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Stacee Jennings

Carolyn Morin

Caryn Bell



Definition of Prosody

Importance of Prosody

Essential Components

Measuring Prosody

Instructional Strategies





I. Definition of Prosody


Prosody is a linguistic term that describes the rhythmic and tonal aspects of speech: th music of oral language (Samuels & Farstrup, 2006). Prosodic features are variations in pitch (intonation), stress patterns (syllable prominence), and duration (length of time) that contribute to expressive reading of a text (Allington, 1983). Reading Fluency is more than just the ability to read fast; it includes an understanding of the message being conveyed by the text. Prososdy is a sign or an index that the reader is actively constructing the meaning of the passsage as the words are being identified and pronounced. While automatic word recogniton ensures that fluent readers can accurately and effortlessly decode text, it does not account for their ability to make oral reading sound like spoken language (Stahl & Kuhn, 2002). In other words, fluent reading incorporates prosodic features such as pitch, stress and the use of appropriate phrasing.


II. Importance of Prosody


Research indicates that prosodic reading may serve as an aid to comprehension. According to Rasinski (2004), the view of prosody in relation to comprehension is expressed in the following statement: " Just as fluent musicians interpret or construct meaning from a musical score through phrasing, emphasis, and variations in tone and volume, fluent readers use cognitive resources to construct meaning through expressive interpretation of the text." Learners who have not achieved fluency read either in a word by word manner, read in a monotonous tone, or group words in ways that do not parallel spoken language. These qualities reflect their inability to transfer prosodic elements that occur naturally in speech onto written text. Fluent readers make appropriate use of phrasing, pitch and emphasis in their reading. Given this understanding of the role prosody plays in the ability to construct meaning from text, it is likely that instruction designed to develop learners' fluency will lead to improvements in their comprehension as well.


III. Essential Components of Prosody


A. Intonation


One of the first major components of prosody is known as intonation. Intonation can be said to include pitch accent, tune, pitch resetting, and tones and breaks. Nonetheless, all of these contributors work together to create intonation, which is just one of the necessary components of fluency. A pitch accent refers to the word or syllable that is accented rather than some of the weaker syllables that are considered unaccented. The tune refers to the overall movement of the phrase. One phrase may have a rising tone that suggests the word, sentence, or phrase will continue or a phrase might have a falling tone which is indicative of a gradual release, pause, or simply the end of an utterance. The next aspect of intonation is known as pitch resetting. Pitch resetting allows the speaker to produce the gradually falling intonation pattern which is characteristic of declarative utterances without falling outside his or her pitch range. The final aspect of intonation is known as tones and breaks. This is the formal system that hinges upon the idea that all tones are comprised of either high or low tones- that is accented and unaccented.


B. Timing


The second major component of prosody is known as timing. Timing is the length or prosodic structure a reader gives to a sentence. It differs from intonation in the fact that it is not an adjustment to the tone, palette, or any other audible structure. Timing simply refers to the pace the reader gives a selection. In the case of fluency the expression “timing is everything” reigns supreme. With the mere adjustment of a Reading Rate, a reader can add clarity to a piece. A fluent reader adjusts the rate according to the phrasal construction or syntax of a sentence. Such readers know when a pause is necessary because of the grammatical structure of the sentence. Is there a pause, comma, semicolon, etc? Non-fluent readers have little to no concept of phrase-final lengthening, which is determining when a boundary in the text has occurred and thus necessary for a lengthened pause, etc. Non-fluent readers who struggle with the timing aspect of prosody also have trouble differentiating between Function Words and Content Words.


C. Stress


The third component of prosody is known as stress. In elementary school, we were taught to hold our forehands up to our chins and say a multi-syllabic word very slowly to see how many times our chins hit our hands. This aided in helping us determine how many syllables the word contained. However, there was not a trendy technique to help us determine which syllable contained a stress and which syllable did not. Because there is no solidified technique, stress can often be a difficult component for young readers to master. At times, students even must resort to simply acquiring meaning from hearing the word over and over. For instance, in the word research, some fluent readers put the stress on the first syllable pronouncing it re’ search. Other readers put the stress on the second syllable. In this case, they pronounce the word as re search’. Neither way is specifically correct. However, a habitual problem with stress on simplistic words that do not have multiple pronunciations is a good indicator that a student might have a significant deficiency in prosodic development.



D. Focus


While there are varying components (page 4) of prosody according to specific researchers, there is one final component that almost all researchers can agree upon. Focus is often said to be the most difficult component of fluency because it has multiple layers. It has both semantic and phonological aspects. Focus can be signaled by the use of a particular type of grammatical structure, or it can be indicated solely with sound, via a pitch accent. But interestingly, even when a syntactic device for focusing is used, pitch accenting seems to occur as well. For instance, when one person asks a question there is a semantic pause at the end to signal a question. Likewise, the reply has a certain intonation as well to suggest that it is not a mere statement, but rather a response to another person’s question. In this regard, the phrase or statement combines phonological aspects with semantic aspects. In other words, the reader is not simply reading the sentence. The reader is reading with a purpose or focus in mind. Likewise, he or she is constructing meaning, believable dialogue, and a solid structure. Recent research has even shown that focus can help to clear up ambiguity within sentences. This is particularly true in terms of contributing deeper meaning to a sentence. For instance, when a writer utilizes the rhetorical device of sarcasm, how will a reader orally communicate that the sentence does not merely mean what it says? The reader must have a focus in mind, and the reader must read the sentence with a certain intonation that conveys the full meaning and truth of the text.


