Reading speed and fluency: What you need to know

Reading speed is the number of words a person can read correctly per minute. Reading speed is also called reading rate. It’s part of a broader skill called reading fluency. This is the term for being able to read accurately at a good pace and with the right expression or intonation.

When kids can read fluently, it’s a pretty good sign that they understand what they’re reading. That’s why reading fluency is one of the measures schools use to track progress as children learn how to read.

To test reading fluency, kids are given paragraphs or a list of words to read out loud. Their score is how many words they can read in a minute. The score reports how accurate they are and how fast they are. Learn more about reading speed and fluency.

Why reading fluency matters

Reading words at a good pace for their age is a pretty good sign that kids are sounding out words accurately (decoding) and getting to the point where they’re recognizing some words instantly. “Slow readers” may be struggling to sound out each word. Their reading speed may also make it harder for them to understand what they’re reading.

How does reading rate affect reading comprehension? Children need to “hold on to” the words they’re reading long enough to see how they work together to make meaning. The longer it takes to read each word, the harder it is to connect the words in a sentence, paragraph, or story.

Is a “good reader” a fast reader?

Not necessarily. Being a good reader involves much more than hitting a certain words-per-minute target. Some kids are very thorough. Working carefully and at a slightly slower pace doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem.

“Being a good reader involves much more than hitting a certain words-per-minute target.”

Good readers read with expression. They read like they speak. For example, their voice will go up at the end of a sentence if it ends in a question mark. This skill of adding meaning through intonation is called prosody. Prosody and reading speed are both big parts of reading fluency.

Kids who read well also think about what they’re reading. They make connections to things they already know, and they think critically about the text to form their own opinions or ideas. If kids can do these things but work a little more slowly than their peers, then reading rate likely isn’t something to be concerned about.

But it can be a concern if kids have trouble understanding letter-sound relationships or blending sounds together to read. There are some common learning and thinking differences that can affect a child’s reading rate. Slow processing speed can also affect it. So if you think your child is struggling, don’t hesitate to talk to the teacher.

Questions to ask teachers about reading speed

If you have any concerns about reading rate or reading fluency, talk to your child’s teacher. Here are a few questions you can ask:

  • What’s the average reading speed for kids my child’s age or in my child’s grade level?

  • How much slower is my child reading than the expected rate?

  • Has my child’s reading rate changed over time? Has it increased some or stayed pretty much the same?

  • Do you have more concerns about my child’s reading, other than the reading rate?

  • What do you recommend to help my child improve?

You may want to watch a video on how schools provide extra instruction to struggling readers, too.

There are lots of things you can do to help improve your child’s reading skills at home. And learn more about why some kids have trouble with reading.

Key takeaways

  • Kids with a slow reading rate may be struggling with sounding out words.

  • Reading speed and fluency can affect reading comprehension.

  • Reading well involves much more than hitting a certain words-per-minute target.


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