The Five Finger Rule for Reading Comprehension

In this post I’m going to show you a simple way to gauge the reading level of your child. I’ll give you a simple method to know if the books they’re reading are too difficult for them. Sometimes it’s tough to know if your child is struggling with the reading level of a book or if they’re just bored with the story or topic.

One of the many beautiful things about homeschooling is the ability your child has to tackle all kinds of skills at their own pace, without comparison to their peers.

Of course, this leads to one of the many challenges of homeschooling: wondering if your child is “keeping up” or “falling behind” others their age.

As a reading specialist, I’d like to share a very simple tip with you today to help you determine whether or not your child is comprehending the books they’re reading.

Introducing the “Five Finger Rule”

Popularized by educator Gail Boushey, this is a very simple way to determine whether or not your child is reading a book they can comprehend independently. Let’s first separate all books into three general categories:

Independent: This is a book your child can read by themselves, without any support or help, and comprehend exactly what’s going on. This is different for every child. Not all 9-year-olds read at the same level and that’s okay.

Instructional: This kind of book is most likely what would be categorized as your child’s “reading level”. They can comprehend 90% of what they read, needing your help with about 10%. This means they can understand MOST of what they are reading, which allows them to practice the skill of using context clues to teach themselves the part they don’t initially get.

This is exactly what we do as adults when we read an article or book and come across a word or topic we know nothing about. We usually figure it out within a few sentences because we understand everything else surrounding that word. Consequently, by the end of the article, we have “taught ourselves” about that thing.

Frustration: When your child is reading a book on their own and comprehending less than 85% of what they read, it’s most likely more frustrating than helpful to them. They would need quite a bit of support reading this kind of book.

So – how can you tell what kind of book your child is reading? Try using the “Five Finger Rule”.

Pick one page at random and have your kiddo read the page, holding up a finger each time they encounter a word they don’t know. After one page, tally up the number of words they struggled with:

0 or 1 finger: Independent Level
2 or 3 fingers: Instructional Level
4 or more fingers: Frustration Level

That’s it.

Now, obviously, this is not an exact science, but it is a very easy, practical, and helpful place to start if you want to know if your child is reading books that are too challenging for them.

If you’re interested in knowing the ratio of “independent” to “instructional” books your kid should be reading, stay tuned! Next week, I’ll be telling you all about it!

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