Thinking & Learning

Reading to Learn

There’s a big literacy transition between third and fourth grades: Unless they’re getting extra reading support, by fourth grade, your child will no longer be considered “learning to read” in school. Instead, they’ll be expected to read fluently across subjects. How do you know if your kid is on their way to becoming a comfortable and fluent reader? And why does it matter now?

In the first few years of elementary school, your child probably spent quite a bit of time learning to read. Hopefully, they received instruction in phonics, so they’re now able to sound out unfamiliar words. Now, particularly by fourth grade, your kid may no longer have explicit reading instruction, but reading is going to be more important than ever. If they’re not reading fluently yet—and aren’t already getting extra support—don’t wait any longer to request an evaluation from school.

Here are a few literacy skills you can expect your child to develop these upper-elementary years:


In third grade: At this age, they should be able to sound out multi-syllable words. They’ll be reading more fluently without stopping at each word, and they’ll be gathering information from texts using a combination of words, visuals, and text features (like headings, tables of contents, or diagrams). In addition, they’ll begin to incorporate their knowledge about real-world concepts and topics, which will help their comprehension of what they read.

Here’s a video from GreatSchools and Understood of what reading fluency looks like in third grade.


In fourth grade: By this point, they should be reading longer, more complex texts and have higher stamina when it comes to reading. (If they’re not, they should be receiving additional support now.) When they read aloud to you, you’ll hear them incorporate punctuation appropriately—raising their voices when they ask a question, or emoting when there’s an exclamation mark. They’ll be reading across subject areas, using texts to deepen their understanding of content in social studies, science, and math.

Here’s a video from GreatSchools and Understood of what reading fluency looks like in fourth grade.


In fifth grade: By now, you’ll probably start to see more sophistication in their understanding of literature, as well as their ability to gather evidence from different sources and explain the connections between multiple pieces of information. For example, they’ll begin to analyze an author’s point of view and understand how it affects the story, and they’ll be able to talk about the differences between types of texts, how they’re organized, and how they’re used.

Here’s a video from GreatSchools and Understood of what reading fluency looks like in fifth grade.

What kinds of books should my child be reading by now?

Here are some examples of the types of books your child should be able to read independently by the time they’re leaving elementary school, brought to you by our friends at Common Sense Media. (Of course, individual preferences vary, and all reading is good reading—so go ahead and give them access to whatever they enjoy, whether that’s fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, poetry, plays, magazines, or anything else!) 

If your child is not yet reading books in this ballpark—and they aren’t already receiving support—don’t wait any longer to talk to their teacher. It’s time for urgent support to help them get ready for middle school.

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