Everything You Wanted to Know about Repeated Reading

  • free reading Oral Reading Fluency
  • 23 July, 2017
  • 26 Comments

Blast from the Past: This entry first posted July 23, 2017 and re-posted February 27, 2021. This blog posting seemed timely. Many teachers have cut back on the amount of reading instruction due to COVID-19, online teaching, and social distancing. That does not mean that teachers have proportionally trimmed their lessons, just covering less ground with each component of literacy. No, they have tended to drop whole sections of their lessons – and fluency seems to be one that was easy for many to leave behind. I think that repeated reading and similar approaches can continue to work even in our current teaching conditions.

Teacher question: 

Any link to how the 'Repeated Reading' strategy works? How long text can be repeated, how long can text be, depends on accuracy? 

Shanahan response:

I received this note while in Ireland, and it is such a basic question that I was gobsmacked by it. These are just the kinds of queries that I love to respond to on this site: Topics that many teachers assume they know about, but that often turn out to be full of surprises.

The idea of repeated reading emerged in the late 1970s… as a result of the writings of S. Jay Samuels (1979) and Carol Chomsky (1978). They found, in separate studies, that engaging kids in repeatedly reading texts aloud improved reading ability. It was kind of a no-brainer that such approaches were beneficial by the time the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) concluded that they were (that portion of the report was written by Jay Samuels and me—and even he was a bit taken aback by how that work had proceeded since when he’d first written about it).

Multitasking is essential to good reading.

Scientific studies (e.g., LaBerge & Samuels, 1976) revealed the importance of “automaticity” to reading. Readers have to be able to decode without thinking about decoding. We only have so much thinking space available. The more cognitive space devoted to figuring out words, the less available to grasp the text's meaning.  

Samuel’s idea of repeated reading was that it could help readers to gain automaticity. He thought it would help readers to master the art of reading words accurately and with sufficient speed.

When children are learning to read, they initially struggle to read words accurately. That is very common in Grade 1. These students then often gain mastery over accuracy at the expense of speed—such accurate but slow reading tends to emerge in Grade 2 (Morris, 1999). Samuels’ goal was to build accuracy and speed to a point where comprehension would be possible. The more efficient the reading of the words, the more that readers' attention could be turned to meaning.

Carol Chomsky (1978) had a similar notion of the problem. She thought there was a subgroup of poor readers who “knew” phonics—that is, they knew the letters and sounds and could decode words reasonably well. However, these strugglers couldn't apply these skills fluently during the reading of a text.

Chomsky believed that this special group of readers might benefit from reading texts aloud repeatedly since it would give them essential practice in applying those known skills.

Samuels and Chomsky both reported research studies that had positive results, as have many other researchers since that time. 

What specifically is “Repeated Reading?”

Repeated Reading is a particular method proposed by S. Jay Samuels to develop decoding automaticity with struggling readers. In this approach, students are asked to read aloud short text passages (50-200 words) until they reach a criterion level of success (particular speed and accuracy goals).

However, research shows there are many ways that teachers can successfully exploit the idea repeated oral reading, so I’ll talk about “repeated reading” here (rather than Repeated Reading).

What are some of those other ways of doing repeated reading?

In Chomsky’s scheme, the kids listened to audiotapes of a text and then worked on making their own tapes—trying to match the quality of the originals. Reading while listening or echo reading works too, as does Radio Reading (in which kids work with scripts—making the oral reading purposeful), and Neurological Impress (don’t ask).

All of these schemes include oral reading. They also all include reading the texts multiple times (either to a particular quality criterion, such as a particular number of words correct per minute—or a set number of repetitions, usually 3).

What's the goal of such instruction, to get kids to read fast?

No, the goal is to get students to read the author’s words accurately, to read texts at about the speed of oral language, and to make this reading sound like language (pausing in the right places so that ithe text makes sense).

What is the outcome of such practice?

Repeated reading usually leads to better reading performance. The biggest payoffs tend to be with word reading, but it also has been found to improve oral reading fluency and reading comprehension (the most frequently reported area of improvement). This comprehension finding surprised Jay Samuels. Remember the comprehension impact should be indirect--through word reading improvement. He was shocked that so many researchers failed to include word reading measures in their studies, even though they always tested reading comprehension. There was a very good chance that such studies would have found no differences in comprehension and would have, therefore, concluded that repeated reading didn’t work. Fortunately, the comprehension payoffs were large enough and consistent enough that it didn't turn out to be a problem.

