Building fluency and expression with early readers

For children who have mastered the phonic code, reading with fluency and expression is usually the next major hurdle in their reading journey. Luckily, it’s a skill that feeds itself because as their fluency improves, children understand more of what they are reading and the whole process becomes more enjoyable and rewarding. As it becomes easier and more enjoyable, they want to read more which then improves their fluency further.

I read, we read, you read

This is one strategy that you can use to help your child build fluency and provides a good model to teach reading with expression. I use this strategy with my daughter and have recorded our reading together so that you can hear how it works and what you should expect in terms of impact. Although she is in Year 1, I read, we read, you read can be used with any early reader wanting to build fluency and expression, as long as the reading text is well matched. It is worth noting, that this shouldn’t be the only strategy that you use with your child for reading but one of a range of activities for supporting your child’s reading (more blogs to follow..!).

Step 1: Choosing a text

For this particular activity, choose a text that is pitched a little higher than your child’s independent reading ability. For the example below, I chose Squishy McFluff, The Invisible Cat by Pip Jones which is a fun, entertaining read that my daughter happened to receive for her birthday. However, it is a challenging independent read for her, especially as it has a rhythm and rhyme to it. You can hear the level of challenge in the following recording as she reads a page for the first time:


If you’re able to, I’d recommend checking out Oxford Owls free eBooks for this as you can pitch texts fairly easily by choosing a book band above your child’s current book band.

Step 2: I read

Time to channel your inner Jack-a-nory! You read one page or paragraph to your child first, modelling lots of lovely expression and reading fluently (keeping a reasonably steady pace though). Importantly, you should also model enjoyment of the text as your child will take their cue from you – if you’re loving it, they almost certainly will too.

Step 3: We read

This time, you both read the text together. You’ll need to slow your pace a little to give them time for the extra processing they have to do. Lead them through the text and continue to put expression into your reading for them to emulate.

Step 4: You read

On the third read through, your child reads by themselves. Help them if they stumble over a word as you want to keep the pace of the read going. You should see a reasonable level of fluency on this third read and some imitated expression. If they are still finding the reading too hard, try a lower level text next time. Conversely, if they’re acing it at Step 3, you’ve pitched the text too low.

What does it sound like in practice?

I’ll leave you with a recording of my daughter and I reading a few pages of Squishy McFluff the other night. If you compare it with the ‘cold’ read above, you can hear the impact of this reading strategy.


As mentioned previously, this should be one of the tools in your reading toolbox and not the only way that you read together. You don’t want your child to get too dependent on your decoding, they will still need practise with this too. It is a lovely reading activity to do together that I hope you will both enjoy.

Grab a book, get cosy and have a go – happy reading!

Katharine Simkins


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