Skill Overview

What is expression?

Expression refers to phrasing, intonation, acknowledgment of punctuation, and appropriate emphasis. Reading with expression is also known as prosody, which is defined as the rhythmic and intonational aspects of spoken language (Moats, 2009).

What tasks should students be able to demonstrate to indicate mastery of this skill?

  • Read connected text in phrases

  • Pay attention to punctuation when reading

  • Use appropriate intonation when reading


Why is understanding expression important to reading?

Reading with expression is widely considered to be one of the hallmarks of the achievement of reading fluency. Perfetti (1985) suggests that once words are processed fluently and automatically, cognitive resources become available for children to engage in the additional processing required for expressive oral reading. Expression signals that a reader understands what is being read because expression is derived from attending to punctuation and word meaning.

Structured Literacy Tools

Sequential and Cumulative

Systematic and Explicit

To Mastery

Although expression can and should be taught (through modeling and instruction in syntax), it is also influenced by comprehension.  In other words, fluent reading with expression supports comprehension but it also may be a by-product of it.  Mastery of this skill is observational; meaning, it is evident when the teacher judges that a student demonstrates accurate expression for comprehended text.

Children begin to learn appropriate intonation and pacing as they are read to by adults at very young ages.  Thus, early modeling occurs using more difficult text that the child cannot yet decode for themselves.   As students begin to decode text independently, learning proper expression is closely linked to the level of text being read.  In other words, as sentences become more complex students are taught to recognize the signals for shifting expression by responding to punctuation, phrasing, and dialogue markers.  

Because expression is reliant on the type of text being read, systematic and explicit teaching of expression can only occur by modeling (explicit) it in a variety of texts on a daily basis (systematic).  Methods for modeling may also include listening to audio-books.  Practicing occurs through repeated readings, radio reading, and—when carefully monitored---through Reader’s Theater.

Practice Resources

Downloadable Files From BRI Resources
Downloadable Files From Literacy Partners



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