Were there special kids who needed repeated reading?

The research suggests that part of Chomsky's theory was wrong. Studies of repeated reading sometimes aimed at these special "average phonics skills but low reading" kids, and other times they just focused on all readers in regular classrooms. The results were exactly the same: repeated reading improved reading ability across the board.

How many re-readings should kids be doing?

The research suggests that three readings should be sufficient so I would limit it to that. Three readings and it is time to move on to another text. 

How long should the passages be?

Samuels used passages of 50-200 words; with the shorter texts used with the students with the lowest reading abilities. That makes sense to me. In classroom reading practice, that would be like a page or two in a primary grade reader. It is important to keep the texts brief for this work so that when students reread, memory becomes a useful scaffold. The longer the text, the harder to carry over what was figured out on the first reading. (Joe Torgesen has emphasized the importance of using texts that share a lot of vocabulary. That way, when a student improves with one text, it is certain to immediately carry over to the next.)

How challenging should the texts be?

The texts used for fluency practice should be at students’ so-called “frustration levels.” If students don’t make many mistakes with a text (say 10 or more per hundred words), then the repetition is unlikely to improve their reading very much.

What about integrating comprehension work into this kind of fluency practice?

Some of the repeated reading routines have included a comprehension component, such as asking students a different question at the conclusion of each reading or having the student complete some kind of comprehension task each time. Other approaches do not do this. The research says that repeated reading pays off, whether there is a comprehension step or not. I'd include one under the well-n=known scientific precept: “It couldn’t hurt.”

How can a teacher listen to a whole classroom full of kids?

I recommend paired reading. Have one youngster read to another. Then they switch. While this practice is going on, the teacher circulates among the students listening to several one-at-a-time and giving feedback.

What about silent reading?

Silent reading should also take place regularly—I try to provide both an oral reading fluency period and a reading comprehension period daily. In the latter, except with beginners, the reading is silent. There are also a couple of studies in which kids read silently while a computer monitored their reading that has led to fluency improvement (Rasinski, Samuels, Hiebert, Petcher, & Feller, 2011).

What about round robin reading? We do “popcorn” in my class?

Schemes in which one child reads aloud and the rest of the students wait their turn are lousy. They don’t allow much oral reading; simply not enough practice to foster improvement. This is because only one child reads at a time. Second, repeated reading is very rare in round robin, making learning unlikely. Third, you may get pushback; kids who read poorly may refuse to read—something that never occurs when everyone is doing the reading.

Comments

See what others have to say about this topic.

Karen Burrows
Jul 25, 2017 07:16 PM

I'm switching from teaching 5th graders to middle schoolers (6th, 7th, and 8th grades) this coming year. I used repeated reading with my 5th graders regularly. Is this still a good practice with older readers? Thanks!

Karen Burrows
Jul 25, 2017 08:17 PM

I'm switching from teaching 5th graders to middle schoolers (6th, 7th, and 8th grades) this coming year. I used repeated reading with my 5th graders regularly. Is this still a good practice with older readers? Thanks!

Timothy Shanahan
Jul 27, 2017 12:10 AM

Yes, indeed. At that grade fluency is still explaining 25 percent of the variance in comprehension and studies show repeated reading helps high school kids even. Go for it and enjoy the change

London Summerville
Sep 12, 2017 04:03 PM

I am a 7th and 8th grade reading specialist, and I've found RR helpful for a variety of my students. Many of my kids have no fluency issues, and we only focus on comprehension and vocab. However, I'm currently working with an ELL student who has "passed out" of any services based on her English language learning. Her fluency and vocabulary are not at grade level, however. The RR has helped her fluency but also exposed her to new vocabulary. I take short passages from New York Times Upfront or a Scholastic magazine. Almost daily, she asks about words she's unfamiliar with. RR kills multiple birds, in my experience.

