Fluency and Reading

Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately, at a good pace, and with good expression.

Fluency is tied to comprehension. If a student is reading at a slow pace, and having to sound out many words, the main focus is on decoding, and as a result, comprehension goes down.

To improve fluency, have your child or student read aloud a text that is below his/her instructional level. This can build confidence and show them what it is like to read smoothly. Another good technique is you read a page and your child reads a page. Also, try having your child record him/herself–kids love to hear themselves read!

High Frequency Sight Words

Knowing high frequency sight words can greatly improve reading fluency.

High frequency sight words are the words that are most commonly used in English. It is not surprising that words like: a, an, the, of, said, etc. would be at the top of the list of high frequency words.

It helps to teach these words alongside phonics because of the sheer amount of times a child/student will encounter them when reading a passage. Phonics should be used for less familiar words. Knowing irregular words by sight is even more beneficial as they are difficult to sound out using the traditional phonics patterns.

Here is a list of the 100 most common words used in English (Fry’s List):

the, of, and, a, to, in, is, you, that, it, he, was, for, on, are, as, with, his, they, I, at, be, this, have, from, or, one, had, by, words, but, not, what, all, were, we, when, your, can, said, there, use, an, each, which, she, do, how, their, if, will, up, other, about, out, many, then, them, these, so, some, her, would, make, like, him, into, time, has, look, two, more, write, go, see, number, no, way, could, people, my, than, first, water, been, called, who, oil, sit, now, find, long, down, day, did, get, come, made, may, part

(Click on my Reading Navbar for the first 300 words plus the Dolch’s word list.)


Sight Words

What are sight words?

There is some confusion regarding “sight words,” as this term can generally mean two different things.

  • A sight word can be any word that is read by “sight”–that is, it is not sounded out but recognized and read as a whole word.


  • A sight word is a word that is irregular in that it does not follow the typical pronunciation of letter sounds and thus can’t be sounded out. These kind of words are read by “sight” as well.

Most good spelling lists have the majority of the words following a spelling pattern (such as CVC) and then add a few high frequency sight words. These words can fall under either definition–some can be sounded out and some can’t. But all are so common so as to be beneficial to read by sight. Knowing sight words improves reading fluency.


Consonant-Vowel-Consonant (CVC) Words and Reading

There is something satisfying when your child or students begin to read CVC words; they feel good about reading!

CVC words are words that have a consonant-vowel-consonant sound pattern. Some examples of CVC words are: cat, jet, hit, pot, but. These words can be sounded out and blended (sounds /j/, /e/, /t/, and then blended together to make “jet”).

It is good idea to get a really solid foundation for your child when teaching CVC words. Sounding out these words is the building block of future reading. Also, it is helpful if your child knows the most common sight words to facilitate reading simple stories.

I have designed a unit on CVC words and the most common high frequency sight words. Some students need more time at this phase than the first grade curriculum allows. If you decide to purchase the unit, I hope you find the materials helpful, and I welcome any feedback.

CVC Unit

My units are primarily in black and white so as to be printer and user friendly. Click on my Teacher Store button to view my items.

Letter Sounds

The first step in phonics is recognizing that each letter has its own sound. Once your child or students have learned their letter sounds, they are on their way to being beginning readers.

Most reading programs have an animal or object associated with a letter sound. For example: “A Annie Apple says /a/”or “C Cassie Cat says /c/.” Songs that go over the phonic sounds are also really powerful memory aids. (Sometimes phonics songs can go through my head!)

Often, reading programs will teach the continuous letter sounds first (like “mmmm” and “ssss”) before teaching the more abrupt sounds like /t/ or /c/. I always wondered why they didn’t go in order, and recently I read that that is the logic behind it.

Also, try not to teach similar looking letters back to back like: b, d, p, q. Notice they are very similar, just turned different ways? The reversals b and d are very common, and I do not mark off for them when grading.

Kindergarten typically focuses on a new letter each week.



Phonics versus Phonemic Awareness

Phonics is print-based and phonemics is speech-based. The two can be taught interchangeably. Phonics is teaching children to associate certain sounds with letters and letter combinations.

Though there are 26 letters, there are over 44 speech sounds–any many more spelling combinations to represent those sounds. For example, think of the long /i/ sound and the words: sky, like, tie, and might–all long /i/ words with different spelling patterns.

When teaching phonics, it is best to focus on one pattern at a time; this keeps the process less confusing.

Reading Instruction Ends at About Third Grade

By fourth grade, students are expected to read to learn, and are no longer taught how to read. What does this mean if your student or child is a struggling reader?

You need to continue direct instruction in teaching reading. Realize, at this point, your child or student will need additional instruction, be it through a resource teacher, or private instruction. There are many good computer programs out there that are systematic and deal with phonics. It will help, if you as a parent or teacher, understand the principles behind teaching reading. (Many teachers who have not taught younger students do not understand teaching reading).

More on Phonemic Awareness

For many of us, reading has never been a struggle; we just learned to read and became better with practice. For me personally, I was never taught to read through a phonics based approach–I basically learned by sight.

For others, however, and especially children with learning disabilities, learning to read can be a painful process. Most children with processing difficulties in reading are of average intelligence. As a result, they learn quickly and do understand that they have a problem most students don’t have.

These students need extra intervention, and for these students, learning systematically the process of sounds and syllabication is necessary.

Whether your child has a learning disability or is just learning to read–pretty much all schools use a phonics based approach when teaching reading.

You can practice phonemic awareness with your child/students by: practicing rhyming, learning the individual letter sounds, practicing breaking words up into syllables (e.g. happy is /hap/ /py/), and practicing saying letter sounds out loud and then blending (e.g. cat is the three sounds /c/ /a/ /t/ and then blend to say “cat”).

(A lot of books on reading and programs like Reading Mastery use the phrase, “Say it fast” to prompt students to blend sounds).

Phonemic Awareness and Reading

Getting ready for reading begins way before you begin sounding out words in a story book.

Did you know phonemic awareness does not involve print (that is phonics)?

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words, and it is an important key to learning to read.

That is why nursery rhymes and rhyming can be so helpful. They begin to expose your child/student to how changing the beginning sound of a word can make a new word, and the principle that different sounds make different words.