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Oral Fluency & Its Relationship to Reading Comprehension

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

Oral reading fluency is an important element of reading comprehension. This lesson will explore that connection for teachers seeking to improve oral fluency with their students.

What Is Oral Fluency

Oral fluency is a term in the teaching of reading that refers to how smoothly and quickly a reader can read connected material aloud. Oral fluency also includes how much expression the reader has in reading the passage. This measure of pitch, stress, and timing is also called prosody.

Assessing oral fluency can provide information about a child's reading level, but is not a sufficient measurement of reading comprehension.


Early readers begin with decoding written material using previous information acquired about the sounds of letters and letter combinations. Sight words learned by consistent repetition and recognition also play a part in the initial stages of reading for comprehension. Sight words are words that appear with regularity in early reading materials. Some examples include the, see, and we.

Learning to recognize sight words is important
recognizing familiar words

Unfortunately, neither decoding ability nor oral fluency alone constitute the ability to read rapidly and with comprehension and recall of written information. Oral fluency contributes to reading comprehension, but is not the complete picture.

How Oral Fluency Works in Reading Comprehension

In order to make material sound smooth and flowing when read aloud, the reader must have moved beyond decoding individual words. Familiarity with the how the language sounds and the syntax of common sentences plays a large role. If the reader already speaks the language, especially from infancy, and learned to speak and recognize words and phrases and their meanings in this same language, learning to read is a much easier proposition. Familiarity leads to an appropriate rate of speed and accuracy in pronunciation.

That is why non-native speakers may have more trouble moving from decoding individual words to reading with comprehension. Oral fluency is an intermediary step in this process. Readers who read with automatic recognition of the words and their meaning, called automaticity, have a much greater chance of understanding what they read.

Perhaps this example will help illustrate the progression. Imagine a native English-speaking adult learning a second language - French or Arabic, for instance - and then never having much opportunity to speak the language after the instruction period was ended. He or she will probably retain some key words and expressions, and will find the language familiar-sounding, but will lose much of the ability to have a conversation, or read prose material with full comprehension.

Yet that same person can probably read a paragraph or passage aloud with proper pronunciation and inflection: oral fluency.

More practice would be needed with the same passage in order to return to a level in which comprehension comes with the reading of a word, and all of the words fit together quickly enough in the reader's mind to carry meaning for the reader.

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