Melissa Dingus
Apr 01, 2018 03:50 PM

I am a teacher in a self-contained classroom at the middle school level. The students in my class have varying degrees of intellectual disabilities. Only about one-third of my students (3), are able to read. These students read between a first and second-grade level. Our county mandates the use of Unique Learning System (ULS) curriculum for all content areas in the self-contained environment. In ULS, readings are presented at multiple levels to meet the needs of the students who have varying reading and comprehension abilities.
Texts presented in the ULS are oftentimes too difficult and lengthy for my students to read and maintain any level of comprehension. Therefore, I supplement our reading curriculum by utilizing Reading Milestones.
One of my students is an English language learner and it has been difficult to determine his true reading ability. We started by using sight word drills which he has picked up on quite well. We have now moved on to short, e.g. less than 50 words, passage readings and continue to focus on that passage until the student has mastered all the words within the reading.
Although, this student’s reading accuracy is improving, it appears that there is a significant lack in the comprehension of the material. With this being said, I would love to have your input on strategies that you think should be implemented in order to help this struggling reader with fluency and comprehension.
I so enjoyed reading this post and the information presented within.
Thanks for challenging me!

Patty Larsen
Mar 24, 2020 09:32 PM

I work with Kindergarten students. The reading levels range from A-G (Fountus and Pinnell). Is this a good strategy for these students?

Timothy Rasinski
Feb 27, 2021 06:22 PM

Excellent summary, Tim! My own take on repeated reading is to try to make it as authentic and purposeful as possible. Performing a poem, song, readers theater script, speech, etc. in the classroom necessitates rehearsal - another name for repeated reading. The added benefit of this approach to repeated readings is that the rehearsal is aimed at producing an appropriately expressive and meaningful reading performance -- thus prosody, that other component of fluency, also is developed in students. Research by Chase Young, Lorraine Griffith, myself, and others into this type of repeated readings have shown very positive and promising results.

Thanks for reminding us of this powerful instrutional tool appropriate for nearly all students.

Griffith, L. W., & Rasinski, T. V. (2004). A focus on fluency: How one teacher incorporated fluency with her reading curriculum. The Reading Teacher, 58, 126- 137.

Rasinski, T. V. (2007). Teaching reading fluency artfully: A professional and personal journey. In R. Fink and S. J. Samuels (eds.), Inspiring Reading Success: Interest and Motivation in an Age of High-Stakes Testing (pp. 117-140). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Rasinski, T. V. (2010). The fluent reader: Oral and silent reading strategies for building word recognition, fluency, and comprehension (2nd edition). New York: Scholastic.

Rasinski, T., & Cheesman Smith, M. (2018). The Megabook of Fluency. New York: Scholastic

Rasinski, T., & Stevenson, B. (2005). The Effects of Fast Start Reading, A Fluency Based Home Involvement Reading Program, On the Reading Achievement of Beginning Readers. Reading Psychology: An International Quarterly, 26, 109-125.

Young, C., & Rasinski, T. (2009). Implementing readers theatre as an approach to classroom fluency instruction. The Reading Teacher, 63(1), 4–13.

Young, C., & Rasinski, T. (2018). Readers Theatre: effects on word recognition automaticity and reading prosody. Journal of Research in Reading, 41, 475-485.

Young, C., Durham, P., Miller, M., Rasinski, T., & Lane, F. (2019). Improving reading ccomprehension with readers theater. Journal of Educational Research, 112:5, 615-626, DOI: 10.1080/00220671.2019.1649240


Holly Crantz
Feb 27, 2021 06:42 PM

When you say that round robin reading is lousy, do you mean in a whole class setting? I use this for my small group reading groups as a reading specialist. Both my 3rd and 4th grader groups have read through longer chapter books together. I set my watch timer to vibrate every minute, so that all students get the same time to read aloud. In a group fo six students, typically we make it around the circle twice, so each child gets to read aloud for two minutes. It would be hard for me to move away from this process if I couldn't insure that students were staying with the reading and comprehending the story. Not enough guidance!

However, I love the idea of paired reading! My 2nd graders are working through various series independently. I bounce around and listen to each child read their book for one minute, but the process hasn't felt totally robust and effective. I plan on ordering two copies of each title and begin the paired reading asap. This will add a new layer to our series reading by building in accountability to oral reading and fun.

