Your fifth grader’s reading under the Common Core Standards

Your child will undergo a reading revolution this year as students are asked to tackle tougher texts, learn challenging vocabulary, and refine research and analysis skills.

By Jessica Kelmon , Leslie Crawford

Have you heard the Common Core Standards described as rigorous? Your fifth grader's reading may be one of the best examples. Your child's reading assignments may sometimes even look like college-level work. Fifth graders are asked to do research from multiple sources, analyze themes, and read complex fiction and nonfiction works. It may be a wild ride — and your child's abilities may amaze you.

Breaking the code and keeping the flow

Now in fifth grade, your child's decoding and fluency skills are growing dramatically. Decoding is the ability to use patterns to figure out words and decipher their separate sounds; fluency is reading quickly and accurately. Indeed, this year your fifth grader will be relying on advanced decoding and fluency skills in order to tackle more challenging texts, from grade-level novels and nonfiction books to magazine articles and online research.

This year, your child will regularly draw on her ability to figure out words to read accurately. A good way to think of phonics is being able to easily see "chunks" in words to figure out a word's meaning. For example, your child sees a root word to decipher a longer word (e.g. ruct is the root word in construct, destruction, structure). Your fifth grader will also learn more advanced prefixes (e.g. ex- in excavate, extract, exhale) and suffixes (e.g. -ible in audible, plausible, legible) and must also be able to decode dozens of multisyllabic words, such as pedestrian and exasperate.

When it comes to fluency, your child should be understanding what she reads, and be able to read it aloud accurately, smoothly, and with plenty of expression — be it prose (The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle) or poetry (The Tiger by William Blake). Tip: Be a ham and improve fluency by trading off reading lines from a book's characters… your child can be the heroic Harry Potter and you the dastardly Voldemort.

Exploring fiction and nonfiction

After struggling with tougher books last year, many fifth graders sail through reading this year. Continuing to split reading time between literature (including short novels, dramas, and poetry) and nonfiction works of history, social studies, science, and more technical texts (think maps and diagrams) — fifth graders have more facility with the content and language they'll encounter. Under Common Core, the same texts cover fourth and fifth grade; but the big difference is that fifth graders are expected to tackle the tougher texts with confidence — and without much help.

Fifth graders continue to learn about structure and pay attention to how what they're reading is organized. This year, for example, it's not just that books have chapters and plays have scenes, it's about your child understanding how each chapter fits together into a novel's overall structure to help the story develop and flow.

Since there is such a strong emphasis on nonfiction under Common Core, along with assigned reading in class, it's a good idea to expose your child to text — in print and online — that fuel her passions, be it volcanoes or suffragists or astronomy. In the meantime, your child's teacher will be challenging her with a wide range of complex works, from William Blake's The Echoing Green to articles about science and technology.

Is your child "banking" knowledge?

Nope, this isn't about money; though it is about your child earning and saving knowledge. Think of it as your child using her reading comprehension skills to build an account — like a bank account — full of knowledge. For every poem, passage, or book read, fifth 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 fifth grader imagining how Mary Lennox, protagonist of The Secret Garden, would describe herself versus how the narrator describes her — and how the entire story might change if only Mary told it. When tackling a graphic novel such as Super Amoeba: Squish #1, your fifth grader should be able to talk about how the visuals and words each contribute to the story's tone and meaning. And, after reading both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Tuck Everlasting, beyond enjoying the stories, your child should be able to compare and contrast the elements of these two fantasies, including how each book approaches similar themes and topics.

A big new skill for fifth graders is learning to take in, and analyze, multiple points of view. This may mean reading a book, a historical passage, and an individual's account, and watching a movie, studying an interactive timeline, and doing Internet research about the American Civil War. The point is for your child to be able to take in the information and digest it accurately. How does the date on the timeline of the start of the war correspond to the enslaved person's story? Your child's ability to learn a topic from different sources — and understand how the information varies based on the source — are key to your child skillfully and knowledgably "banking" facts.

Show me the evidence!

“Read like a detective,” is the way David Coleman, a principal architect of the Common Core, explains the emphasis on evidence in reading. Hunting for evidence means your child finding — and explicitly referring to — answers to questions in text and pictures. Fifth graders use evidence to compare and contrast characters, to summarize what they read, and to determine a story's theme. This year, they also use evidence to quote accurately. Your child may use passages – either explicitly or to illustrate what they infer — to compare, say, Mary and Colin in The Secret Garden. It could also mean your child finding the first thing Mary says when she learns her Ayah has died.

Your child’s teacher will emphasize evidence in different ways this year, but the main skills your child should have include:

Summarizing a text's main points and explaining how those points are supported by specific details.
Pointing out how an author is using evidence to explain or support their topic overall and the points within the topic.
Giving in-depth descriptions of characters, setting, and events in a story.
Explaining the relationship or interaction between two or more individuals, events, or ideas based on specific information in one or more texts.

In fifth grade, hunting for evidence gets trickier because your child is expected to look at multiple sources — and not all answers are spelled out. Just like a detective trying to piece together a case, your fifth grader will need to pay close attention and really dig to find evidence.

The wide, wide world of words

Under the Common Core Standards, 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 fifth grader's vocabulary remains simple and the same: read and read more. Believe it or not, even at 9 or 10 years old, kids benefit from (and enjoy) being read to.

Having your child read on her own from a range of fiction and nonfiction texts that raise the vocabulary bar is another good way to boost her vocabulary. Under the standards, your child's expanded reading abilities will expose her to more complex novels, including thrilling page-turners like Tuck Everlasting or the fantastical The Phantom Tollbooth or poems like Casey at the Bat. (Check out this book list of fifth grade favorites.)

Along with expanding her reading repertoire, this year your fifth grader should be acquiring a firm grasp of language and its basic conventions. (She should even be able to recognize a variety of English dialects in the written or spoken word — be it a sharecropper from the South or chimney sweep speaking Cockney — all of which can be tricky.) She should now be able to intuitively figure out more complicated unknown words, relying on a toolkit of skills including using a text's context for clues and recognizing common affixes and root words to decipher a word's meaning (e.g. photograph, photosynthesis). Also, she should regularly be using a dictionary and thesaurus (print and digital) and refer to glossaries to look up words and phrases.

An even bigger world of rich word use is at play, as fifth graders make use of figurative language such as similes (e.g. busy as a bee), metaphors (e.g. you are what you eat), alliteration (e.g. she sells seashells by the seashore) and a fifth grader's favorite, hyperbole (a.k.a. wild exaggeration).

This year, students should be able to recognize common idioms (e.g. jump on the bandwagon) and proverbs (two wrongs do not make a right). They can also rely on the relationship between words — using synonyms, antonyms, homographs — to better understand a word. Finally, your fifth grader should learn to accurately use words such as however, although, nevertheless, and moreover — all in the service of more artful written and spoken communication.

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.org.

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.