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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.

Key 5th grade reading skills

Decoding and fluency

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. This year, your fifth grader will be relying on advanced decoding and fluency skills to tackle more challenging texts, from grade-level novels and nonfiction books to magazine articles and online research.

Your child will regularly draw on her ability to figure out new 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 will use root words to decipher a longer word (e.g. struct 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 use them to decode dozens of multisyllabic words, such as pedestrian and exasperate.

Your child should understand what she reads and be able to read it aloud accurately, smoothly, and with plenty of expression. 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 vile Snape.

Related: Watch our Milestone video Is your 5th grader building vocabulary from reading?

Exploring fiction and nonfiction

After struggling with tougher books last year, many fifth graders sail through reading this year. Kids continue to split reading time between literature (including novels, dramas, and poetry) and nonfiction works (including history, social studies, and science). 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 the organization of what they’re reading. 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.

Is your child “banking” knowledge?

This is about your child earning and saving knowledge. For every poem, passage, or book read, fifth graders are expected to glean a main point, a 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, your child should be able to compare and contrast the elements of these two fantasies.

A big new skill for fifth graders is learning to analyze multiple points of view. This may mean reading a book, a historical passage, an individual’s account, 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. 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.

Related: Watch our Milestone video Is your 5th grader building knowledge from reading?

Show me the evidence!

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, kids use evidence to quote accurately. This could 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 fifth grade reading 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.

Related: Watch our Milestone video Does your 5th grader show understanding like this?

The wide, wide world of words

Your child’s vocabulary plays an important role in helping your student become college-ready. The surest way to expand your fifth grader’s vocabulary is simple: read more. Have your child read on her own from a range of fiction and nonfiction books. (Check out this list of books to challenge fifth grade readers.) Believe it or not, even at 9 or 10 years old, kids benefit from (and enjoy) being read to.

Your fifth grader should be acquiring a firm grasp of language and its basic conventions. She should now be able to intuitively figure out more complicated unknown words, relying on 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 dictionaries, thesauruses, and glossaries to look up words and phrases.

Finally, fifth graders learn to use 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). Kids should be able to recognize common idioms (e.g. jump on the bandwagon) and proverbs (e.g. two wrongs do not make a right). They can also rely on the relationship between words — using synonyms, antonyms, and homographs — to better understand new words.

Related: Watch our Milestone video Is your 5th grader building vocabulary from reading?

Related 5th grade reading resources

Our favorite 5th grade reading worksheets
5 great reading comprehension worksheets for 5th graders
5th grade academic vocabulary words
Classic childhood favorites for 5th graders
History books for 5th graders
Science and nature books for 5th graders
5th grade books so great, they made a movie

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