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Hi friends! This blog is for teachers and families- all for the sheer joy of literacy. When we are enthusiastic about reading and writing our students and our own kids become excited to read and write. I hope that we all can be models for those in our care- how did you show your passion for reading, writing, learning, language, or words today?? It's in those small, daily moments that we teach kids to love literacy.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lessons from the King's Speech: Become More Fluent with Phrased Reading


Sadly, I had this post ready to go a few weeks ago...and blogger had a blackout for a couple of days and I lost 90% of this pre-drafted post (What was that about anyways?). So now I'm going to give it another go...but I don't think there's any possibility it can be as wonderful as the initial post.

My husband and I finally watched the King's Speech this weekend. In the movie King George IV employs this absolutely eccentric speech therapist to deal with his debilitating stuttering problems. It's a wonderful movie. Every teacher (or parent) out there should see it, it's very inspiring.

Some of the teaching strategies this renegade speech therapist used were clutch (as my bball loving husband is fond of saying...). I noticed the the speech therapist encouraged the King to speak in phrases. Towards the end of the film he marks up the King's speech with line break and underlines key words to emphasize. The therapist used one of my favorite fluency building strategies- phrased reading.

Phrasing text is something I learned about in grad school from The Fluent Reader by Rasinski. I have used this fluency-building strategy time and time again with poor readers, which encourages them to read in meaningful phrases, improving overall fluency and comprehension.

What is Phrased Reading?
Phrased reading is simply breaking any text up into meaningful phrases, usually using hash marks to denote the beginning or ending of a phrase.

Why use Phrased Reading? Which students need this strategy?? 
Short Answer: Students with poor comprehension or fluency, and your English Language Learners.

I use phrased reading with my readers that cannot read in meaningful phrases. You know the students- they read waaay too fast or waaay too slow, they shoot through punctuation without so much as a hello, or they are expressionless when reading a text brimful of personality. These are the students that are merely decoding the text. Students that are not reading in phrases will have a hard time comprehending what they're reading. Phrased reading encourages these students to break the text up according to meaning.

Many English Language Learners need explicit instruction for fluency. Knowing when to naturally take pauses in English will improve your ELLs fluency and comprehension. For ELL students it's important that you include explicit instruction on how to break text into phrases. It's also key that you do a lot of modeling before you have the students practice this strategy independently. Kids jump at the chance to phrase text because it's fun. Just make sure they have seen you model it several times before they try it on their own- especially your ELL students.

You can use this fluency-building strategy with kids of all ages. I use it successfully with students in grades 3-5. My husband, a high school English teacher, taught his 10th graders how to phrase text.

How Do you Phrase Text?
See the example below. There isn't an exact science to phrasing text. You add hash marks (or any mark that works for you) when there's a natural pause.

I also like to explain it this way-- "We'll put marks in the text where we take little pauses. After we add the hash marks, we'll group the words together in between the hash marks. Everything from one hash mark to the next is a phrase- so we should group those words together as one idea." Communicating this concept is important so your students understand that they're not practicing pausing throughout a text, but that they are learning group words together into meaningful phrases.

Text Phrasing Example:

Where the Sidewalk Ends
by Shel Silverstein


There is a place/ where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,/
And there/ the grass grows soft and white,/
And there/ the sun burns/ crimson bright,
And there/ the moon-bird rests/ from his flight/
To cool/ in the peppermint wind.//

Let us leave this place/ where the smoke blows black/
And the dark street winds/ and bends.//
Past the pits/ where the asphalt flowers grow/
We shall walk/ with a walk/ that is measured/ and slow,/
And watch/ where the chalk-white arrows go/
To the place/ where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk/ with a walk/ that is measured/ and slow,/
And we'll go/ where the chalk-white arrows go,/
For the children,/ they mark,/ and the children,/ they know
The place/ where the sidewalk ends.//


Phrased Reading Teaching Tips
While the teaching trenches I've developed some ways I personally like to teach phrased reading. Here's what I've got for you:
  • Use poetry! There are a lot of natural line breaks, and it helps students understand the concept of reading in phrases.
  • Copy a page from a text your students are already reading, adding hash marks to the text.
  • Using light pencil marks, phrase the text in your books- kids LOVE this!
  • Make sure you emphasize that you are grouping the words together between the hash marks, and not merely pauses at the hash marks.
  • Use the model of gradual release when teaching this strategy: Model first. Try phrasing a text with the kids. Then have the kids try it on their own. Of a 3 stanza a poem, I model on the first stanza, get their help on the second, and have them try it independently on the third.
  • Phrase a text weekly! Kids will get the hang of it quickly- it can even be used as a center activity.
  • Steer kids away from taking HUGE, dramatic breaths at the hash marks. Many students are inclined to UP the drama...so try to prevent it with a little pre-teaching.
  • Use a quick rubric to assess your students fluency on a given text before the phrased reading lesson. Then have your students reread the same text, and reassess their fluency using the same rubric.
  • Give the students the rubric and ask them to grade themselves pre-phrased text and post-phrased text. You can also have your students partner up to assess each other.
Follow these links for more phrased reading goodness!!
5 Surefire Strategies for Developing Reading Fluency
Learning About Phrases to Improve Fluency and Comprehension
Phrase Craze

More about phrased reading:
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Rasinsky, the fluency guru, speaks:

Be Well! Read On! And check out The King's Speech- you'll be a better teacher for it.

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