New vocabulary, stronger decoding skills, and an impressive new depth of knowledge and understanding fuel a surprising amount of growth in your young reader this year. Here’s what your second grade reading entails under the Common Core Standards.

The “D” and “F” of reading (decoding and fluency)

In second grade, decoding and fluency remain the most important skills for your emerging reader. Decoding is the ability to become more adept at using patterns to decode words and deciphering the separate sounds in words. Fluency is, quite simply, the ability to read quickly and accurately, something that many second graders begin to do by the end of the school year. In the decoding department, second graders should be able to easily distinguish between the short and long vowels when reading common one-syllable words. (Remember that long vowels mean vowels that sound just like the letter, like the a in ape. Tip: Here’s a cheat sheet to help your second grader remember the sound short vowels make: a as in apple, e as in egg, i as in igloo, o as in octopus, and u as in umbrella.)

This is also the year kids will get more familiar with vowel teams (e.g. ai in aid, oo in moon, ie in pie, oa in boat, ue in blue). They should also decode regularly spelled two-syllable words with long vowels (e.g. table, because, spider, open, and music) and decode words with common prefixes like un- (e.g. unlock, unhappy) or re- (e.g. redo, retell) and use base words they know, such as add, as a clue to decoding new words, such as addition or additional. To throw second graders for a real loop, they need to recognize grade-appropriate irregularly spelled words, too. (e.g. Words with letters that don’t make their usual sounds, like said.)

As for fluency, second graders need to read silently with enough accuracy and fluency to support comprehension. When reading aloud, they also need to read grade-level text with expression — refining their delivery with each reading.

Related: Watch our Milestone video Does your 2nd grader read smoothly like this?

Exploring fiction and nonfiction

Second graders stretch their reading skills in every direction. Splitting their time between stories, poems, and early literature on the fiction side and history, social studies, science, and even some technical texts (think directions and charts) on the nonfiction side, second graders dip their toes into tougher material. Under the Common Core, reading benchmarks begin in second grade that continue through third grade. In both years, children are challenged to read text aimed at grades 2 and 3. This year, the expectation is that — whether the complexity is geared toward grade 2 or 3 and whether you’re talking about fiction or nonfiction — second graders should get all the help they need (whether it’s help with decoding, fluency, or comprehension) to tackle their reading.

Related: See our list of challenging books for 2nd grade readers.

Building a knowledge bank

Under the Common Core there’s an emphasis on kids learning big ideas from every book they read — and relating that information to what they already know. Think of it like using reading comprehension skills to build a knowledge bank: with every poem, story, passage, or book read, there’s a main point, message, or key fact (or two) that your child learns, relates to their life, experiences, and prior knowledge, and “banks” for future use.

Key skills that’ll help your second grader build their knowledge bank:

Reading silently and aloud with enough accuracy, expression, and speed to support understanding;
Being able to retell stories, fables, and folktales from diverse cultures in a way that covers the central message or lesson;
Describing how characters respond to events and challenges;
Recognizing a story or passage’s structure and how the beginning introduces what comes next and how the ending concludes the writing;
Understanding that different characters, narrators, and authors tell stories from different points of view;
Comparing two or more versions or accounts of the same story (e.g. Cinderella versus Ella Enchanted, or civil rights as explained by a person versus a description in a text book).

Related: Watch our Milestone video Does your 2nd grader read to learn like this?

Finally, with reference materials — whether in print or online — your second grader should be able to use a table of contents, glossary, and website navigation menus and icons to find information.

But what do all these standards really look like? It might be your 7-year-old changing voices when reading Matilda to show characters’ different points of view. Or your second grader looking up duck-billed platypuses on the National Geographic Kids website and using the navigation to find information for her report. Or it might be your young environmentalist adding the ideas she learned about wind power from reading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind to what she learned about water conservation from reading A Cool Drink of Water.

Show me the evidence!

“Read like a detective,” is how David Coleman, one of the principal architects of the Common Core, explains the emphasis on evidence in reading. For second graders, hunting for evidence means finding — and literally pointing to — answers to questions in text and pictures. To answer the question, “What was the first message Charlotte wove into her web to help Wilbur?” your child may remember that is was “Some Pig,” but showing evidence is pretty literal: it means your child should flip through the pages and find the words — or the picture — to point out the answer.

Related: Watch our Milestone video Does your 2nd grader show understanding like this?

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

Asking and answering questions about the five W’s — who, what, when, where, and why — to show both understanding and an ability to find answers in a book’s text or illustrations.
Identifying the main topic in a longer (think 3-5 paragraphs) text and being able to say what the main point of each paragraph is, too.
Beginning to understand how an author uses reasons to support an idea or argument.
Explaining how specific images — like a map of Australia showing where duck-billed platypuses live — contribute information to what they’re reading.

Keep in mind that in second grade, hunting for evidence can be really fun — but it can also be tough. Just like a detective, your second grader will need to really try (and perhaps try, try again) to find the evidence hidden in every text.

An expanding world of words

What services does the U.S. government provide its citizens? Yes, your child could be expected to answer this question along with a host of others that use academic and abstract vocabulary. Now is the time to expose your second grader to plenty of age-appropriate but challenging texts with new and interesting words. Why? The more words a child this age knows, the better she develops great word recognition, a valuable skill for becoming a great reader and, by extension, a great learner. Second graders are expected to learn a host of basic conventions as well, including everything from the meaning of an exclamation point to how to address a formal letter beginning with Dear followed by the addressee’s name and a comma.

Along with handling more challenging texts, second graders should be able to figure out more challenging words, figuring out their meaning within a passage. They’ll rely on skills they began developing in kindergarten and first grade to do this, including using prefixes as clues, using known words to predict the meaning of new compound words (e.g. lighthouse, bookmark), and using the rest of the sentence to figure out what a new word means.

Related: See our list of academic vocabulary words for 2nd graders.

Second graders will also begin grasping the nuance of language so they can, say, distinguish shades of meaning between closely related verbs (e.g. toss, throw, hurl) and adjectives (e.g. thin, slender, skinny, scrawny). Remember: the more your child reads — and the more you discuss books with your child — the more words acquired. The more words acquired, the easier it becomes to use the clues in a text to learn new words.

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