Thank you!

Jen Skinner
Feb 27, 2021 08:18 PM

Thank you for re-stating the value of “repeat reading” in literacy instruction. In my formative years as a primary grade teacher late90’s, I was fortunate to be part of excellent PD highlighting songs & poetry(McCracken). Over the last 2 decades I have experienced, over and over, when text is presented in the form of a poem, song, readers theatre and paired with melody, actions, and cadence of the text, reluctant and often disengaged readers join in the choral energetic experience. This multi sensory approach to text over multiple days (usually a week ), leads developing readers from actions, to word matching, to fluency , to independent text reading to a partner.

Repeat reading certainly supports striving readers through memorization and text scaffolding — while enjoying the collective experience. In addition wonderful vocabulary exposure often happen too.

Thank you so much for the reminder of the necessity of repeated readings in everyday instruction .

T
Feb 27, 2021 09:34 PM

Please find another analogy other than killing multiple birds, the stoning needs to go too.

Timothy Shanahan
Feb 27, 2021 09:44 PM

Holly--

During round robin, the only child who is learning is the one who is reading -- that's a lot of down time... if you had the students doing paired reading (which you could do whole class), the kids get a lot more reading practice and less lost time. For the type of work you are having the kids do focus on silent reading for that... it will get you further.

tim

Gabrielle Miller
Feb 27, 2021 09:52 PM

Hi Dr. Shanahan,

My experience with severely dyslexic readers is that repeated reading tends to be demoralizing for them. The emphasis on the speed aspect of the fluency criterion is especially detrimental. I like the idea of poetry and reader’s theater etc. as the emphasis shifts away from any timing aspect.

Jeannette
Feb 27, 2021 11:14 PM

I’m a AIS reading specialist. It’s so important to allow opportunities for kids to reread text because often all mental energy goes towards word recognition during the first reading. I explicitly tell kids exactly what is going on when he/she has to slow down for new words. It’s okay to reread. Their goal is to sound like natural speech then understanding if will come. Leaning about fluency through Tim Rasinski was a game changer for me. Shanahan too!

Karen Pina
Feb 27, 2021 11:47 PM

Somewhere I gathered the impression that repeated reading is a strategy that supported fluency and comprehension on a text in isolation and wouldn’t lead to generalized improvement on unfamiliar texts. Is that accurate? Obviously, in the intervention setting, kids need to read a lot. For struggling readers, in the intervention setting, is it more beneficial to repeatedly read each text or read a lot of new text?

Mat
Feb 27, 2021 11:51 PM

Tim, thanks for this excellent summary of repeated reading. Would this only apply to typical readers or also to those poor at orthographic mapping?

David Kilpatrick (2015, p.214) notes there is plenty of research showing that repeated reading techniques improve the speed of and accuracy of practiced passages but generalization to unpracticed passages is very limited (Chard, Ketterlin-Geller, Baker, Doabler, & Apichatabutra, 2009).

Also, in those repeated reading studies, Kilpatrick reminds us that there are only modest improvement of about 3-5 standard score points in word identification, nonsense word reading and reading comprehension (O'Connor, White, & Swanson, 2007). Kilpatrick says this finding makes sense as there is little reason to assume that the words in these practiced passages are being added to a student's sight vocabulary. Kilpatrick goes on to say that the repeated readings approach does not appear to derive from an empirically based theory on how words are remembered, aside from the simple exposure and practice, which presumes memory based upon paired-associate learning.

Kilpatrick continues by saying if students have had adequate instruction and reading opportunities, then students with limited sight vocabularies are students who are not skilled in orthographic mapping. Students who are not skilled in orthographic mapping are not likely to efficiently turn unfamiliar words into familiar words via that repeated reading approach. When reading predictable passages, it is not necessary to attend to the detailed orthographic sequence and note how that sequence maps onto the phonemic sequence stored in long-term memory. Words read correctly in practiced passages that are not mapped to permanent memory will not likely be instantly recognized when encountered in an unpracticed passage. It is true that simple exposure to words and reading practice boosts the sight vocabularies of typical readers. But that is because they are skilled at orthographic mapping. However simple exposure to words is not a sufficient means to build the sight vocabularies of students who are poor at orthographic mapping.

