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Fourth grade is a year of challenging reading. Over the past several years, your child has been solidifying foundational skills like decoding and fluency. Now, your child is poised to try more difficult fiction and nonfiction. Luckily, help from grown-ups is expected. Be ready and available to assist your child with all these tough texts.

Key 4th grade reading skills

Decoding and fluency

By fourth grade, your child’s decoding and fluency abilities should be strong. Decoding is being able to use patterns to figure out new words and decipher their separate sounds. Fluency means knowing how to read quickly and accurately. This year, your fourth grader will need more sophisticated decoding and fluency abilities in order to tackle more challenging texts, from novels and nonfiction books to magazine articles and online research.

Specific decoding skills your child should show this year include:

  • Putting together compound words (e.g. a snake with a rattle is a rattlesnake).
  • Figuring out the meaning when with common prefixes and suffixes are added to a base word (e.g. When you add pre- to heats, what does it mean? What does the suffix -ly do to the meaning of sharp?)
  • Decoding 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.

Specific fluency skills your child should show this year:

  • Reading with enough accuracy to understand the material.
  • After multiple readings, reading 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 sniveling Professor Snape.

Exploring fiction and nonfiction

Your fourth grader should continue to split reading time between literature (including stories, dramas, and poetry) and nonfiction (including history, social studies, and science). Expect both the content and language to challenge your child. Under the Common Core Standards, 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 new 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, e.g. What’s the chronology of the Revolutionary War? What was the cause and effect of the Trail of Tears?.

Building a knowledge bank

In every poem, story, or book read, fourth graders are expected to learn the main point, a message, and a few key facts, relate this information to what they already know, and “bank” the knowledge for future use.

Related: Watch our Milestone video Is your 4th grader building knowledge from reading?

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.

Show me the evidence!

Hunting for evidence means your child finding answers to questions in text and pictures and explicitly referencing them. 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 read clues that may not be totally clear.

Related: Watch our Milestone video Does your 4th grader show understanding like this?

The wide, wide world of words

Your child’s vocabulary plays an important role in shaping her college readiness. The surest way to expand your child’s vocabulary is simple: read more. Even at the age of 9 or 10, your child will benefit from being read to aloud. Also, have your child read material on her own that builds her vocabulary.

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.

Related 4th grade reading resources

Books to challenge fourth grade readers
Classic childhood favorites for 4th graders
History books for 4th graders
4th grade academic vocabulary words
4th grade grammar worksheets
4th grade reading comprehension worksheets

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