Teaching Reading Fluency with Poems!

So your students are starting to make progress with their decoding. But that fluency… That can be a big sticking point for a lot of kids, and so it needs to be a regular part of your literacy instruction!

My favorite secret weapon for teaching oral reading fluency? POEMS! I use them every single day, and they’re a huuuuuuugggeeee help for those kids who read. every. word. and. then. pause.

Why is reading fluency important?

So, yes, you’ve probably encountered students who read very, very, very slowly but manage to accurately decode every word. They’re doing fine, right?

Well, sort of. Decoding is absolutely the bedrock of reading. But it’s not enough. As students start to encounter increasingly complex texts, fluency starts to become key for comprehension. If students are decoding each and every word, they won’t be able to also hold the meaning of complex sentences in their working memory. They’ll be focusing on sounding out, and they’ll lose the thread of the text. And reading without comprehension isn’t really reading at all.

Fluent readers “sound out” words occasionally, of course (we all do!), but their word recognition is much more automatic. They need to spend less of their working memory focusing on decoding, so they can be more focused on the meaning of the text.

Additionally, fluent readers read with correct phrasing and intonation. This helps them understand the author’s meaning and intent. And this gets them closer to achieving the ultimate goal for all readers, which is, of course, comprehension.

Winter poem for elementary students to improve reading fluency

Why are poems helpful for teaching reading fluency?

There are a lot of reasons that poetry can be more helpful than prose when teaching students to read fluently. For one thing, poetry lends itself to a certain meter and cadence. Students will naturally imitate your way of reading a poem, and in doing so, they’ll be practicing their fluency.

Also, in my experience, students are just more willing to read poems repeatedly, which is key to developing fluency. Ask them to read the same book, article, or story over and over, and you might start to get, “But I already read this!” Ask them to read the same poem over and over… and they just do it. For some reason it just seems more natural. Poems can also be less stressful for students than timed passages where students try to read a certain number of words per minute. They’re just more fun!

Finally, poems often have rhymes or rhythmic patterns that can help students remember tricky words after several reads. Yes, we want students developing decoding skills and accuracy outside of the context of any cues or clues. We want them using that phonics knowledge. But when we’re talking fluency, and learning to read with intonation, these cues and clues can help students focus on the task at hand, rather than getting stuck decoding words that they almost-sort-of-are-very-close-to knowing by heart.

And, as a bonus, poems can be hugely beneficial to English language learners, especially with repeated reading. They give students a chance to encounter new vocabulary in a supportive context multiple times.

So how to do it?

Halloween poem for practicing reading fluency in the classroom

Here are my favorite 3 reading fluency activities using poems:

1. Echo Reading

When I introduce a brand-new poem, this is how I start! This works in a whole group, small group, or one-on-one. I read aloud a line, and the students read it back to me. Not only is this a great way to get kids familiar with the trickiest words in the poem, but they get to hear how I play with the words and then give it a try themselves. It’s a fun way to practice getting those expressions and rhythms just right, and to hear what it sounds like and feels like to read smoothly.

Remember, the goal of this activity is not to teach decoding or accuracy! You should be addressing those needs separately. We’re focusing on fluency, so I’m giving students the tricky words to allow them to practice their intonation and speed.

2. Choral Reading

I LOVE choral reading. I do it with word lists, and I do with with poems. It’s a great way to get repeated exposure to new trick words or phonics patterns in a low-stress way. I usually will pick a poem and choral read the same one every day for a week. Yes, every single day for a week! On Monday, usually my stronger students will be leading the charge, but by Friday, everyone is in it all the way.

The goal is for students to learn to recognize words automatically by the end of the week that they might have needed to stop and decode at the beginning of the week. This not only helps them read this specific poem more fluently, but it translates to helping them read other texts containing those words more fluently in the future. Fluent readers recognize and read words without always having to pause and decode. Again, knowing how to decode is very important, but the goal is to move beyond that to fluent reading, which in turn supports reading comprehension.

3. Partner Reading

Two heads are better than one, right? With partner reading, students pair up and take turns reading poems to each other. They can cheer each other on and help out if someone gets stuck on a tricky word. It’s a great way to get even reluctant readers engaged, excited, and reading the whole time. This is a great way to help struggling students access grade-level texts to practice their fluency in a more authentic way.

Thanksgiving poem to practice reading fluency in the classroom

Ready to try poetry out in your classroom?

I have poems available for every season of the year! They’re most appropriate for kindergarten (with support), 1st grade, or 2nd grade, but some students in 3rd grade or above might also benefit. Check them out!

Halloween Poems
Thanksgiving Poems
Winter Poems
New Years Poem (freebie!)
Spring Poems
Easter Poem
May Poem
Mother’s Day Poem
June Poem
Summer Poem (freebie!)
Or save by buying all of these poems in my full year poem bundle!

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