4th Grade Reading Homework Help

What They Learn | How Kids Learn

What They Learn in Fourth Grade

The Basics
In fourth grade children take on new types of work and social experiences, and for some, these can be tough. Fourth graders may struggle to follow the many directions and long-range planning that their school assignments require. They have to collaborate with their peers on group projects, which can be stressful in the charged social dynamics that emerge in fourth grade. Students will probably have a textbook for each subject, as well as multiple folders, all of which can present organizational challenges (plus heavy backpacks). The work gets harder and they need to manage it more independently — that includes homework assignments in multiple subjects, as well as keeping track of those assignments and tasks.

Language & Literacy
Books, books, and more books fill the curriculum as fourth graders become sophisticated readers. They can use root words (words that are the basis for other words, such as “act” in “action”), context clues (looking for clues in the surrounding text and images in the story), and word endings to figure out new words. They’ll spend long periods of time reading and writing on their own. Teachers introduce genres such as myths and legends, fantasy and adventure. Fourth graders relate characters and other story elements to their own lives, and empathize with the characters most like them.

Fourth graders begin to use research tools, such as a dictionary, encyclopedia, library and the Internet, to gather information independently on a topic. Most importantly, they start to learn to organize this information into paragraphs, essays, projects, and presentations that help students synthesize their learning — although their work is appropriately far from “perfect.” They develop a writing style where their personality comes through as well as skills to help them edit their work.

Fourth graders read, write, compare, add, subtract, multiply, and divide with very large whole numbers. They do more equations with fractions and decimals and learn about prime numbers (numbers that can only be divided by themselves and 1). They solve problems about factors (one of two or more numbers that can be multiplied) and multiples (a number that can be divided exactly by a smaller number) and explore geometry formulas for determining perimeter and area, and for measuring angles. Fourth graders figure out conversion problems, such as determining the number of minutes in an hour, or ounces in a pound. They not only read graphs, tables, and charts but should be able to create them from data they’ve collected.

Fourth graders begin to compare complex systems in a complex manner. This can mean looking at changes in the Earth over long periods of time, observing the water cycle, or understanding the interactions between organisms and their environment. Students work on projects that ask them to build hypotheses and make predictions. Science topics may include matter and its different states, forms of energy, and the solar system.

Social Studies
Fourth grade social studies typically moves from learning about the local community to the history of the students’ home state. Students will learn about the first people to live in the area, explore changes in state populations over time, and how different people and cultures have adapted to and influenced the state. They’ll learn to place major events in the state’s history in chronological order. Local and state government structure will be introduced, and students will learn about the government offices responsible for making, enforcing, and interpreting state laws.

How Kids Learn in Fourth Grade

Finding a Niche
Fourth graders straddle two worlds. In one world, they may be advanced and independent learners who can use their new abilities to express themselves in exciting ways. In the other, they may be dramatic worriers who have a hard time managing all the work that is expected of them.

Fortunately, fourth graders begin to find their academic niche. They prefer to spend time doing things that interest them where they have the most confidence in their abilities. Strong readers will be extremely interested in reading books in genres or subject areas that excite them. They often devour book series like bags of chips.

Teachers who work well with fourth graders take them seriously — and work to keep their interests alive.

Fourth graders are also finding their social niche, but competitive feelings may interfere with the learning process. Cultural and socioeconomic differences become more apparent to children, who may begin to group accordingly. Students who have trouble understanding a difficult topic may be afraid to ask for help for fear of looking less smart than their peers, others may not participate for fear of looking too smart. “This is a very typical response for children of this age,” says Linda Lendman, M.S.W, family coordinator at the Rand School in Montclair, New Jersey. “Fourth graders are overly concerned about peer responses and need to be encouraged to continue to ask questions. They need to be reminded that smart people ask questions, and that it is the best way to learn.”

The Social Challenge of Fourth Grade
Fourth graders are more socially sophisticated and outspoken than their parents were at the same age. As a group, girls today start puberty earlier than they did in the past, with some getting their periods by age nine. Many children show off the “hip teen” attitude they pick up from pop culture at a time when their parents were still playing with toys.

