Reading Fluency Explained

What Fluent Reading Is & How Reading Fluency is Developed 

How to Help a Child or Student Become a Fluent Reader


What is fluency?


Fluency is ‘fast’ or ‘automatic’ reading. Fluent readers are able to read quickly and accurately without effort. By appearances, the student instantly recognizes words and reads the ‘fast way’ without slowly sounding out. It seems by simply ‘knowing’ the words the student is able to read easily and quickly.


We know fluency is critical to reading comprehension and skilled reading.  However, it is important to realize appearances do not reveal the actual process involved in fluent reading. To help students become fluent readers, we need to learn specifically about the actual process of fluent reading and how fluent reading is developed. The necessary answers lie in the amazing field modern neuroscience.


The remarkable advances in neural imaging allow scientists to look closely at the process of fluent reading.  Researchers have learned and discovered much about the neural processes involved with fluent reading and how fluent reading is developed.  Neuroscientists learned fluent reading uses a ‘fast reading area’ different from the ‘slow’ phonologic processing pathways used by beginning readers. Fluent reading uses a neural ‘expressway’ to process the word. With fluent reading, a quick look at the word activates a stored neural model. This neural model allows not only ‘fast’ reading but also activates correct pronunciation and understanding of the word. These ‘fast’ pathways allow rapid, effortless reading.


How is fluency developed?


Importantly, neuroscientists are learning how fluency is developed. Fluent reading is established after the individual reads the word at least four times using accurate phonologic processing (slow accurate sounding out). Fluency is build word by word and entirely dependent on repeated, accurate, slow sounding out of the specific word.  Fluency is not established by ‘memorizing’ what words look like but rather by developing correct neural-phonologic models of the word.  Repeated accurate phonologic processing is essential for developing fluency. In simplified terms, the repeated accurate phonologic processing literally engraves a neural model of the word. This neural model is then is stored in the ‘fast reading area’ available for rapid retrieval.  An individual’s storehouse of fluent ‘fast’ words is built word by word and is dependent on repeated accurate print to sound (phonologic) processing.


Neuroscientists also discovered dyslexic readers do not develop these fluent or ‘fast reading’ pathways. Struggling readers do not convert print to sound. Because the struggling readers are not accessing the initial phonologic processing pathways the neural models of the words are never made and fluent reading is not developed. Consequently struggling readers fail to develop fluent ‘fast’ reading pathways. Without these ‘fast’ reading pathways, reading remains slow and takes much effort. Students who fail to establish initial correct phonologic processing do not develop fluency.


In summary, ‘fast’ or fluent reading is different than slow sounding out. However, this rapid effortless reading is entirely dependent on initial phonologic processing. Individuals build fluency one word at a time by repeatedly sounding out individual words using correct phonologic processing pathways. Phonologic processing is key to developing fluency.



How do I help a student become a fluent reader?


The critical information to keep in mind for effective reading instruction is fluency or effortless ‘fast’ reading is developed word-by-word based on repeated accurate phonologic processing of specific words.  To develop fluency, the student FIRST has to be reading by correct, accurate phonologic processing. The student must be ‘sounding out’ the words correctly. THEN, the student needs to build their storehouse of fluent or ‘fast’ words by repeated accurate phonological processing of individual words. This expansion of fluent reading requires practice repeatedly reading individual words.


To help a student develop fluency:







Remember, fluency is build word-by-word and entirely dependent on repeated, accurate phonologic processing of the specific word.  Fluency is not established by visually ‘memorizing’ what words look like but rather by developing correct neural-phonologic models of the word.  Repeated accurate phonologic processing is essential for developing fluency and practice reading is essential for expanding fluency.  


Fluency is only one of the advanced skills necessary for proficient reading. Link to the Free Reading Information page of Right Track Reading for additional informative articles and resources on teaching students to read proficiently.



This article was written by Miscese Gagen a mother with a passion for teaching children to read proficiently by using effective methods. She is also a successful reading tutor and author of the reading instructional programs Right Track Reading Lessons and Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons. The purpose of this article is to empower parents and teachers with information on teaching children how to read. We CAN improve reading proficiency, one student at a time!  More information is located at   ~ Copyright 2007 Miscese R. Gagen ~