: How to boost fluency using non-fiction texts Developing children as brilliant readers who love books is a top priority in primary schools.

How to boost fluency using non-fiction texts

Developing children as brilliant readers who love books is a top priority in primary schools.

by Town End Research School
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Developing children as brilliant readers who love books is a top priority in primary schools. We mainly do this using fiction texts, but could we make better use of non-fiction? Consider the following:

  • Are we exposing pupils to enough non-fiction across the curriculum?
  • How often do we select non-fiction books to read for pleasure
  • How often do children hear adults modelling fluent reading of non-fiction?
  • How often do adults use their performance voice for non-fiction – exaggerating the use of formal, standard English, reading like a public service announcer, a newsreader, a David Attenborough
  • How exactly does it help?
  • No one would argue that pupils can benefit from reading great non-fiction, but how, specifically, does it help?

An often-overlooked benefit is that repeated exposure to words develops orthographic learning or mapping. Professor Anne Castles and colleagues explain that:

Children make the transition from being “novices,” reading words primarily via alphabetic decoding, to “experts,” recognizing familiar written words rapidly and automatically, mapping their spellings directly to their meanings without recourse to decoding.”

Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert: Castles, A., Rastle, K., & Nation, K. 2018

Quality teacher modelling and repeated reading build the repertoire of words that pupils can effortlessly recognise, which helps them become more efficient readers. Multiple exposures to words is key because, after approximately one to four exposures to a written word, the word becomes unitised or instantly familiar. This helps pupils to read whole words, rather than rely on decoding, and is how adults mostly read.

Until pupils are fluent readers, their working memory is strained by relying on decoding most words, which means pupils are less able to take in the information that they read. Fluency frees up precious cognitive resources allowing pupils to learn more from their reading.

Increased fluency can broaden knowledge, teach vocabulary in context, and enable deeper reading and listening comprehension. Crucially, it also develops background knowledge – a key driver of language comprehension – which may be particularly beneficial for disadvantaged pupils.

Repeated engagement with non-fiction texts improves pupils’ familiarity with the subject matter, ensuring that pupils know more and remember more. The beauty of non-fiction texts is that they are typically very information-rich and have been carefully structured, which makes them an ideal way of explaining key concepts and boosting pupils’ background knowledge.

Try it yourself

We have put together two resources that you can use to boost pupils’ fluency: The fluency strategies are a set of different ways that teachers can boost pupils’ reading fluency.

The readers theatre explains how to make the most of this promising approach.

Please consider sharing these with colleagues and get in touch if we can help you make the most of them.

People familiar with the​‘reading wars’ – heated debates about best to develop reading – may wonder if orthographic learning is the same as whole language approaches? Both involve pupils learning to recognise whole words, but the key difference is when this happens.

Whole language approaches teach pupils to recognise whole words from the outset, instead of through phonics. In contrast, the orthographic mapping described above is intended to be done once pupils have learnt to decode words effectively through phonics teaching.

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A Guide to Readers Theatre: Non-fiction texts (primary)

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Fluency Strategies

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