Fourth grade can be a year packed with social dilemmas. “Every day, I work with groups of girls who are angry with other groups of girls,” says Lendman. “There’s a lot of drama, they’re hormonally charged, and living in a more sophisticated culture. But they are only nine and things can still feel overwhelming to them. The good news is that many kids want to work issues out. They can learn to improve their communication skills with the support of adults and structured social emotional learning programs.”

Between them, my two daughters have logged a total of 11 years in elementary school—and I've spent what feels like 100 years helping them with their homework. Sure, it starts off easy: trace a few letters, call Grandpa to find out about the old days. But before you know it, you've got a sixth-grader asking you to help her make a…vector graph? What the huh?

Your assignment through it all: To be the most supportive, resourceful parent you possibly can. That doesn't mean simply taking over and doing your child's homework for her—tempting as it may be at times—or leaving her to sink or swim (remember: she'll choose your nursing home someday). It means giving her all the tools she needs and knowing how best to help her over the inevitable humps, even if you don't have every solution right at your fingertips. Luckily, we've done our homework, too, and come up with the ultimate grade-by-grade survival guide! Read on for brilliant tips, tricks, and insider info from some of the country's most sought-after tutors, plus insights from the real-life teachers who hand out the assignments.

Kindergarten: H Is for Homework!

Don't be surprised if what happens in kindergarten doesn't stay in kindergarten. “We have a lot of activities going home. We're trying to show the children that what they're doing in class applies to life,” explains Erin Reid, a kindergarten teacher at Horizon Community Learning Center, in Phoenix. Your child will need your help to finish his work, which will typically consist of a worksheet that's more like a game, and reading aloud. Set up a homework station with paper, scissors, glue, colored pencils, and washable markers. Using them will help improve his hand-eye coordination, and you'll keep the mess contained to a single area.

Your Roles

Barbara Walters Wannabe

You'll probably have to do all the reading—but pose questions to get your kid to read between the lines. “‘What do you think will happen?’ or ‘Does Joey seem happy or scared?’” Reid recommends. Have him look closely at the illustrations and preceding sentences for clues.

Field-Trip Facilitator

Find tie-ins to what the class is studying. During a unit on birds, for example, take a walk to your nearest park, and try to spot cool ones.

Play Maker

At playtime, choose activities that informally reinforce things your child is doing in the classroom. Play a board game like Scrabble Jr. or Chutes and Ladders. “They teach kids how to take turns and can help them learn simple reading and math,” Reid explains. If you're making a grocery list, ask your child to “write” one, too. “It doesn't matter if he can spell words or not—just have him pretend,” Reid says. “It's more about getting practice holding a pencil.”

  • A typical night's homework: 0-15 minutes
  • Big-picture goal: Establishing good study habits

First Grade: Spelling It Out

This is when many teachers start assigning subject-specific homework (though it's often only one subject per night). Others, like Liz Rampy of Forest Acres Elementary School, in Easley, SC, hand out the entire week's worth of work on Monday, leaving the pacing up to you. An average night's effort might be to read together for 15 minutes, then finish a math or spelling sheet. For the former, your child might have to circle a certain number of objects in a group for counting practice, or solve simple word problems, or, later in the year, try double-digit subtraction. As for spelling, you'll typically tackle ten short words each week. To your kid, this may seem like a ton of work: “She's making the jump from the play-based curriculum of kindergarten,” Rampy notes.

Your Roles


Offer praise when she finishes her work.

Super Scheduler

Figure out when your kid is most focused (right off the bus, or after a snack or playtime?) and have her tackle her toughest subject first.


Use real objects to help her work through math problems: Set up five mini—chocolate bars and eat three—hey, we all have to sacrifice for our children's education! Spelling practice doesn't have to be a dull drill, either. “Let your child write out the words with shaving cream on the shower wall,” says Rampy.

