Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Reading Fluency Webinar by Neil Anderson for ESL Teachers

My colleague Neil Anderson recently presented a webinar hosted by Reading Horizons entitled, "Holding in the Bottom While Sustaining the Top: A Balanced Approach for L2 Reading." This informative webinar is one of the most practical webinars I've ever heard with regards to maintaining a well-balanced, interactive reading curriculum for English Language Learners. He discusses the use of both top-down and bottom-up (phonics) instruction in the L2 reading classroom.

In the webinar, he refers to a low-level reading class he is currently teaching to English Language Learners at BYU's English Language Center. He shares strategies and practical activities he is employing with his current class. I have the privilege of teaching a reading class down the hall from Dr. Anderson at the same hour in the morning, so it is not uncommon to see each other in the hallway and converse about our reading classes. Since I teach the reading class just one level above his, I am also employing bottom-up strategies in my reading classroom and seeing great success.

This morning I implemented in my classroom some of the strategies Dr. Anderson shared in his webinar, and it went really well! In particular, I have been mindful of the fluency practice activities mentioned in the webinar. It is definitely worth watching the full-length webinar in order to benefit from Dr. Anderson's expertise, personal examples, and anecdotal evidence, but I will share two of the fluency activities mentioned in the webinar that I utilized today in my class with a description of how I used them.

1) Rapid Word Recognition
Students are given a page with ten or so vocabulary words in focus and a list of four or five other words used as distractors. Students scan each line on the page and cross off the word that is in focus. Students have 50 seconds to complete a page of 50 words (10 unique words on the page, each repeated five times).

For example, one of the words used in my class today was the word "gold" from my students' reading:
gold    |    good     gold     golf     gild

The idea behind this exercise is to draw attention to unfamiliar vocabulary words to help with improving fluency. After engaging in this rapid recognition exercise, we decoded the words as a class to ensure that students learn proper pronunciation. We also discussed the meaning of each word. 

My students have learned in my class that to really "know" a vocabulary word, they need to know three things about the word: 1) the meaning of the word (including parts of speech and derivations [e.g., plural and past tense forms]); 2) the spelling of the word; and 3) the pronunciation of the word. After learning these three components of a new vocabulary word, my students should then be able to independently recognize and use these vocabulary words in context. My students have learned that if they can attach the meaning with the sound and spelling of the word, the word "sticks" better. Teaching students the phonics skills needed to decode words helps them to learn both the spelling and pronunciation of the word. The goal is to help students learn how to decode unfamiliar words independently while reading on their own. Students are taught how to decode using the Reading Horizons software, and then we use class time to practice decoding strategies. As a side note, decoding practice is one of my students' most enjoyable class activities. They love to show me what they know!

2) Class-Paced Reading
The class was made aware of their goal for minimal reading rate. In my class, the goal is 200 words per minute (reading text that is appropriate for their level). For homework last night, the students read an expository text about dogs (A Look At Dogs) in preparation for reading the book The Call of the Wild. There are approximately 50 words on each page of the text. Students were instructed to read as much of the text on the page that they could in 15 seconds. On my "go," the students would begin reading the page, and after 15 seconds, I would tell the students to stop and turn the page. Students were encouraged to finish reading the words on the page before the 15 seconds were up. Throughout the exercise, we would pause for brief comprehension checks. This exercise helps students become more accustomed to moving their eyes across the page at an appropriate rate. (I reminded students before the exercise that fluency is reading at an appropriate rate with adequate comprehension, which definition I attribute to Neil Anderson.) Of course, decoding comes into play here because if students can decode words appropriately, their fluency is not impeded.

Listen to Neil Anderson's webinar, as well as other literacy webinars, here.


  1. Having students rewrite the rules in their own words is a great idea that I had never thought of. I will definitely give it a try!

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  2. Thanks for providing interesting thoughts.