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Poetry Coffeehouse #2    
9-12 Fluency for Secondary Students


What is fluency?
Fluency is the ability to read text effortlessly with accuracy, speed, and expression. It is also described as the rate of reading in a particular time frame. Fluent readers have developed the ability to chunk words into phrases and to skillfully use these chunks to read materials quickly.  

Why is reading fluency important for secondary struggling readers?

  • Reading fluency is an important ability for secondary (middle and high school) students because of the large quantities of text they must read for class assignments.
  • The reading demands of adolescents are high; causing students with poor reading fluency to fall behind in text reading.
  • When students do not recognize words with automaticity, they spend time on struggling through materials that could be devoted to comprehending text.
  • Students with poor reading fluency read less in a given amount of time, reducing the amount of material read overall, which has a negative impact on both developing vocabulary and learning the content.

What is the goal of reading fluency instruction for secondary struggling readers?
The goal of reading fluency instruction for secondary students is to help them become fluent readers so more emphasis can be placed on comprehending content.

What are some instructional guidelines for building reading fluency?

  • Students should read text that is at their instructional/independent reading level.
  • Materials that are age-appropriate and written at a student’s independent level are recommended.
  • Students should possess the following prerequisite skills:
    • Sound/symbol correspondence,
    • recognition of phonetically regular consonant-vowel-consonant words,
    • recognition of some sight or high frequency words.

(adapted from Council For Learning Disabilities Infosheet: Secondary Students with Learning Disabilities in Reading: Developing Reading Fluency)

Fluency Instruction

Essential Element:  Fluency

Framework  Reading
                     Standard 11:  Students shall acquire and apply skills in vocabulary      
                     development and word analysis to be able to read fluently.

One of the most important tools in building fluency is the read-aloud, yet as students get older, they are less likely to be read to.  In fact, many would say that reading aloud to a high school student is a waste of time.  However, the read-aloud concept offers several benefits even to the older student.  In his book The Fluent Reader, Rasinski cites studies to underscore two of these benefits:  expanded vocabulary and improved comprehension.  He adds that the read-aloud also improves fluency as students come to understand that meaning is not only words but the interpretation of words.  Perhaps most importantly, the read-aloud fosters a motivation to read.  Another study which Rasinski cites says that “a well-planned read-aloud program, even for older students, can stimulate interest in books and introduce students to quality literature in various genres, well beyond their reading level.”


  • Engaging authentic literature in a variety of genres, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry and drama.  These pieces may be chosen for whole-class instruction in the elements of literature, or they may be chosen to stimulate interest in reading.  Entire pieces or memorable passages will be excerpted for reading aloud.
  • Read-aloud activities designed to be used with the whole class or with small groups of less fluent readers.  These activities are designed as mini-lessons requiring five to ten minutes; however, student performance of polished pieces may require additional time.  All of the following are taken from or adapted from The Fluent Reader by Timothy V. Rasinski; his book provides many examples of fluency-building activities that can easily be adapted for older students.

Direct Instruction

The teacher will explain why it is important to read fluently.  He/she will emphasize that good reading is more than reading fast and calling words correctly.  Fluent reading helps to convey meaning through appropriate expression, phrasing, and pace.  The teacher will demonstrate by reading a passage disfluently—no intonation, word-by-word—and then by reading a passage fluently.


All of the read-aloud activities that follow call for the teacher to model fluent reading of pre-selected passages.  The teacher demonstrates, perhaps several times, how to read the passage with expression and appropriate phrasing.  Often, s/he will use the read-aloud as an opportunity to think aloud about how a good reader constructs meaning.

Guided Practice

All of the read-aloud activities that follow allow students to practice what they have heard the teacher model.  In many cases, students will move beyond pieces which the teacher has modeled and will apply what they have learned about fluent reading to passages which they have selected.  Most of these activities can be done collaboratively or independently; all require teacher and/or peer feedback.  These guided practices afford the teacher the opportunity to assess fluency progress either formally or informally.


Most of the read-aloud activities that follow allow the students the option to perform pieces on which they have worked to achieve fluency.  Performances may be for the teacher and a small group, the whole class, or larger audiences.  Performances also afford the teacher another opportunity to assess fluency progress.


Poetry Coffeehouse #2

The Poetry Coffeehouse or Poetry Slam provides access to poetry without teaching it in the traditional way.  Poetry becomes a vehicle for studying the richness of language and human emotion.  This means of expression often leads to a love of poetry, both published and original work.

Early in the Week

Students listen to teachers read poems and then browse through collections of poetry, and select poems to perform either individually or with partners or groups.  The teacher may limit the numbers of performers to a few each week.

During the Week

Students practice their poems with coaching from teachers.  Teachers emphasize that a successful performance lies not only in the poet’s words, but also in the interpretation of those words.

End of the Week

The coffeehouse begins with the teacher sharing his/her own selection and introducing that day’s performers.  Performances may include bongos or tambourines, and the performers are rewarded with encouragement, applause or finger snapping; the atmosphere may be enhanced with mood lighting, café seating, and refreshments.  Visitors who are willing to share a poem with the group may also be included.

Early in the year, students may choose to perform light or often silly pieces, but by midyear, they often select more serious poems.  By the end of the year, many are writing their own poetry.  

           Students will demonstrate fluency during their performance.

Tier II Additions

  • Have students choose a poem either previously read in class or one familiar to them.
  • Allow student practice reading the poem several times with teacher or student peer.

Tier III Accommodation/Modifications

  • Have student choose a poem on his/her independent reading level.
  • Modify poem to his/her independent reading level.

Tier IV Modification

  • Find poem (or phrases from a poem) on student’s independent reading level.
  • Allow student multiple practice times with teacher, student peer, or paraprofessional outside of class.

Tier V Modification

  • Allow student to read poem (or words or phrases from a poem) with teacher, student peer, or paraprofessional during performance by reciting 1 word per line.
  • Offer poems in Braille for students with a visual impairment.

Copyright © 2006 Arkansas Department of Education.  All rights reserved.  School districts may reproduce  these materials for in-school student use only.  No resale.  Materials may not be reproduced, distributed or  sold for commercial use or profit.  ADE employees are not authorized to waive these restrictions.

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