  • A typical night's homework: 0-30 minutes
  • Big-picture goals: Reinforcing good work habits and teaching time management and organization

Second Grade: Step It Up

Get set for multi-night projects that require some research. “Spelling lists may include multi-syllable words and involve pluralization or contraction. Math problems will use double-digit numbers, and addition or subtraction problems may require ‘carrying over,’” says Chris Tobias, who leads school-skills seminars for students, parents, teachers, and educators and is the author of 101 Secrets to Passing Any Test.

Your Roles


“Bring home some work of your own, or sit and take care of a house project while your child works nearby,” Tobias says.

A Helping Hand (but not a hand-holder)

Let your child do her homework by herself, but check it once she's done. “If you find an error, go back through the problem together,” Tobias says.

Cyber Sleuth

Show her how to use reliable websites to ferret out facts for projects. If you don't know yourself, ask your child's teacher or librarian for pointers.

  • A typical night's homework: 15-30 minutes
  • Big-picture goals: Encouraging independent reading; conveying the basics of research

Third Grade: What a Load!

Ready? Here it comes: an amount of homework that really deserves to be called a “workload.” Math's going to involve multiplication and division. Spelling words will be multisyllabic (“refrigerator”) or involve variations on a root word (“refrigerate,” “refrigerated”). Books are bigger now, and your kid will have to answer questions about characters and plots.

Your Roles

Attention Grabber

Give your child strategies to sharpen his focus, says Tobias. When he's reading, to keep him from skimming, “have him place an index card just below the line he's reading, pushing it down as he goes. That way, he'll focus on one line at a time.” He'll read faster, too, since his gaze won't wander.

Drill Master

This is when many kids are expected to memorize times tables. One great way to drill your kid, says Tobias, is by building a “memory pyramid”: “Have him recite ‘two times two is four,’ for example, out loud. Then have him close his eyes and repeat it. Then ask him to open his eyes and say ‘two times two is four, and three times two is six' out loud.’ Keep going, adding to the list.’” The reasoning? “It burns into your memory through repetition. Closing your eyes reinforces the information further.”

Refreshment Provider

Review lessons regularly—ideally, twice a week. “If you don't reinforce them within 48 hours, your brain dumps the information,” says Tobias. “Say to your child, ‘Hey, remember those spelling words we learned on Monday? Let's go over them again now that it's Wednesday, since you have that test coming up at the end of the week.’”

  • A typical night's homework: 30-45 minutes
  • Big-picture goals: Teaching kids to infer things from what they read; emphasizing accuracy and attention to detail

Fourth Grade: Think Big

If “A” was for Apple in first grade, “A” is for Algebra—or at least the start of it—now. “There's less emphasis on rote memorization and more on understanding the underlying concepts of mathematics, like what a fraction is and how one fraction can equal another, such as one-half and four-eighths,” says Joan Rooney, a former teacher and vice president of Tutor.com. So you'll be seeing math questions coming home like “12 ? x = 3,” along with ones involving decimals and fractions, too. Formal spelling lists may be phased out at this point, but kids will still learn lots of new words in the course of studying subjects like social studies, history, science, and foreign languages. Reading expands to include textbook pages, and your child may be asked to write book reports. Expect homework to broaden in scope to include a mix of two to three subjects per night—or even more.

Your Roles

Long-Distance Operator

Back off, and give your kid some space as he tackles his assignments—as much as you both can stand. He needs to begin doing most of his work independently. Will he be thrilled that you're no longer leaping to his assistance at every minor glitch? No. Should you budge? Depends: “Do you want to be doing his homework for him when he's in grad school?” asks Tobias. Didn't think so!

Lord of the Files

Provide some behind-the-scenes support, starting with getting him organized. “He may be overwhelmed by the amount of paper he's getting, from social-studies handouts to Spanish word-finds. Put a system in place to make sense of it all,” advises Rooney. Hang a dry-erase calendar on a wall (or the fridge), and plot out each assignment's due date, then talk about setting blocks of time within his baked-in homework hour to tackle multi-night (or multi-week) projects. Now's a good time to invest in subject binders, too. They'll help keep the semester's worth of science handouts from scattering all around your house.


