Poetry: Reading Fluently

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SWBAT improve fluency using short poems.

Big Idea

One way to quickly see improvement in students' reading fluency is to practice using short texts, such a poems. Students practice with a partner and observe how their fluency improves after each read.

Unit Introduction

I created this unit for a group of students who needed extra practice with fluency and a beginner’s understanding of poetry. Each day provided a quick lesson on one characteristic or type of figurative language, multiple readings of a short poem, and practice using the term of the day. The unit was designed to take no more than thirty minutes per lesson and lasted three weeks in my classroom.

Due to copyright issues, I could not include the actual poems used each day. However, because the terms being used are universal, fitting poems shouldn’t be too difficult to find! All of the poems I used came from one of two sources:

- Scholastic’s Storyworks magazines.

- The Big Book of Classroom Poems [Hollenbeck, K (2004). The big book of classroom poems. Scholastic Press: New York, NY.].

Setting a Purpose

5 minutes

Students have spent the last several weeks reading poems and learning important terms and characteristics. Today, students use poems to practice their reading fluency. I ask students to pull out their binders, highlighters, and pencils and then go sit next to their partners.

I explain that today we are working on our reading fluency. Remember that fluency means reading accurately (reading the words correctly), with appropriate speed, and fluctuation (not sounding like a robot – but rather sounding as if you are having a natural conversation). You will read a poem several times on your own and with a partner. After each reading, you should be able to hear that your reading fluency has improved. We will try a few strategies together and then you will practice with a partner. 

Fluency Practice

20 minutes

Before we complete any type of work together, I ask students to read the poem out loud to their partners. This will be their cold reading.

Next, we mark the endings of lines in the poem. I’ve noticed that students don’t stop to take a breath when they reach the ends of sentences or lines in a poem. Not only does this sound unnatural, but it can also affect how well they understand a passage. So, we are going to make a focused effort to attend to endings. Pick up your pencil and draw a vertical line wherever you see a period, question mark, or exclamation mark. I give students a few moments to complete the task and ask that they put their pencils down when finished so that I can tell that they are done. Then I have them read the poem out loud with their partner making an effort to stop where they see these end marks.

Now for that fluctuation piece. I noticed that most students sound the same when they are reading a sentence that ends in a period as they do when they read one that ends in a question mark. But I’m sure that these are quite different when we use them in our normal conversations! So they should sound differently in your reading as well. Pick up your highlighter and highlight any question or exclamation marks you see. Put your highlighter down when you are finished. Great! Now, you are going to read the poem out loud again to your partner, but this time if you see a question mark, I want it to sound as if you are asking a question. And if you see an exclamation mark, then your voice should sound as if you are excitedly announcing something! Give it a try.

Last, we need to pay attention to important words that describe the mood. In this poem, a boy is being forced to eat something incredibly disgusting. Have you ever been forced to eat something gross at dinner? Maybe a vegetable you hate? Think about how you felt in that moment. Let’s look for words that really tell us how the narrator is feeling about his experience. Trade highlighters with your partner and highlight these words in a second color. When you are finished, read the poem aloud once more with your partner. Really pay attention to those words and feel his pain as he’s eating!

After students have read through their passages, I tell them that they will continue this practice for the time we have remaining. As they read, I’d like them to incorporate all of the ideas we’ve talked about today – attending to line endings, fluctuation in voice, and mood – so that their reading is complete. As they work, I walk the room giving encouragement and assistance, as needed. Although at times this work sounds a bit chaotic, it’s great to hear the changes in students’ voices as they work through the process!


5 minutes

To wrap up the period, I ask students if they’d like to volunteer to read the poem for the class. This is a great opportunity to show how well your fluency has improved in just a short amount of time. I heard some great readings as I walked the room and encourage students to share with others.