Growing Fluency

Reading Playhouse

Elizabeth McGee

Rationale: Skillful readers read fluently, which means that they have automaticity in decoding and word-recognition in order to free up the reading faculties to attend to the message and meaning of texts. This is manifested in reading at a higher rate with greater expression. In a reading experience, this is partially accomplished through repeated readings of a familiar and engaging texts. The outcome is that, with each additional reading, the reader is more familiar with the words and structures of the story and is thus able to attend more fully to the story (e.g. plot, characters, emotions, suspense); the reader then reads more expressively with greater understanding of the flow of the story itself. This understanding can be practiced in Reader’s Theater by acting out the story, which requires understanding of one’s character in relation to other characters as well as the story context and setting of the characters. This is an enjoyable way to practice fluency in published stories, and it also develops attentiveness to real-life stories that can be put in written form.


  • Small group set (4-6) of the book Are You My Mother? (P.D. Eastman)
  • Cover-up critters
  • Personal copy of fluency evaluation checklist 
  • Personal pencil
  • Bowl and scrap paper pieces with names of characters written on them
  • Masks/costumes/character-signs for each character in the book


  1. Say: “We have been practicing fluency together, and today we are going to continue that practice with a new story. Before we begin, can anyone remember what the first and second reading are usually like with a new story? [Wait.] Yeah, when we read new stories it takes a little longer because it’s not as familiar. But as we practice and gain familiarity with the words and the punctuation, we will begin reading with more fluency; that’s what fluency is. Once we have fluency, what does our reading feel like and sound like? [Wait.] Yeah, our reading will feel easier, more natural, and will have expression that shows different feelings or levels of excitement in the story.”
  2. Say: “Today, we’re beginning with a new book: Are You My Mother?. [Hold up book and show cover.] In this story, the main character is this baby bird. [Begin picture walk for book talk.] Usually, the baby bird is safe in the nest, but one day he jumps out of the nest down to the ground. He has a shocking realization! He doesn’t know who his mother is! Oh, no… So, he goes on an adventure searching for her. Will he find her? We have to read to find out.”
  3. Pass out books. Say: “Let’s start out by reading it one time in a whisper read with our cover-up critters. [Pass out cover-up critters.] While you’re whisper reading, if you get stuck on a word, what will you do first? [Wait.] Yeah, you always finish the sentence. And if you are still not sure after reading the rest of the sentence, use your cover-up critters to help you decode the word. I will be watching for cover-up critters and offer help if you still need it. Once you get the word, do you re-read the sentence, or do you move on? [Wait.] Yeah, you re-read the sentence before continuing. When you’re done, give me a thumbs up.”
  4. Say: “Before we start, does anyone have a prediction about whether or not the bird with find it’s mother; if so, how? [Wait.] Why do you think that? [Wait.] Let’s start reading so that we can find out! [Student’s begin reading.]”
  5. During the first-round of whisper reading, visit with readers to listen in on their reading and provide scaffolds where they are needed.
  6. When everyone is done reading, say: “Did anyone change their minds about their predictions? [Wait.] What made you change your mind? [Wait.] What did you notice about your reading fluency? [Wait.] Let’s go to our desks and read to ourselves or to a partner and see what else we notice in the story and how our fluency improves. As you’re reading this time, I will come to your desk at some point and ask you to read to me.”
  7. While students are reading at their desks, go to them individually to have them read to you from wherever they are in the story. Bring evaluation checklist to monitor progress. Ask content-related questions based on the portion of the story that is read to you to help keep students engaged.


  • Miscues: __________________________
  • Expression (circle): flat, varied pitch, match punctuation/words, match meaning
  • Speed (circle): pause b/t words, observes punctuation, listening speed, very fast
  • Comprehension Question Notes: _____________________
    • What kind of situation is the main character in?
    • What would you do or have you done in that kind of situation?
    • Why did the mother leave her baby?
    • How might the story have gone if the baby never left the nest?
    • In light of the actions the baby took, what do you think he was feeling?
  1. When everyone is done reading, call the small group back to the kidney table (or whatever meeting spot) to discuss new discoveries and progress. Say: “I noticed a lot of good growth in fluency when I visited each of you, which tells me that you’re struggling less with the words and are able to get into the story more. Can anyone share some things that they were able to notice about the story this time that weren’t noticed last time? [Wait.] Those are really interesting details! They certainly help me understand the story. Do those things help me also to know how to express myself as I read? [Wait.] How do they do that? [Wait.] Yeah, the details help me understand feelings and plot changes that I can express with my voice.”
  2. Say: “Now that we’ve practiced reading and feel like we’re growing in fluency and understanding, do you think you’re ready to try Reader’s Theater? [Wait.] Who can remind us what Reader’s Theater is? [Wait.] Yeah, it’s when we act out a story or part of a story using the book as our script. So, let’s begin by drawing out parts from a bowl. [Pass around bowl.] Do a whip-around and quickly share what parts you got. [Whip-around is a method of sharing in order around a circle or semi-circle.] In order to be ready as actors, we need to review our parts. So let’s take about 5 minutes to turn through the book and look at where our speaking parts are. [Give 5 minutes.] Let’s practice just reading our parts when it’s our turn. The first part is the narrator. Narrator, will you please start us off? [Practice reading parts.] Do you want to practice one more time, or do you feel ready to head to the pretend-play center? [Wait, and respond appropriately depending on how students evaluate their practice needs.] Okay, let’s head to the pretend play center.”
  3. Once in the pretend play center, say: “Here are your masks or props for your part. [Call parts one at a time to hand out masks or props.] Let’s do a rehearsal before our real performance. Narrator, will you start us off again?”
  4. After the rehearsal, have a quick 5-minute pow wow evaluating expression and fluency to target areas that can use improvement. This is important to do before having the final production. The final production will look much like the rehearsal, just with hopefully improved fluency. 
  5. There is no set maximum of readings before reader’s theater is done. The students may want or need more practice and/or scaffolding, in which case it would be better to spread out practices, evaluations, and conferences over more than one day. 


“The Fluency House” by Jaime Preston 

“Growing Independence and Fluency” from The Reading Genie (

Eastman, P. D. Are You My Mother? New York: Random House, 1960. Print.

Original Image: Comedy and Tragedy Mask Image

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