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Teaching Tips to Increase Fluency in English Language Learners Written by

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Copyright © 2010 Dorit Sasson Reproduction strictly prohibited Updated January 10. 2010

Teaching Techniques to Increase Fluency in ELLs The primary emphasis of fluency should be on developing meaning. Struggling, at-risk and emerging ELLs need graded recognition and production based activities that help them attend to the meaning of a text. "... beginning ELLs usually go through a silent stage (Krashen & Terrell, 1983) and may not be ready for speech or written production" (Barone, p. 63). Even intermediate ELLs may need time to process new concepts and skills (Barone, p. 63). Practice should focus on global and analytical elements of reading. Teachers need to target elements of speed and accuracy in fluency based activities as they read connected text. "Teachers can also support students in developing reading fluency by having them reread text, text at their independent or instructional level" (Barone, p. 205).

Guidelines for Developing Fluency on the Text-Level Consolidated presentation and practice are needed for developing literacy for K-2 literacy levels of English language learners. Learners are said to be fluent when they can successfully implement their knowledge of reading skills and strategies. Figure 1 identifies ELLs' levels of fluency based on their reading performance.

Figure 1 - Ascertaining ELLs' Fluency Abilities at the Text Level 1. Student can understand the main idea of a text with minimal assistance from the teacher or learning tools. 2. Student can partially understand a text but words sometimes interfere with understanding. 3. When asked the main idea of a text, the student can manage comprehension of isolated sentences and offers responses that do not accurately reflect deeper reading.

4. Student needs a glossary to check comprehension of vocabulary


Implementing fluency activities Research has indicated that use of decoding strategies do not necessarily indicate students are fluent readers, and therefore, they need training in fluency strategies. (Mandel,, 2006). According to the report of the U.S. National Reading Panel, fluency is a predictor of reading success and deeper understanding. Although it has been found that fluency is a major goal in reading instruction, teachers are not as

familiar as they should be with fluency strategies, and are not using them regularly (Mandel, et. al., 2006). A significant number of pre-reading activities, such as exposing students to key words (word and sound core) and sentence patterns, are needed to prepare struggling readers for work with text. In addition, "ELLs also need to learn words that teachers use routinely" in the classroom (Barone, p. 197).

Procedures to integrate reading fluency techniques (based on Eric Carle's The Grouchy Ladybug) Students read for detail, finding answers to the following questions. Teachers can also facilitate the process of fluency by underlining the sentences that answer the following questions. ·

Which kinds of insects are in the text? (circle the correct answers)

leaves, aphids, ladybugs, trees


What do aphids drink? (circle the correct answer)

orange juice, juice from the leaf, juice from the tree


Why do the leaves die? (circle the correct answer)

a. The ladybug killed them. b. The aphid drinks juice. c. The ladybug killed the aphid.

Reading Text #1 (adapted) Aphids are very small insects. They suck the juice from leaves, and then the leaves die. Ladybugs eat aphids. That is good for trees, shrubs, and other plants that have leaves. (Eric Carle, The Grouchy Ladybug, 1996)

Pre-teaching vocabulary to facilitate fluency As ELLs in general education classrooms are expected to read texts much more fluently, teachers need additional classroom procedures that help ELLs attend to meaning of text to acquire knowledge and develop vocabulary. High levels of reading fluency imply ELLs can tend to lexical, semantic, background and textual knowledge. For some ELLs however, teachers may need to ease the at-risk or struggling ELL learner by providing additional vocabulary reinforcement. Teachers help their students develop fluency when ELLs are engaged in a variety of global (i.e., meaning of whole sentence and paragraph) and analytical skills (breaking a sentence down and analyzing it) when using pre-reading activities such as presenting a list of words or brainstorming around a word. "Vocabulary instruction leads to deeper processing of word meanings that in turn support reading comprehension" (Barone, p. 190).

When choosing pre-reading activities, teachers should also preteach vocabulary while taking into account students' background knowledge. For the text The Grouchy Ladybug, teachers can preteach the following words: aphids, insects, suck, ladybugs, shrubs, leaves. Background knowledge: science concepts as the life cycle The role of texts in developing fluency The role of text and vocabulary knowledge is crucial for developing fluency in young English language learners. Choosing texts for practicing fluency should take place once students managed to read the targeted words with greater understanding since the focus on developing fluency involves practice with easy texts where all the words are familiar. "In the early stage of teaching second language reading, learners are learning to read not reading to learn. In other words, they are learning how to identify words automatically, accurately and rapidly. To that end they need practice with easy texts where all the words are familiar so that they can develop sight vocabulary" (Barkon, 2007). If there are texts or passages that initially appear too difficult for the ELLs, the teacher can facilitate fluency by reworking parts or the structure or vocabulary of the text for building active practice.

Recommendations for facilitating text-based instruction

Teachers can expose students to all types of texts including shorter lengths of text such as dialogues, songs, descriptions, poems, ads, birthday and greeting cards. At the same time, teachers preview text structure to aid ELLs in overcoming challenges in comprehension (Barone, p. 148). 1. Texts should be on motivating topics, which relate to students' background knowledge 2. Language structure, syntax and semantics should be simplified 3. Teachers can provide enough vocabulary preparation prior to working on the text 4. Teacher can rewrite difficult sentences that are less ambiguous 5. Teachers should link reading tasks with at least one oral activity such as echo or repeated reading. 6. Texts should be accompanied with glossed words.

To incorporate fluency strategies in the expository text on aphids based on The Grouchy Ladybug, teachers can, for example, explain and demonstrate how the use of the word `then' involves an important strategy of rereading the beginning of a sentence which helps ELLs discover the cause why leaves die.

Checklist for analyzing texts: Benchmarks for analyzing 1. Topics - Do students need any background information. Is the topic abstract and vague? 2. Are there too many unfamiliar words ? (i.e., too many scientific expressions?) 3. Is the language structure, syntax, semantics too sophisticated? 4. Are there any different areas of the text that might need more preteaching? (ie. text structure) Producing words/sentences using fluency based activities Timed readings on both word and sentence levels · · 10-15 minutes sustained periods of silent reading Choral reading and echo reading.

Summary Struggling ELLs need a variety of exposure and practice in order to become fluent readers. Meaningful activities complement the reading and oral instruction in order for motivation to actually take place. The choice of materials has important implications for giving at-risk learners the necessary tools for becoming fluent readers. Students also need ongoing pedagogical support such as tutorials, mapping, diagnostic tests, and ongoing mini assessments in order to monitor their learning and progress.

References August, D.L. & Shanahan, T. (Eds.). (2006). Developing Literacy in Second-

Language Learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel. Mahwah,

NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Bernhardt, E. B. (2000). Second language reading as a case study of reading scholarship in the twentieth century. In M.L. Kamil, P.B. Mosenthal, P.D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading

research, 3, 791-811. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Barkon, E., Dr. (2007). Insights from Research on Reading, ETAI, Power point presentation, 2007.

Barone, D. M., and Xu, S. H. (2008). Literacy Instruction for English

Language Learners Pre-K-2. New York, NY: Guildford Press.

Morrow, L., Kuhn, M.R., & Schwanenflugel, P.J. (2006). The Family Fluency Program. The Reading Teacher, 60, 322-333. Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning. Compendium of Standards. Retrieved May 14, 2008, from =7&standardID=5 National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-

based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Washington, DC:

NICHD. Spolsky (1989). Communicative competence, language proficiency, and beyond. Applied Linguistics, 10, 138-56. Children's Literature Carle, Eric. (1996). The Grouchy Ladybug. New ed. HarperCollins.

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