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Whole Class Reading and Developing Fluency: How to support pupils reading below expected standard

Apr 12th 2024

Many teachers have moved to whole class models for teaching reading as an effective way for all pupils to acquire the necessary comprehension skills as set out by the national curriculum. Whole class reading allows teachers to share a text which is pitched at a suitable level and with appropriate content to the age group.

Pupils who are working at or above expected standard in reading thrive in these sessions as do pupils working just below who can join in the discussion and questioning, gaining support from their peers.

But what about those pupils who are working well below and in many cases are still requiring support with word reading?

Firstly, it is important to note the national curriculum guidance. It states in years 3-4 (and similarly at Y5-6), ‘If pupils cannot decode independently and fluently, they will find it increasingly difficult to understand what they read and to write down what they want to say. As far as possible, however, these pupils should follow the year 3 and 4 programme of study in terms of listening to new books, hearing and learning new vocabulary and grammatical structures, and discussing these.’ It is essential that pupils who cannot yet decode a text have support through ‘a rigorous and systematic phonics programme’ as an intervention. However, it is also essential that the development of reading comprehension skills for these pupils is considered and that they do have the opportunity to listen to and discuss books relevant to their chronological age.

A good place to start with struggling readers would be to ensure they access the text and engage with the reading in the session. A focus on strategies to develop fluency will support word reading and reading comprehension.

Supportive Strategies for Fluency


To support pupils who are working well-below expected standard, remember that teacher modelling aloud is the most effective strategy in developing all pupils’ fluency. In autumn term (and for as long as is needed), the teacher should read aloud the text while pupils follow along. This supports all pupils to read with appropriate pace, expression, intonation, volume and smoothness (accuracy) but especially allows pupils working below to listen to a text being read although they may not always be able to follow it. Teachers can choose short sections (paragraphs or even sentences) where there are opportunities for echo reading. Teacher models, then pupils reread the same section. This is particularly helpful if there is a section of speech requiring further expression or intonation, or if there is some particularly difficult vocabulary or multi-syllabic words.  If teaching assistants are available to support in the whole class session, modelling and repeated reading could be carried out 1:1 with a targeted pupil or in small groups.

Mixed Ability

Pupils benefit from working in mixed-ability pairs during a whole class session. As the year moves on, and as confidence and relationships are building, pupils could work in pairs to read with each other. The more able reader could read short sections aloud first and their partner could support with fluency – volume, expression, pace etc. They could then swap, and the weaker decoder could echo read the section, growing in confidence having heard it read to them first. Alternatively, the majority of the class could work in mixed ability pairs while the teacher works with a small group to practise repeated reading and choral reading (all together) with time to work on decoding difficult words.


Pre-reading can be an effective way to ensure struggling readers can access a text. Where possible, the teacher or teaching assistant could read the text with pupils prior to the reading lesson (maybe on the Friday before?) – a short session to read the text to pupils and discuss the vocabulary to be clarified. Then when they meet the text the following week, they are prepared and have at least chatted through the text and the vocabulary within it.

Much of our current reading training focusses on developing reading fluency with pupils particularly in KS2 and KS3. Recommendations in the Education Endowment Foundation’s report ‘Improving Literacy at KS2’ and the DFE’s ‘The reading framework July 2023,’ point towards support through oral reading instruction and a range of strategies to develop fluency.

Below is a suggested list of strategies to support with fluency. These can be practised with classes depending on ability and effective strategies used regularly:

Teacher modelling fluency – fluent reading of a text is modelled by an adult, pupils read the same text alongside or after

Choral reading – pupils and teachers read together in unison for appropriate sections of a text to work on pace and intonation

Paired reading – pupils are arranged into pairs and read to one another, taking turns to read a paragraph or page

Repeated reading – pupils read aloud a section of text and the teacher or another student gives feedback. The pupil tries it again three times or until they can read it accurately

Echo reading – teacher reads a word or a short section of text and the pupil echoes it back paying particular attention to intonation, expression, pace, tone or use of punctuation

Pause, Prompt, Praise – pause = pupil reads until an error is made, prompt = if the pupil cannot remedy the error themselves, a partner provides a prompt, praise = provide praise for anything that is done well

Chunking – text marking for phrasing

If you use a programme for teaching reading comprehension such as Pathways to Read, the recommendation would be to use the same text with your whole class. Don’t adapt or simplify it – you just need to support your pupils with the strategies to access it. Plus, provide essential catch-up for word reading and phonics in addition to your whole class sessions. The whole class shared text ensures an enjoyable discussion about books which everyone should access. This will help to foster a love of reading and books…especially for those pupils who have to work harder to read the words.

Let us know if you need further support with reading in your school by sending us an email to online@theliteracycompany.co.uk or give us a call on 01244 44 50 50.

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