First of all, good readers stop and make sure they understand what they read. When something doesn't make sense, they stop and "fix up" their comprehension. Most readers will retread, try to visualize, change the rate of reading or even take notes. These are just a few strategies they use.
In addition, good readers take the time to read words accurately. Intermediate readers have a tendency to skip over big words instead of taking the time to break words into parts and pronounce them correctly. Many think that they should be able to read all words right away and if they can't, substituting a different word that looks similar is a good strategy. This is where meaning can really fall apart for fifth graders. Many of the books they are reading use specific words to convey meaning and the slightest misinterpretation can completely change the meaning of the passage. Students should rely on basic skills like chunking words into syllables, using beginning/ending sounds, trying different vowel sounds, and looking for prefixes and suffixes to help with reading accurately.
Developing fluency is also critical for reading. This means that children should read with expression, and use punctuation and text structure to influence the way they read. Many children say they just aren't good at reading out loud. However, when I listen to a student read in a monotone voice with little or no acknowledgement of periods and paragraphs, I realize that child is not reading fluently inside her head while reading. Meaning is lost or skewed when this happens. I encourage students who struggle with this oral fluency to read out loud to their stuffed animals or little brothers and sisters. In addition, listening while following along to a text is a terrific way for students to develop fluency. The more children read, the more fluency they will develop.
Lastly, while many students have mastered all of the above, all good readers are continuously expanding their vocabulary. Most fifth graders have figured out how to use context clues to approximate word meaning. Advanced readers should start to really notice new words they encounter and find exact meanings of these words. I don't encourage children to stop every page and look up words in the dictionary. That slows down and interrupts the reading process. I teach children to notice new words, use context clues to approximate meaning, flag them with a post it note and to come back at the end of the chapter or reading session to look up and find exact meanings as used in the story. E readers are great for expanding vocabulary. Students can look up words with a touch of a finger. Results are immediate and meanings are often remembered long after the reading.
Finally, and probably most importantly, children should be reading books that are the right reading level across genres. Not too hard and certainly not too easy. Keep in mind that length does not necessarily make a more challenging book. There are plenty of 150-300 pages books that challenge children to think beyond their comfort level stretching them to think critically. Varying genre is critical to becoming a great reader. A child who reads 500 page fantasy books only needs to get out of his comfort zone and try historical fiction, biography, etc to grow as a reader.
The best advice I give readers this time of year is to read. Read. And read some more. If they follow the above guidelines, they are bound to be reading faster and understanding more over time.