The goal of reading instruction is for students to demonstrate fluent reading.  “Fluency refers to reading words quickly and accurately, but also with proper intonation or prosody.  Prosody comes from two Greek words, pros, meaning “to” or “toward” and ode, meaning a song (hence the English word ode).  Just as songs vary their pitch, so do readers vary their intonation as they read.  Such prosody suggests that the reader comprehends the passage as she reads it, otherwise she would not likely know when to inflect her voice (Schwanenflugel & Ruston, 2008; Whalley & Hansen, 2006).” (Kilpatrick pg. 121)

Fluency is commonly thought to improve from repeated readings of a passage.  This is based on the idea that a student who is struggling to read material will improve with more exposure to the words.   This strategy is ineffective.  Words are not stored in visual memory so looking at them repeatedly and rereading the same material over and over will not improve fluency.  Words are stored as sight words through orthographic mapping.  Orthographic mapping takes places when a specific set of language and decoding skills has been mastered.   These skills are explained through the Simple View of Reading.

The Simple View Of Reading

The Simple View of Reading
(image taken from the The Rose Report, 2006)
(image based on the work of Gough & Tunmer, 1986)

The image above is called The Simple View of Reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986).  Reading is a product of the skills of word decoding and the skills of understanding what the words mean.  The word “product” is important here for its meaning of something created from effort and for the mathematical sense of multiplication.  The end result of reading comprehension arising from decoding and language comprehension is not like an addition sentence where one plus one equals two.  It is more like a multiplication sentence because having either weak decoding or weak language comprehension will equal poor or nonexistent reading comprehension.
Example #1:  If you can decode the words on the page but you don’t understand what the words mean, perhaps the vocabulary is too complex or you are reading about a subject you do not have enough background knowledge on, then you will have no reading comprehension. 1 x 0 = 0
Example #2:  If you choose reading material you are familiar with and that has vocabulary you understand, you will not achieve reading comprehension if you cannot sound out the words on the page.  0 x 1 = 0

The simple view of reading is simple only on its surface.  The two broad categories of decoding and language comprehension encompass a large array of subskills needed in order to be able to read.  Dr. David Kilpatrick offers a comprehensive breakdown of these skills in Chapter Three of his Book Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties.  He writes that research has continued to explore the two main categories in the simple view of reading in the decades since it was first proposed.  Those years of research have found evidence for the reading subskills below.

The subskill of Cipher Knowledge in decoding requires mastery of: (Kilpatrick pg. 64)
– letter-sound/orthographic knowledge
– phonological awareness
– phonological blending
– working memory
– morphological knowledge/awareness
– vocabulary/phonological long-term memory
– rapid automatized naming
– visual/phonological paired-associate learning

The subskill of Word Knowledge in decoding requires mastery of: (Kilpatrick pg. 71)
– cipher skills/phonic decoding
– phonemic awareness
– vocabulary/phonological long-term memory
– working memory
– rapid automatized naming
– morphological knowledge/awareness

Linguistic Comprehension requires mastery of: (Kilpatrick pg. 73)
– vocabulary-semantic knowledge
– syntactic-grammatical knowledge
– background knowledge
– working memory
– attention
– inference
– comprehension monitoring
– nonverbal visual-spatial skills

This list of skills is comprehensive and very, very specific.  If you have read other pages of this blog, you have probably noticed that we find infographics helpful.  The next section presents a beautifully crafted visual that organizes all of these reading skills in an approachable and understandable manner.

The Reading Rope

Image based on Dr. Hollis Scarborough’s Reading Rope (2001)
Image from Voyager Sopris

The Reading Rope succinctly illustrates what is needed in the teaching and learning of reading.   This particular infographic is taken from a presentation by Dr. Louisa Moats (Voyager Sopris) and we find it useful for its use of two different colors.  The blue section can be connected to the decoding part of the simple view of reading explained above.  The red section can be connected to the language comprehension part of the simple view of reading.  All grades teach all of the reading skills. However, different student ages and different stages of reading require different amounts of time and practise on different skills.  Details of our programming for Word Recognition (blue) and Language Comprehension (red) can be found on their respective blog pages. 


Fluency is not a skill by itself, rather it is an outcome produced when reading skills are done with automaticity. Students need to become automatic decoders and to have a deep understanding of the English language in order to become fluent readers.  Dr. Tim Rasinski has made researching fluency his life’s work.  He describes fluency with the following formula:

Image based on the work of Dr. Tim Rasinski

When a student reads smoothly, with expression, with pauses in the right places to show phrasing, and at an appropriate speed they are said to be doing prosodic reading.  They are decoding easily and they are showing with their tone of voice that they accurately understand the meaning of the words. Just like the simple view of reading, if one of these elements of reading is not secure enough it is like a zero in a multiplication equation and the result will be disfluent reading. Fluency can be marked, as with the example rubric below.  However, it is not fluency that is taught.  All of the elements displayed on the Reading Rope or listed in the Simple View of Reading are what teachers teach and what students learn in order to become successful, fluent readers.    

“Once students develop proficient orthographic mapping skills, they have the capacity to quickly and reliably add new words to their sight vocabulary, so long as they have ample reading opportunities.  As they read, their large and continuously growing sight vocabularies allow them to instantly recognize all, or almost all, of the words in a given passage.  The more words they instantly recognize, the more fluent their reading will be.  Instant recognition typically means effortless recognition, and that leaves more working memory allotment available for comprehension, which loops back to better prosody, completing the whole fluency enterprise.  The larger the sight vocabulary, the more quickly and easily one can move through text unhindered by having to phonically decode or guess at unfamiliar words.  From this perspective, it appears that the best approach to addressing fluency is to be sure that a student has proficient orthographic mapping skills.  Fluency is not seen as a separate reading subskill, but rather as a by-product of having instant access to most or all of the words on the page.” (Kilpatrick, pg. 122)

Dr. Tim Rasinski’s Fluency Rubric

A very short summary
1. Fluency is reading quickly, accurately, and with expression.
2. Fluency can be improved by adding sight words to long term memory through orthographic mapping.
3. The Simple View of Reading says: Decoding x Language Comprehension = Reading Comprehension
4. There are many subskills within Decoding and Language Comprehension.
5. The Reading Rope infographic displays the many subskills needed for reading in an accessible manner.
6. Fluency can be understood with the following formula:  Word Automaticity x Prosody = Fluency
7. Fluency is not taught directly. It is a by-product of mastery of reading skills.  Teaching the reading skills displayed on the reading rope will improve fluency.


David Kilpatrick

Gough, P. B., & Tunmer, W. E. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6-10.

The Rose Report Department for Education and Skills (2006). Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading, Nottingham, UK: Author. Retrieved from The Reading League

Scarborough, H. S. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice. In S. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook for research in early literacy (pp. 97–110). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

The International Dyslexia Association: story of Dr. Hollis and the Reading Rope retrieved from

Related Reading

CANADIAN:   National Strategy for Early Literacy (2009). The Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network. Retrieved from

CANADIAN:  Foundations for Literacy:  An Evidence-based Toolkit for the Effective Reading and Writing Teacher (2009).  The Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network. Retrieved from

The National Reading Panel Report (2000) National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Report of the National reading Panel.  Teaching Children to Read:  An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction:  Reports of the subgroups (NIH Publication No. 00-4754). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

National Early Literacy Panel (NELP). (2008). Developing early literacy:  Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Washington, D.C: National Institute for Literacy.