Promoting fluency for beginning readers using activities inspired by the work of Tim Rasinski and Mellissa Cheesman Smith

Promoting fluency for beginning readers using activities inspired by the work of Tim Rasinski and Mellissa Cheesman Smith

The Megabook of Fluency

Last year, Tim Rasinski came to our local IRA and did a presentation around the science and art of reading. To see everything he had to say (and he had a lot to say!) go to this blog entry:

This blog post will center on an activity he described in the book Megabook of Fluency. Mellissa Cheesman Smith was his co-author. The book truly is a Megabook of Great Ideas and Activities that teachers of all grades can use to help their students develop fluency. It is organized around his prosody factors (EARS). E is for Expression, and A is for Automatic Word Recognition, R is for Rhythm and Phrasing, and S is for smoothness, fixing mistakes. Rubrics based on these factors are available in the book and are written on a variety of levels including one for grades 6-8.  So readers, this book isn’t just for the primary grades; its content and suggestions include ideas and activities for all grade levels PP-8.  For a list of all the strategies in the book organized by EARS skills the reader can go to:

This link is for people who own the book. You can use information from the book to get the password for this link.

In his presentation, Rasinski told the following story.  It was the story of a new primary teacher who used the strategy of having children practice reading poetry for four days of the week in preparation for performing those poems on Friday. The reading time wasn’t that long, 5-10 minutes daily.  Despite push back about “wasting” instructional time, she continued to do this activity all year. By the end of the year, her first grade was performing significantly higher on reading tests. She replicated those results the next year and became the teacher of the year for her state. My assessment is that it is a lot of bang for the buck since the instructional time used is less than 10 minutes a day.

My regular readers are well aware that I am a retired reading specialist. I volunteer for one full day a week at my grandchildren’s elementary school. I push into two third grades where I am helping teachers to get started in writing workshop (a topic for a future blog) and also push into two 1st grades and two-second grades where I am implementing a program inspired by Rasinski’s report on the repeated readings. I tried this method out in one of the second grades last year at the end of the year. The teacher liked it so much she talked her partner in second grade and the other two 1st grade teachers into trying it out this year. We just started this week.

My “lesson” on how to be a reading storyteller was actually a song I wrote. It is sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Here it is (go to the Links to Selected Materials page of this blog to download a copy- free for classroom use. It is copyrighted so required permission for commercial use):

I sang the song first. Here is an audio


I then invited the class to sing along. We then had a little discussion about things storytellers do (your voice goes up, your voice goes down, makes storytelling sounds, etc.). The students then paired up and read the story together. Just before doing that I taught the class the following two chants:

“Make it match, don’t make it up, that is what to do. Make it match don’t make it up; you’ll read your story true”


If you see three, say three, if you see five say five.

I told them that as they read, each partner would take turns being the “pointer.” They would point as they read and make sure they were matching. I told them that making up our own stories from pictures etc. is something we do as writers. As readers, we should read exactly what’s there. We don’t try to memorize the whole book (or in this case the whole song). Instead, we are careful to notice which word is which when we read.

That was this week’s lesson. During the week, they will practice reading the song daily. 5-7 minutes. This will get them ready for next week when they will start doing poems and practice them on a two-week cycle. In this case, their basal series has poems for each unit. We’ll be doing those for a while. Later on, I have lots of books with collections of easy poems, and so do the teachers. There are also lots of poems in the Megabook of Fluency.  Each child will get a chance to pick which poem they want to work on. Unlike Rasinski’s teacher, who worked on a 1-week cycle, for now we will work on a two-week cycle. At the end of the cycle the children know they will be making a recording of their poem.

In the future, I will blog out again and let my readers know how its going.  I would mention that last summer when I did an in-service for first-grade teachers, the song and the related activities were one of the favorite activities for those teachers.

I’ll end by saying that this activity is just one of many you can find in the Megabook of Fluency. When I listened to Rasinski’s presentation last year, part of the time, I felt that I was in a seminar on writing workshop. Why?  That is because Rasinski talked about how students used some of the poems and primary source pieces as a source of inspiration for writing their own works. He showed examples of student writing. Hmm. Students writing their own poetry, scaffolded by reading poems from this book or other sources.  What a great idea for poetry month!

Rasinski also says that repeated reading is more effective when done for authentic purposes.  His book gives you many pieces of authentic reading materials and many authentic reasons for rereading (e.g., rereading to prepare for a performance). These include pieces that are appropriate for older grades (Think Dr. Marin Luther Kings I Have Dream Speech, or President Kennedy’s Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You speech). There are lots of other fluency activities, as well.

For more information about Tim and his various resources, visit his website  BTW- the blog on his website includes free versions of some of his famous Word Ladders and earlier versions of his fluency rubric, which are available for free downloading.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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