Monday, December 29, 2014

How We Do Fluency in 3rd Grade

Here in third grade, we practice fluency daily with:
-Word Lists
-Phrase Lists
-Passages/Running Records

My Mental Journey
I have had a love-hate relationship with fluency. As a third grade teacher, my students are subject to end of year, high-stakes testing for the first time. Fluency is not tested on these exams, students have all day to read the passages and test if they want. Comprehension is key. Not just on the end of year tests, but all year long comprehsnion is what is assessed and measured for mastery. Fluency has just been something we've done on the side, an add-on. I mean, third grade is the year students move from "learning to read" to "reading to learn", right?

Wrong. Well, at least for most of my kiddos. See, this year I have a group of very hard-working students who happen to be below grade level or the low end of on grade level. What I have found is that even though they can take as long as they would like on grade level comprehension assessments, they don't. Either they don't want to be the last one working or they just flat out lack the stamina. Fluency has been a crucial part of my reading instruction this year to help students close the gap while they are building stamina with testing. If they can read the words fluently and with accuracy, they will be less frustrated and they can spend more time making meaning from text since less time will be spent decoding. 

Fluency Centers
At the beginning of the school year, I had a great idea for fluency centers. I assigned the students partners based on the DRA assessment. I planned an elaborate schedule for when partners would visit the fluency center during Daily 5, asked for timers to be sent in, set up the center with directions, and had the students glue passages into their reading notebook for practice. "What a great idea," I thought; "This is going to be wonderful," I thought; "Other teachers will use this idea for sure," I thought; and then, reality hit. There I was in the middle of a reading group and all of a sudden, timers. Timers chiming and buzzing and beeping and absolutely So, I came up with a new rule, you have 5 seconds to turn off the timer after it starts buzzing. Nope, that didn't help, I couldn't do it, I shut the center down.

Whole Group Fluency, Sort-Of
So, I invested all this time in creating fluency centers, partnering the students, and setting up a routine to find that it just didn't work for me. That's okay, teachers are like kids, we're all different and one thing won't work for everyone. I am just not the kind of teacher that can stay focused and deal with loud beeping noises interrupting the flow of my small groups. I knew I didn't want to stop fluency, like I said above, my students this year are still learning to read and they need it. I started squeezing in 5-10 minutes of fluency after our whole group lesson and quickly realized that we had found what works. After daily five, students grab their reading notebook and sit in their "fluency seat", next to their fluency parter. I set the egg timer on the Promethean Board for 1 minute (30 seconds in between each measure) and we get started with our routine.

Our Routine *All links are listed below
1. Word List from - Student pairs are numbered "student one" and "student two". The students have one minute to read as many words as they can. Student one reads the first word, student two the second word, and they continue to alternate words for the minute. Afterward, they have 30 seconds to record their progress on the graph on the back of the word list before we move on. If we have time we will do the word list again, with student two reading the first word so both students have an opportunity to read all of the words. (1-2 minutes of practice, 30 sec.-1 min. of transition time)
2. Phrase List - Students do the same procedure as above. They have one minute to read alternating phrases and then 30 seconds to graph on the back. We will do it a second time with student two reading first if we have time, if not, student two will read first next time. We practice reading the phrases properly (as questions, statements, or exclamations). (1-2 minutes of practice, 30 sec.-1 min. of transition time)
3. Passages from Ashleigh - I taught my students how to do running records. While one partner reads, the other tracks the errors. At the end of one minute, they calculate the amount of words read correct, graph their results, and switch. (2 minutes of practice, 1 min. of transition time)
TOTAL TIME: 6-9 minutes a day (once students are trained), with less time if you choose not to do all 3 measures in a day

Our New Fluency Center
One day, after working on a passage for over a week, I decided to model how to do a running record again. I read for a minute, using the document camera, and the students tracked my errors. I ended up getting much farther in the passage than any of them had and by the time the minute was over they were much more interested in hearing the rest of the story than pointing out my mistakes (which speaks volumes). I was so suprised that after daily practice on the same passage for over a week, none of them had actually finished reading the passage. That's when I decided to bring back the fluency center. 

So...I know I just did all that over-the-top ranting about how timers drive me crazy and now I'm bringing back the fluency center. I had to think of a way to make it work. I decided that during their time at the fluency center, students would just read lesiurely. Fluency doesn't always have to be timed, studies show that repeated readings are one of the best ways to build fluency. At the center, students take their time to read through their passage, phrase list, word list, and weekly poem. The goal is to simply get to the end of each measure to build context and familiarity. Since my students view timed fluency as a race, they love this extra practice time. One of my kids said they are practicing to win the challenge. The best part is, they were talking about beating their own score and not their partner.

Our Progress
My class has grown in leaps and bounds since we first started squeezing in fluency after our whole group lesson. I measure many of my kids with formal fluency assessments through the Aims Web program every other week. Most of the students I track were below or near their personal fluency target and now, they are close, at, or above. If fluency is a concern for your class as well, I really encourage you to put some practice in place daily or multiple times a week. It really does make a difference.

Check out some of the pictures from our Fluency Pockets below and scroll down for a freebie. Don't hesitate to leave me some of your thoughts for fluency in the upper grades.

Poem from The Teaching Oasis
Fluency Passage from Ashleigh

This is a picture of the back of the passage, where the students track their progress. When the graph is full and it's time to move on to a new passage, this page goes into their data binder. The back of the word list and phrase list also has a graph for tracking progress.

 Fry's Sight Word Phrases (link below)

Word List from Easy CBM

Interested in trying this out in your classroom? Grab the free pockets by clicking the link below. Also, check out some of these free fluency resources:

Easy CBM: word lists and passages by grade level
Fry Phrases: six lists with 100 words each
2nd-5th Grade Passages: from Mrs. Hultenius' site
1st-6th Grade Passages: McGraw-Hill
Fluency Pockets, Graphs, and Center Bookmark: from Adrienne, ha! Click the link and enjoy!

Image Map


  1. Love thus post! I've been working on fluency too. We've only been doing one passage a week. My kids find a partner that is in their guided reading group to read the fluency passage to each other. I ordered one minute sand timers off of amazon to avoid the beeping. They are surprisingly inexpensive. I've been looking for fluency phrases for my low groups, thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Adrienne-I just saw this post pinned on my fluency board, and I had to hop over and comment. I love how you explained your fluency routine. Very easy ideas to incorporate into our ELA block.

  3. Is this procedure something that you do all year? Do the kids get bored with the process; doing the words and phrases everyday?

    The Weekly Sprinkle

  4. I am SO impressed! Especially with teaching the students to do the running records. What a great idea. I am totally going to try this in my classroom.

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  6. Thank you so much for this resource on fluency practice! I've started using the word list. How far do the students usually get on that list in a minute?

  7. Thanks so much for your clear outline of how you do this in your classroom! I teach a high group of second graders, but I have a group with low fluency. I was looking for an easy way to have a differentiated center for them and I look forward to trying out your ideas.