By Jessica Kelmon , Leslie Crawford
Fourth grade is an important — and challenging — year for reading. Over the past several years, your child has been solidifiying foundational skills like decoding and fluency. Now, your child is poised to try more difficult fiction and nonfiction fare. Luckily, help from grown-ups is expected. Be ready and available to assist as your child tackles all these tough texts.
By fourth grade, your child's decoding and fluency abilities should be skyrocketing after several years of working on these two super skills. (Decoding is being able to use patterns to figure out words and decipher their separate sounds; fluency means knowing how to read quickly and accurately.) This year, your fourth grader will need to rely on ever more sophisticated decoding and fluency abilities in order to tackle more challenging texts, from novels and nonfiction books to magazine articles and online research.
By now, your child will draw on his phonemic awareness (also called letter-sound correspondences) to infer meaning in what he reads. This includes putting together compound words (e.g. a snake with a rattle is a rattlesnake), figuring out the meaning when with common suffixes are added to a base word (e.g. What does the suffix -ly do to the meaning of sharp?) and similarly, when common prefixes are added (e.g. When you add pre- to heats, what does it mean?). Your fourth grader must also be able to decode dozens of multisyllabic words, from com-pen-sate to sy-no-nym, as well as read grade-level irregularly spelled words, such as though and Wednesday.
When it comes to fluency, your child should also be able to read with enough accuracy to understand the material and, after multiple readings, read aloud smoothly and with plenty of expression. Tip: Be a ham! Trade off reading lines from characters in a book… your child can be the heroic Harry Potter and you the dastardly Voldemort.
Get ready for a challenging year! Your fourth grader will continue to split reading time between literature (including stories, dramas, and poetry) and nonfiction works of history, social studies, science, and even some technical texts (think maps and charts) — but expect both the content and language to challenge your child. Under Common Core the same texts are used in fourth and fifth grade, but the big difference is that fourth graders are only expected to tackle the easier texts by themselves and should get help with touch words and concepts.
A big step forward in your child's understanding of fiction and nonfiction this year has to do with identifying — and explaining — how different kinds of texts are structured. For instance, poems have stanzas, while stories have paragraphs. Fourth graders learn to discuss the verse, rhythm, and meter in poetry, and the cast of characters, settings, and dialogues in stories. When your child discusses nonfiction, they’ll be asked similarly analytical questions: What’s the chronology of the Revolutionary War? What was the cause and effect of the Trail of Tears?
Think of it like using reading comprehension skills to build an account — like a bank account — full of knowledge. In every poem, story, passage, or book read, fourth graders are expected to glean a main point, message, and a few key facts, relate it to what they already know, and "bank" the knowledge for future use.
So what does filling a knowledge bank look like? It's your fourth grader comparing and contrasting a traditional oral or video version of Little Red Riding Hood and Roald Dahl's poetic twist in Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf to describe the differences and similarities in the events, characters, themes and points of view and how that changes the story.
With nonfiction, fourth graders will often be expected to process information from two different sources whether it's another book, a photo essay, a magazine article, or an encyclopedia entry. Students will be asked to speak with authority on what they’ve learned and include facts from two sources, sifting through the subtle differences between the facts in a first-person's account, say, and a third-person narration. This ability to learn about the same topic from different sources — and understand how the information varies based on the source — are key to making sure your child's adept at sorting, reviewing, and "banking" facts.
“Read like a detective,” is how David Coleman, a principal architect of the Common Core, explains the role of evidence in reading. Hunting for evidence means your child finding — and explicitly referring to — answers to questions in text and pictures. Fourth graders use evidence to answer questions and draw inferences. To answer the question, "Who was up before Casey in Casey at the Bat?" showing evidence is just as literal as it was in first, second, and third grade: it means your child should find Flynn and Jimmy Blake's names in the third stanza. Inference, however, is a new, more subtle skill. In answer to the question, "Does the crowd support Casey?" your child needs to point to a few different lines of the poem to show how the text conveys the crowd's support, even though it's never expressly stated.
Your child’s teacher will emphasize evidence in different ways this year, but the main skills your child should have include:
• Summarizing the main topic of a text and the key supporting details.
• Pointing out the evidence used to explain or support what an author's writing about.
• Giving in-depth descriptions of characters, setting, and events in a story.
• Explaining events, procedures, or a timeline of historical events based on written texts.
• Interpreting information from charts, images, videos, time lines, and diagrams and explaining how it fits with the information your child has read.
Keep in mind that in fourth grade, hunting for evidence gets trickier because not all answers are spelled out. Just like a detective, your fourth grader will need to really try (and perhaps try, try again) to find evidence — by reading clues that may not be totally clear.
A child's vocabulary plays an ever more important role in shaping a student who will one day be college-ready. The surest way to expand your child's vocabulary remains simple and the same: read and read more. Even at the ripe old age of 8 or 9 years old, your child will benefit from being read to aloud. Also, have your child read material on her own that raises the vocabulary bar.
Fourth graders will be exposed to increasingly complex texts, from thrilling page-turners like The Lightening Thief to classics like Island of the Blue Dolphins or nonfiction works that can include anything that inspires, such as Knucklehead, Jon Scieszka's funny and mostly true stories about growing up. When it comes to words, the axiom is all too true: the more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you know. (Check out these favorite fourth grade books.)
Be it through writing, speaking, reading, or listening, your fourth grader should be acquiring a firm grasp of language and its basic conventions — whether that means tackling those pesky prepositions (e.g. above, beyond) making use of colorful adjectives, or using punctuation for effect — all with goal of being able to draw on words and phrases to convey ideas more precisely.
As a reading detective, your child now can figure out unfamiliar words from word clues such as noticing how auto contributes the same meaning to automobile and automatic. If you haven't already, fourth grade is the year to have a dictionary and thesaurus close at hand (or become agile using them online) and refer to glossaries to look up words and phrases. All of these tools are vocabulary boosters, and some day your word whiz will thank you.