IV. Measuring Prosody


Assessing students’ oral interpretive reading is a key to developing their prosodic or expressive reading skills. Interpretation of text is more complex because it is more subjective than accuracy levels and reading rates. Nevertheless, methods have been developed to help teachers measure the extent to which students provide a fluent interpretation while reading (Rasinski, n.d.).


Since expression or interpretation of text is difficult to quantify, researchers have turned to qualitative rubrics or rating scales to guide the assessment process and assign a grade or level (Rasinski, n.d.). The rubric ranges from well-phrased, expressive reading at one end to word-by-word, monotonic reading at the other. Below is the NAEP rubric which can easily be employed by teachers to assess students oral reading fluency (Pinnell, et al., 1995). The rubric presented is ideal for quick assessments and checking on progress over time.



V. Instructional Strategies


There are several strategies teachers can implement in order to help students move beyond slow, word-by-word reading toward more fluent oral reading. Modeling, Explicit Fluency Instruction, reading in Manageable Texts, and Readers Theater can all improve prosody in struggling readers.


Although all of the above techniques can aid in the development of prosodic reading, there is much to be said regarding the use of Repeated Readings and timed readings in developing prosody and, ultimately, fluency in general. A repeated reading is when a reader reads the same passage over and over, learning where to stress certain aspects, where to pause, etc. Repeated reading is a necessary aspect of fluency building. In fact, many leading researchers argue that repeated reading is one of the most critical components to developing fluency (Snow, 1998). There is a broad array of studies that have been conducted to support the notion of repeated readings as a method for developing reading fluency in younger students and children with reading difficulties. S. Jay Samuels is often credited as the first person to conduct research on the validity of repeated readings to facilitate reading fluency, while Dick Allington at Albany was an early advocate of fluency instruction as part of developmental and remedial reading. “Others contributing significant research and methods papers on this topic include Sarah Dowhower and Timothy Rasinski. Working with second graders, Dowhower (1987) found that oral reading rate, accuracy, and comprehension improved significantly with repeated reading practice. Similar positive results have been found for first graders Young (1996), Turpie & Paratore (1994), and Simons (1992); for second and third graders by Stahl (1994); and for disabled readers by (Arya, Kutno, & Kibby, 1995; Homan, 1993), Koskinen & Blum (1986), Rashotte & Torgesen (1985), Weinstein & Cooke (1992), and Young, et al. (1996).”




VI. Summary


While prosody in terms of fluency can be defined in several different ways, it is important to note that prosody is most accurately defined as the expression with which one reads a given text. Because prosody is made up of intonation, timing, stress, and focus, the level of comprehension is often visible in this oral expression of reading. If young readers are not able to read a given text with a certain amount of prosody, then it is highly probable that they are lacking fluency and ultimately comprehension, which is one of the central components of fluency. A child's prosody can be measured and improved in a variety of ways namely modeling, explicit fluency instruction, and readers theater. All of these activities serve as catalysts for propelling inexperienced readers into prosodic development and ultimately comprehension which is the goal of all literacy instruction.





For more information, please visit the following websites:


Additional Prosody Ideas and Activities

Classroom Activities to Foster Fluent Readers

Information from NAEP regarding Oral Reading Fluency, including rubric

Research Advocating Repeated Readings


VII. Reference


Allington, R.L. (1983). Fluency: The neglected reading goal. The Reading Teacher, 36,6, 556-561.


Chomsky, C. (1976). After decoding: What? Language Arts, 53, 288-296.


Keehn, S. (2003). The effect of instruction and practice through readers theatre on young readers' oral reading fluency. Reading Research and Instruction, 42, 40-62.


Pinnell, J.J., Pikulski, K.K., Wixson, J.R., Campbell, P.B., Gough, A.S. & Beatty. (1995). Listening to children read aloud: oral fluency. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Available at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs95/web/95762.asp


Rasinski, T.V. (2004). Assessing reading fluency. Honolulu, HI: Pacific Resources for Education and Learning.


Samuels & Farstup (2006). What Research has to say about fluency. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.


Snow, C.E., Burns, M.S., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.


Commentary By: Crystal Wise

I thought that this page was well put together. However, I do have a few comments. The heading I. Definition of Prosody is not aligned in the center as the other headings. In the first paragraph, I. Definition of Prosody, you give short definitions of terms such as pitch, stress patterns and duration. I think it may be a good idea to add a supplemental page for these definitions and possibly give your readers a website that focuses on the term, or an example of how to teach/ assess pitch, stress patterns, and duration. I love your picture and your image, but I do not see a table. An idea for a table might be to list important ideas from your paper, sum each idea up, provide examples, or additional refrences. When doing a quick search for your topic, I found a great paper on the IRA website.



Commentary By: Philicia Randolph

I really like your page! It was quite informative. I liked the picture you used to begin the page, and how you linked your pages to that of our classmates. The suggestions I offer are minor, but would help your page to flow a little better. First, I found 2 spelling errors. You forgot the e for "the" in the first sentence. Also, the 's on Reader's Theater. Also, I think that it would have been beneficial to include examples of function and content words and to have scanned page 4 of the Reading First document into your paper. You could then have included that document in with your external links to make the required number of five. On your modeling page, you refere to "Research" but do not list any sources.

Commentary by: Kathi Crittenden

Great job! The page was very informative. I really liked the progression of the page. There was a very thoughtful and logical ordering to the sections and everything flowed really well. I particularly liked how the essential elements of prosody were broken down into the four subcategories (intonation, timing, stress, and focus) and then each subcategory was clearly explained. This helped me get a better sense of the part that each element plays and helped me understand the differences between them. The only thing I would suggest to improve the paper would be to correct the many misspellings, punctuation errors, and spacing errors.

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