. Assess fluency rates of your students at their instructional reading level (85-95% word accuracy). I suggest two-minute timings to insure accurate assessment. Then, form ability groups of 4–7 students based upon their reading levels and fluency scores on these assessments. Separate students who can’t cooperate or who will disrupt the class.


  1. Hufflepoof < 150 words per two-minute timing below grade level reading
  2. Griffingtor 151–180 words per two-minute timing at grade level reading
  3. Syltherfine 181–210 words per two-minute timing below grade level reading
  4. Ravensbeak >210 words per two-minute timing at grade level reading

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.

  1. Show students a list of the fluency groups on the board or overhead with 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. They should also get the CD and CD player if you are using these.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Begin a choral reading of the fluency passage to model correct pronunciation and expression, at an appropriate challenge rate. Model read about 30% faster than the slowest reader in the group. When students are reading out loud at the appropriate rate, lower the volume of your voice.
  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, they are to 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 two 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 CDs 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 truly allow the exceptional teacher to differentiate fluency instruction.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of  the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, adaptable to various instructional settings, and simple to use. Get multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness and phonics workshops,comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games. Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Perfect for ESL and Special Education students, who struggle with language/auditory processing challenges. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance. 364 pages Also, check out the wonderful vocabulary resources in Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary. 315 pages

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