By Jessica Kelmon
Don’t tell your fourth grader, but one of the main points of the Common Core Standards — rigor — is clearly demonstrated in this year’s writing standards. Starting now, taking notes will be a mainstay of your child’s education. Your child’s stories — the ones she writes, not reads — will have developed characters who show their feelings and react to what happens. And perhaps most important, all year long your child will be expected to use the new ideas she’s learning to use to analyze books — like structure, logic, details, evidence — in her own daily writing.
You may want to review all those parts of speech your child learned last year — because fourth grade grammar is expected to be quite accurate. Your child should gain command of relative pronouns (e.g. who, whose, whom, which, that), relative adverbs (e.g. where, when, why), adjective ordering (e.g. short dark hair and small red bag), descriptive prepositional phrases (e.g. in the air, down the block, on the grass), progressive past, present, and future verbs (e.g. I was walking, I am walking, I will be walking), and verbs used with other verbs to express mood or tense (aka modal auxiliaries, e.g. can, may, must, should, would). Your child needs to master the distinctions between frequently confused words like to, too, and two and there, their, and they’re. Last year’s compound and complex sentences continue this year, but with the added twist that your fourth grader should be able to recognize and correct run-ons and fragments.
Building on your child’s arsenal of spelling and root word skills, the big hurdles this year all involve using language precisely.
Your fourth grader should now be using relevant academic words in informational writing and research reports. Although accurate spelling should be the norm in fourth grade, when faced with spelling more academic words, your child should use a dictionary and thesaurus (print and digital versions).
After so much grammar work last year, your child will get to focus on details this year, like capitalizing the right words, putting a comma before connecting conjuctions in compound sentences (e.g. I said yes, and then he said no.), and using commas and quotation marks to show text quotes or dialogue.
Finally, encourage your child to have fun with her new language prowess by helping her choose words and punctuation for effect — for example, an exclamation point to show a character’s surprise!
Last year your child dabbled in taking notes, but this year note-taking becomes an important skill. Under the Common Core Standards, fourth graders are expected to use books, periodicals, websites, and other digital sources (like a library database) to conduct research projects — both on their own and as part of group work with peers. Your child should keep track of all the sources she checks — noting what she learns, the name of the source and page number or url so she can find it again and create a source list or bibliography later. A big step in your child’s research process this year is taking the time to review and categorize her new knowledge. Which information is about the animal’s habitat? How about the animal’s lifespan? And what about the animal’s diet? Sorting evidence into categories will help her with the planning, writing, and revising stages of her project.
Is all research and note-taking confined to nonfiction sources? Nope. Your child should take notes on the fiction books she reads, too.
Last year’s pre-writing step — planning — becomes essential in your fourth grader’s multi-step writing process. Before your child sits down to write, he should use his organized notes to help create the structure of whatever he’s writing. Expect the writing process to take longer as your child spends more time planning, writing, revising, and editing. While planning, your child may brainstorm ideas for a story or decide how to organize facts into a cohesive set of points. After the first draft is written, the teacher and possibly other students will offer feedback: asking questions to elicit new details or clarify an argument or suggest new sources of information. They should check that there’s a clear introduction and conclusion, and that the order of points or events makes sense. Your child will then do a revision (or two), adding, reordering, and refining his writing.
After making revisions, your child does a final edit — focusing on spelling, grammar, punctuation, and strengthening word choices. These steps — planning, writing a first draft, revising, and editing the final piece — help fourth graders understand that research, organizing, clarifying ideas, and improving grammar and presentation are all essential to strong writing.
Since kindergarten, the Common Core Standards have been stressing the mechanics of writing strong opinion pieces. This year, these pieces are expected to get longer and more organized. Your child’s persuasive writing should start by clearly introducing the topic and stating your child’s opinion, then set up her argument, or reasons for her opinion. Then, she should list each reason, supported by facts and details. After presenting all of her research-supported reasons, she should close her argument with a concluding statement or paragraph that relates to the opinion she presented.
The purpose of informative writing is to convey facts and ideas clearly. This year, your child’s informative writing gets more organized — think formatting (like headers) and illustrations and even multimedia components to support various points. To begin, your child should introduce her topic then use facts, definitions, details, quotes, examples, and other information to develop his topic into a few clear, well thought-out paragraphs. Your fourth grader should use advanced linking words (e.g. also, another, for example, because) to form compound and complex sentences connecting his research and ideas to the point he’s making. Finally, to wrap it up, your child should have a conclusion — either a statement or, if necessary, a section labeled conclusion.
A narrative means writing a story, and this year your child will be expected to use storytelling techniques, descriptive details, and clear sequences to tell compelling tales. Whether inspired by a favorite book, real events, or your child’s imagination, your child’s story should use dialogue, descriptive words, and transitional language that indicates sequence of events. Look for precise language that brings characters to life. Finally, your child should begin to keep pacing and sequence of events in mind — the events should unfold naturally, bringing the story to a natural conclusion. Are surprise endings okay? Sure… so long as the details and events plausibly lead there.
Introduced in third grade, this writing standard means more writing more often — whether it’s in 15-minute spurts or multi-week projects. However, this year you’ll want to think about the ways your child’s growing analytical reading skills can inform their writing skills. For instance, when you read a fiction book with your child, ask questions like What is that character feeling? Which words make you think that? Now see how your child can use those ideas in his own writing. You’ll want to take a similar approach to nonfiction writing. When reading nonfiction, ask What is the author trying to say? Or What reasons does she give to support her points? By asking these same questions during reading time, then again with your fourth grader’s writing, you’ll help your child apply his growing reading skills to his own writing.
The sweet final step: publishing! Once the research, planning, writing, revisions, and edits are done, your fourth grader is ready to publish. The Common Core Standards specify using “technology, including the internet, to produce and publish writing.” The format is open — printing or electronic publishing on a blog, website, or even an app — but the standards clearly state that your fourth grader should be able to type up to a full page in one sitting. While teachers should be there to help, your child should be doing the work. Students will also be expected to interact with peers about each other’s work. What might that look like? Your child might read his classmates’ published work online and comment on it, or cite a peer’s work when answering a question in class.
Traditionally, by the end of fourth grade kids have been expected to write legibly in cursive and use computers as a writing tool. The Common Core Standards cover using technology and typing: namely, independently typing a full page of content in one sitting. Since not all writing is expected to be typed, it’s logical to conclude that your fourth grader’s penmanship should be up to snuff. But there is no mention of cursive, though some states have opted to include it as part of their additions to the Common Core, and some teachers are still big believers in the importance of this age-old skill. So, it’s a great question for your child’s teacher: Will students be learning cursive in class? If not, will there be any focus on legible penmanship? If the answer is no, it’s a craft you may want to work on with your child at home.
Updated November 2013 to align with the Common Core Standards
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