So, when you are you referring to the use of repeated reading, are you thinking of typical readers only or would this include students who are poor at orthographic mapping?

What are your thoughts on Kilpatrick's interpretation of the research findings?

Tim Shanahan
Feb 28, 2021 01:37 AM

Karen

No, the research shows quite consistently that the results do generalize to other texts.

Tim

Tim Shanahan
Feb 28, 2021 01:40 AM

Mat

In think those conclusions are at odds with the data and with specific studies by experts like Joe Torgesen. Overall the effect sizes are comparable to those obtained for decoding instruction and they are highly similar for average and dyslexic readers. Being able to read lists of words fluently is not as closely related to reading comprehension as being able to read text fluently.

Tim

Sara
Feb 28, 2021 02:46 AM

I am working with a group of struggling third grader readers. Admittedly, we have been doing more "round robin" reading than I would like in the virtual environment. I can't wait to try "repeated reading" with them next week and hope that is proves to be more successful. Thank you.

Jake Downs
Feb 28, 2021 04:58 AM

Just had a conversation with a teacher yesterday about repeated reading. This will be great to send her way! I might add that rereading a shorter portion of a longer text 'couldn't hurt,' and may be in some ways easier to integrate with other forms of reading instruction.

Thanks for this timely piece.

Randa Breuer
Feb 28, 2021 11:37 AM

Kids love games. Timing them or timing each other (for older pairs) would turn this into a game like activity and may (hopefully ) result in less push back. Also: when it is a routine, kids push back less. They know it is coming.

Kaye Twomey
Feb 28, 2021 12:04 PM

Should the repeated readings be at the one sitting or on three separate days?

Lori Josephson
Feb 28, 2021 01:00 PM

Hello Dr. Shanahan,

Thank you for your thoughtful and informative summary of the history and research on the practice of repeated readings.

In my work with teachers and students alike, I lean on Jan Hasbrouck's take on fluency development. As you are likely aware, fluency develops most rapidly in grades 1-3. This is most evident as one looks at the Hasbrouck and Tindal Fluency Norms Chart-2017 (https://www.readnaturally.com/knowledgebase/how-to/9/59)--check out the column of Average Weekly Improvement.

As students get older, the Average Weekly Improvement declines dismally. Dr. Hasbrouck recommends 'wide reading' rather than repeated reading once students are in the upper elementary grades and beyond. I have found this to be a more successful. That said, engaging students in echo reading (teacher models fluency, prosody and explicitly teaches the notion of 'meaningful units' combined with the role of punctuation) and choral reading has a meaningful role as well.

I have found that when remediating students who have dyslexia, oral reading fluency is the "hardest nut to crack". We can get students reading accurately and at grade level once they successfully complete a structured language scope and sequence; however, it is the fluency which lags. Hence the notion of providing these students with time extensions when engaged in standardized (or not) tests.

Sam Bommarito
Feb 28, 2021 07:42 PM

This was a great choice for a repost. Dr. Rasinski just finished a series of four webinars for out Missouri ILA group. He has an actual format now for repeated readings lessons. Tracks pretty well with what you described. As you are well aware he also has considerable research around the efficacy of this approach. I still do some work with kids through Zoom push-ins and these methods work really well. On a different topic I'm now using decodables, predictable text and trade books with the kids- that is an idea I got from one of your blogs. Thanks!

Tim Shanahan
Mar 01, 2021 03:51 AM

Kaye
We do it every day.

Tim

Beata Beigman Klebanov
Mar 01, 2021 08:49 PM

The Relay Reader app (https://relayreader.org/) allows extended fluency practice while reading a book, while also supporting repeated reading (the reader can record themselves multiple times, listen to their own recordings, and listen to a skilled adult read their piece) and comprehension checks (the reader is asked questions after every other reading turn). All this while reading a good story!

Mary
Mar 09, 2021 05:25 PM

The Iowa Reading Research Center has a repeated reading program that uses multiple texts with overlapping vocabulary. It is a paired reading model for whole classroom use. Check it out!

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Everything You Wanted to Know about Repeated Reading

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