Empowering Students With Repeated Reading

This strategy for improving elementary students’ reading skills enables them to see their growth.

March 5, 2024
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When a student reads a text several times, it’s called repeated reading. Repeated reading of short texts, sentences, and letter names or sounds can increase and assess fluency. Teachers can empower students by using repeated reading as an opportunity to offer feedback, act on the feedback, and chart their improvement. Below are some ideas I’ve used that new teachers may find helpful.

Getting started

Most of the time, repeated reading is a strategy that students engage in when reading; they may read a phrase or a sentence again to increase fluency and/or cross-check whether it makes sense. There also may be a need for timed repeated readings, which allow teachers to measure growth and help students see and celebrate improvement. When students see the growth, they understand the importance of reading a text multiple times in their independent reading to increase their fluency and, as a result, their comprehension.

In typical timed readings, the student reads a text out loud for one minute. The text varies by age and focus skill and might be a page of letters with the student saying the letter names or letter sounds, or it could be a series of sentences or a passage. Timed reading assessments take place between one student and the teacher. As an alternative, it can be engaging for a whole class to practice timed reading together—for example, when a kindergarten class reads the sounds for a series of letters, to warm up for reading or phonics activities.

It’s important that teachers introduce timed repeated reading to students as a way they can see their growth, so that they aren’t anxious about being timed. Also important is letting students know that there are times when the pace may slow as they work on expression and decoding—so a reading rate is just one indicator of growth. Encourage them to consider this if there’s a decrease in reading rate for a text.

Providing initial feedback

If a student is stuck on a word that matches a current or previous phonics strategy, remind them about the strategy to help them figure it out. Carefully choose your teacher language in order to prompt the student with the least amount of support they need to solve the word on their own. If the word has an irregular part or is a word that a student is unlikely to know from prior reading or phonics, the teacher can wait a few seconds and then supply the word.

Sometimes I use a marker to highlight tricky word parts or words prior to reading and tell the student, “This word may be new to you, and it is irregular, so I’m going to tell you the word.”

When a student is working on phrasing, one form of feedback can be a teacher modeling how to scoop words into phrases. When I do this, I put one line under the words I scoop together; some teachers put a slash between phrases. For example: “I went to the store / to get some food for my cat.” After modeling the scooping, the student can read to practice, or the teacher can read it together with the student, followed by the student reading on their own.

Another option for modeling is “seesaw reading,” where the teacher reads, the student reads, the teacher reads with a tip for something to improve, and the student reads again. Or the teacher and student could alternate reading one word each back and forth, then repeat but switch who goes first. With alternating words, the student has an opportunity to both read and hear each of the words over the two readings.

It’s important to emphasize to the student that they need to keep their eyes on the text, no matter who is reading, to see the words and help their brain become more automatic with the words.

When a student’s goal is to increase speed, I ask them to “chase after” the words. Then we read together, and I pace the reading a little faster than what the student would do on their own. In this way, they’re chasing after my words. 

Tips for offering feedback 

Feedback should be specific and objective. The more specific the feedback, the more meaningful and empowering it is. I focus my feedback on the skill that the student is working on and give an example of how or when they used the strategy. I begin with a positive and then may offer a tip. “You corrected the word ‘back’ when you saw that ‘bake’ didn’t make sense. When we read the next time, remember to pause here at the period.”

It’s important to give concise feedback and not stop too many times to give feedback, as the focus is on the student engaging in the task. I love giving the student agency and asking, “What did you do well?” If a student cannot yet articulate what they did well, I’ll offer a visual listing three to four strategies they can use, so they have some ideas to choose from.

Possible areas of focus for repeated reading and feedback include, but are not limited to, scooping words, using expression, self-correcting, using phonics strategies, not giving up, keeping eyes on the text, and remembering a word from a prior text.

Empowering Students

In addition to the ideas above about agency and empowerment, the specific strategies below have empowerment as the primary goal.

Make it visual: Provide a bar graph for the student to color in after their first read. If they read 45 words per minute, they color in 45 squares using a color like yellow. Then, after practicing the text with repeated reading and receiving feedback from the teacher, the student can do a final read and color the next column of squares in green.

I ask the student what helped them improve (or if the score went down, what might be a reason why). Providing ways for students to document their own progress and reflect on what contributed to the progress offers them a tool they can use in future learning.

Set a goal: When a student sets a goal for their learning, they’re in the driver’s seat and are often more engaged and motivated by working toward the goal. The teacher can support the student by helping them take steps toward the goal and by offering strategies and feedback. Goals for students could include the number of words per minute; taking a breath if they feel anxious when reading a challenging word; reading all the words with the /a/ sound correctly; or telling themselves, “All readers come to hard words when they read.”

The more we can empower our students through strategies and feedback, the more we can accelerate their reading growth. Reading is a foundational skill that we, as educators, need to ensure we are building in all of our students. In the words of Frederick Douglass, “Once you learn to read, you will forever be free.”

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  • New Teachers
  • English Language Arts
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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