Reading Room – September 2023

Prosody in Reading

This month’s topic for the Reading Room is prosody. We will explore the different aspects of prosody and how to develop and improve it for our students.

Definition of Prosody in Reading:

“What is the Definition of Prosody? Reading with prosody simply means to read with expression. It involves using the appropriate rhythm, emphasis, pitch, tone, and timing to breathe life into the words you’re reading and convey meaning. In other words, it’s reading with feeling.” 

Continental Educational Publisher | March 31, 2022

General Definition of Prosody: 

Developing prosodic skills not only enhances comprehension in our students, but it also improves overall language understanding and reading fluency.  Prosody in reading will help students achieve a deeper connection with what they are reading.  Proper prosody helps communicate the meaning and emotion in text or speech.  Because fluency is an essential aspect of reading and prosody plays a huge role in developing it, when speed and accuracy levels are appropriate, prosody (focusing on proper phrasing, expression and intonation) should be the next goal. So when trying to enhance reading fluency, DO NOT forget about prosody skills.  It will lead to an improved ability to comprehend and enjoy reading.  

There are several elements of prosody that can and should be taught: 

Intonation and Stress

We should all be paying attention to intonation and stress.  Intonation is the variation in the pitch or tone of your voice while stress refers to the emphasis on certain syllables or words.  

Rhythm and Pause

To improve reading, focus on developing a natural rhythm, which is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in speech.  This should mirror everyday conversation.  Also, think of pauses like the punctuation marks in spoken language.  These two things help you to create a sense of flow to your reading.

Tempo

A steady pace or tempo allows listeners to follow your words with ease.  Varying the tempo in reading can add excitement and interest and allows you to adjust your reading speed depending on the content and your audience.  

Phrasing or Chunking

This refers to the way in which you group words together in a sentence.  Using phrasing effectively can significantly enhance the clarity and expression of your reading.  To do this, you must teach students to pay attention to the natural divisions within a sentence.  This can give the student a “road map” which helps them convey the intended meaning and make it easier for listeners to follow and understand what is being read.  

Examples of SCOOPING sentences into phrases: 

These are controlled text sentences from the S.P.I.R.E. program.  They are controlled for the sounds and concepts that the students have been taught. Instruct students to run their finger or pencil eraser along the scoops.  Students start with smaller scoops with fewer words and work their way to larger scoops with more words. Doing this improves fluency as well as phrasing and expression.  

Prosody Pyramid:

The prosody pyramid gives us a way to determine how to chunk sentences and where to place emphasis on certain words and vowels.  Using the prosody pyramid, you can find the thought group, focus word, stressed syllable, and finally the peak vowel, to help with all  of the different aspects of prosody. It’s a great idea to use controlled text with students, particularly when you are beginning this work with them.  They will have more brain capacity to devote to prosody if they aren’t struggling with decoding.

How to Develop Prosody:

Listen to good examples:  Play audio recordings and have the students discuss pitch, intonation, and rhythm.

Have students record themselves:  Discuss how they can improve what they hear.

Practice reading with expression:  Have the students scoop the passage and practice reading out loud, focusing on stress and pausing.

Use read alouds:  Choose a variety of texts and have the students read out loud on a regular basis.

Do repeated readings:  Doing repeated reading helps reinforce prosody and improves fluency.

Partner up:  Put fluent readers with less fluent readers to read short passages with one another.

Practice choral reading:  Reading together or using echo reading creates a “stress free” practice for students. 

Try “Reader’s Theater”:  Students can perform stories and read their character’s lines with expression.

Use poetry exercises: Poetry will usually contain patterns of rhythm and rhyme, and this can also be used to develop prosody.

How to Assess Prosody:

When listening to your students read, pay attention to: 

Stress: the emphasis placed on certain words /  syllables

Pitch: the variation in voice tone

Pauses:  the breaks taken between phrases or sentences

Intonation:  the rise and fall of the voice

You may choose to use rubrics or checklists which create a scoring guide to evaluate the aspects of prosody. These can simply be a list of key components that you are looking for during the student’s reading or even anecdotal notes that you take, listing the student strengths or areas of improvement.  

Links to Rubrics and/or checklists:

Understanding and Assessing Fluency / Reading Rockets

https://www.readingrockets.org/topics/assessment-and-evaluation/articles/understanding-and-assessing-fluency

Prosody Assessment Rating Scale / Virginia Literacy Partnerships

https://literacy.virginia.edu/sites/g/files/jsddwu1006/files/2023-05/Prosody%20Assessment%20Rating%20Scale%20PDF.pdf

Measures of Prosody and Expression / Cox Campus

https://files.coxcampus.org/Measures-of-Prosody.pdf

For questions, please contact:

Chris Fox – cfox@ces.org, Jessica Powell – jpowell@ces.org 

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