Reading with Fluency and the Importance of Punctuation.

PunctuationFluency is a crucial reading skill. It is the ability to rapidly and accurately decode words and understand the words once they have been decoded. If a student cannot read with fluency, it means all their mental energy is being expended on the decoding task, leaving little mental energy for understanding the meaning of the text.

Despite fluency being an important reading skill, it is rarely taught either in the classroom or in reading intervention programs.

There are several factors associated with developing fluency. Firstly, readers must have a large bank of words and common letter strings which they are able to quickly and accurately read. Secondly, they must have good phonic and syllabification knowledge so that when they encounter an unknown word they can quickly decode the word. Thirdly, they need a good understanding of punctuation and how punctuation influences the reading, and understanding, of a sentence and groups of sentences.

Obviously the systematic and explicit teaching of phonics and syllabification is an underlying key factor of reading competency. Once students understand how to, and have the knowledge for, decoding, they need to have an automatic recall for an ever increasing number of words. However, many struggling readers also need specific practise in reading fluently. One strategy is repeated reading. Repeated reading involves repeatedly rereading a small passage until fluency and accuracy goals are met. The research shows that not only does this strategy lead to increased fluency, but also to increased comprehension both at the word and the sentence level (e.g., Sukhram, 2008, Vadasy & Sanders, 2008).

We also need to develop students’ understanding of punctuation in the reading process. Firstly, they need to learn how to make changes to intonation and volume when encountering different types of punctuation marks. However, they also need to understand why the author chose to place a punctuation mark in that particular position.

One strategy, is to video the student reading part of a story – choose text with a range of different types of punctuation. Play the recording back to the student and discuss how they could change their intonation to make it easier for the listener to understand. Video the student reading the same passage again, trying to improve on fluency and intonation and then compare to the first recording.

Another strategy is to read a book such as Punctuation Takes a Vacation by Robin Pulver. This book highlights the challenges in communicating a message clearly when it has not been punctuated correctly. For a video recording of this story, go to:


Sukhram, D. (2008). The effects of oral repeated reading with and without corrective feedback on the fluency and comprehension of narrative and expository text for struggling readers. Ph.D., University of Illinois: Urbana-Champaign.

Vadasy, P., & Sanders, E. (2008). Benefits of repeated reading intervention for low-achieving fourth and fifth grade students, Remedial and Special Education, 29 (4) 235-250

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