• Samantha Bohannon

Helping Your Child Read with Fluency: Expression

online English language, reading, and writing tutor

I'm glad you came back for Part 2 of this four part series! (Read Part 1 if you missed it!) Students struggle with reading fluency for many reasons and all students are different, but many students do not understand that there are many facets of reading with fluency. Most students think that all reading entails is reading quickly and getting all of the words correct, which we know is not true.

Many times students are asked to read with expression, but they don't really know what it is. Then, when they hear the teachers example, they feel like it was unnecessarily overdramatic and feel like it's acting (or at least I did and then I was embarrassed to do it in front of my class because I was PAINFULLY shy and afraid someone would think I was weird. I was.)

So What is Reading with Expression?

Reading with expression is the ability to read the same way one would talk. This encompasses intonation, rests or pauses, and using appropriate emotion (maybe it does kind of sound like acting...). This means that the reader fluctuates his or her voice during reading as a person talking would, pauses at commas, periods, and semi-colons, and reflects the emotions of the character or author of the text (think being louder if there is an exclamation mark or raising the pitch of your voice if there is a question). For students who read easily and are outgoing, this becomes a skill they pick up on easily. For students who are shy, it can take a long time to develop. For students who struggle to read, it can take even longer because they become so focused on the accuracy and speed that they can't begin to think about reading with expression.

So How Can I Help My Student with Reading with Expression?

I have a short list of things you can try with your student to help him or her practice reading with expression.

1. Read to Them!

The best thing you can do is read to them and demonstrate the process. If they have never heard someone else read with expression, they will not read with expression.

2. Repeat After Me!

A strategy to implement while you are reading to your child is to have them "echo read." If you are unfamiliar with echo reading, it is when you read a sentence with fluency and your child is supposed to repeat what they heard while following along with a text. For example, if I am reading Curious George with my son, I may read a sentence and point to the words as I read. Then I would have him point to the same words and repeat them back to me, just like I said them. This teaches the child to recognize how fluent readers sound and practice that in a safe environment with modeling and support.

3. Have Them Practice

I can't think of many things that you can do well without practice. If you want something for intentional practice, designed to teach reading with expression, there are resources all over the internet, like this one here. However, I suggest picking a picture book or a chapter of a book your child is interested in and work with that. The more interested your child is in a topic or a book, the more likely they will demonstrate success in learning or reading that book. Think about it. Aren't you more likely to do something you are ACTUALLY interested in? Once she or he begins to do well reading content they are interested in, it's time to introduce things they are not so interested in. Why? Because we are unfortunately expected to do some things in life we do not like and if we can learn to be successful at doing those things when we are not interested, then we will be AMAZING at that skill!

4. Role-Play While Reading

While reading a text, choose a character or person your child likes and pretend to read like they would. This makes the activity fun, but also teaches your student how to read with expression! As an added bonus, they are considering how the language would sound from different perspectives. For example, let's say you are reading Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. The first time you read, you read it like a royal prince. The second time you read, you read it like a grumpy old bear. Then, maybe you read like a teeny tiny fairy. Or you could read it like Spongebob, whatever will get your child interested! The goal is for your child to understand that reading takes on different sounds and should sound like a natural spoken conversation.

What Do You Do When None of Those Worked?

First, make sure you don't start to panic. Remember that everyone learns at different rates and if you are trying, you are doing great! If you still have questions, you can contact me and we can see if we can figure out a new strategy to try. However, if you are feeling at your wit's end, it may be time to try tutoring. Some kids just need a little more support and a little more practice before they are reading like a pro! (Or, if they are anything like my kids, they need someone besides their parents to teach them. Yes, teachers have this problem, too! My kids see me as mommy and not their teacher and don't take me seriously.)

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