Word Knowledge Builds Fluency

posted in: Reading | 0

As Orkin et al. (2022) acknowledge, developing reading fluency is a complex and comprehensive task. Fluent reading requires automaticity between and within the underlying components of reading – phonology, orthography, semantics, syntax and morphology. In fact, 75% of individuals with dyslexia have difficulty with reading fluency. Irrespective of whether or not a person has dyslexia or are a struggling reading, different students require different degrees of direct instruction and practice in order to develop the level of automaticity required for fluent reading. This means that improving reading fluency requires more than ‘repeated reading’ activities. Repeatedly reading a passage will not lead to improved fluency if the reader has not mastered the underlying skills of reading. Below is an outline of the key points made in Orkin et al.’s article.


  • Phonology refers to the sound structure of a language.
  • From a reading perspective students need to be able to discriminated between sounds, segment words into individual sounds, blend sounds into a word and substitute sounds to create new words with a similar pattern and they need to be able to do this with a high level of automaticity.


  • Letter and letter combinations and the way they are used to represent sounds.
  • From a reading perspective, students need to be able to automatically recognise the different sounds represented by particular letters and letter combination and the rules that govern the most likely pronunciation of those graphemes.


  • An understanding of the meaning of words.
  • From a reading perspective, students need a large vocabulary of words that they automatically recognise and a good understand of the often multiple meanings of words.


  • The way words function within text – nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc.
  • From a reading perspective, a knowledge of the parts of speech strongly correlates with reading comprehension and fluency.


  • An understanding of the smallest meaningful units of language – root words, prefixes and suffixes.
  • From a reading perspective, this knowledge assists in comprehending the meaning of words and the function of a word in a particular context.

Teaching Strategies

  • Teach individual components in isolation and as part of an integrated program.
  • Teach memory retention strategies to assist in storing information in long-term memory so it can be quickly and accurately retrieved on demand.

Example: Teaching graphemes representing /sh/ in the middle of words.

Word KnowledgeExample
Phonology* Identify location of /sh/ in different words (beginning, middle, end).
* Substitute /sh/ for another sound.
Orthography* Revise ‘sh’ and its location at the beginning and end of base words.
* Introduce ‘ti’ (invitation), ‘ci’ (musician), ‘si’ (mansion).
* Rule – these digraphs only represent /sh/ when followed by a vowel.
* Memory retention strategy – remember the picture story of a musician received an invitation to play at a mansion.
* Decode nonsense words that contain these graphemes.
* Locate the graphemes in real words.
Semantics* Decode and then learn to read with fluency words containing these graphemes.
* Do activities to develop understanding of the meaning(s) of the words being learned.
* For example, ‘ration’ can be used as a verb or a noun.
Syntax* Learn to fluently read passages containing the words being learned in isolation.
* Identify the part of speech of some of the focus words as they are used in the passage.
Morphology* Teach students to rapidly recognise and understand the meaning of suffixes using these digraphs (tial, cian, sion).
* Identify the stems to which the suffixes are attached.
* Teach how changing the suffix often changes the part of speech of the word.

See the Cracking the ABC Code Multisensory Reading programs.


Orkin,M., Vanacore, K., Rinehart, L., Gotlieb, R., & Wolfe, M. (2022). The more you know: How teaching word knowledge builds fluency. The Reading League Journal, 3 (2), 4-12.