When your child gets frustrated about how best to approach an essay or work through a problem, Tobias suggests asking him, “What would your teacher say if you told her about this problem? How do you think she'd tell you to do it?” It may jog his memory, and it will get him into the routine of trying to deliver the kinds of answers she wants. If he's truly stumped, there's no harm in your stepping in to see if you can help him over a hump. He can also call or e-mail a friend to try to get a few pointers. And it's not the end of the world to return to school without an answer.

  • A typical night's homework: About 40 minutes
  • Big-picture goals: Developing time-management skills and an ability to switch gears; encouraging problem-solving

Fifth Grade: Testing…Testing

This is the year when standardized testing kicks in big-time, and so do the demands on kids. “We're trying to be competitive with countries like China. Fifth-graders are learning things most of us didn't learn till a year or two later,” says Candace Hall, a sixth-grade teacher and intervention specialist for fifth-through eighth-graders at Fleetwood Area School District, in Fleetwood, PA. Math-wise, steel yourself for geometry and complex fractions; your child will also have to show his work, not just hand in the answer. Reading alone will take 15 to 20 minutes per evening, and your child will often have to keep a log you'll need to sign, provide written answers to general questions, and make book reports. Social-studies and science projects will pop up regularly, too—some to be done with a team of kids, others over a length of time that can run from a couple of weeks to a month (for example, writing a report on the geography and history of the Silk Road).

Your Roles

Conversation Starter

Keep tabs on how well your child understands what he's reading—without hovering. Try casually saying “That book looks good. What's it about?”


If your kid's stuck on a problem, give hints rather than the answer. For example, say “Well, what would happen if you reduced the fraction first?” and let him take it from there. Or have him ping a friend—collaborative effort is a good thing at this age anyway.


Many fifth-graders have homework related to current and world events, “but a lot of families don't read newspapers anymore,” says Rooney. Bookmark several good websites, and help your child learn to navigate them.

  • A typical night's homework: About 50 minutes to 1 hour
  • Big-picture goals: Building test-pre, math and reading comprehension skills; teaching teamwork

Sixth Grade: Imagine That!

Your sixth-grader will be asked to write persuasive and informative essays, do multipart math problems, analyze historical documents, and more. Phew! The good news is, she'll likely also get to exercise her creativity, says Mariola Doran, who teaches sixth- and seventh-grade history and English at Randolph-Macon Academy Middle School, in Front Royal, VA. Expect to see her writing a play, or a fictional letter to a book character.

Your Roles

Project Manager

Make a binder for each long-term assignment and have your child mark days on the calendar to work on them.

Assertiveness Trainer

Brainstorm ways she can speak up when she doesn't understand something: Can she approach her teacher after class or e-mail her?

Focus-Group Member

Let her bounce ideas off you. “Say ‘Oh, you have an essay due on Friday. Why don't you read me what you've got so far?’” advises Tobias.

  • A typical night's homework: 60-90 minutes
  • Big-picture goals: Increasing attention span; fostering creativity; building math confidence and competence

Seventh Grade: Raising the Bar

If sixth grade was middle-school lite, seventh is the caffeinated version. English homework will entail essays where kids are asked to compare and contrast characters. Kids who take a foreign language will have assignments like word lists and basic sentence construction. Math means more and harder algebra problems, along with graphs and probability equations. And students will often focus on a single science or history topic for weeks at a time.

Your Roles

Recording Engineer

Teach great note-taking. Tobias likes the School Skills Active Memory Method: Tell your child to make a fat and a thin column on each page. In the fat one, he should write down everything he can as his teacher talks. In the narrow column, as time allows, write down a test question the teacher might ask based on that information. It'll embed the info in his memory and provide an easy way for a parent or pal to help test him later. He should also leave spaces between one topic and the next to draw helpful pictures.

Checkout Clerk

Sit down briefly each night, just to go over things. At dinner, ask “What homework did you have? What did you learn?”

Reality-Show Host

If you're able, plan some family field trips to reinforce what your child's learning in science or history. A visit to a Civil War battlefield or nature center may help facts hit home in a way no book ever could.

  • A typical night's homework: 75-90 minutes
  • Big-picture goals: Applying lessons to everyday experiences; improving analytical skills; establishing good notetaking habits
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