Your third grader’s reading under the Common Core Standards

Now adept at decoding new words, your child’s focus will be on learning, building knowledge, and expanding vocabulary.

By Jessica Kelmon , Leslie Crawford

Welcome to a big reading year! Your child's reading skills are strong — and getting stronger. Third graders are still building decoding and fluency skills, but also learning to go deeper into the meaning of what they read. Another big step forward: expect your child to tackle new and challenging books, poetry, articles, and even online research with less assistance from adults than ever before.

Breaking the code and keeping the flow

What are two of most core and common words under the Common Core reading standards? Decoding and fluency. Indeed, these two super skills, which your child has been refining since kindergarten, gain even more significance as your child ramps up using reading as a tool to learn in all subjects.

Decoding is the ability use patterns to figure out words and decipher their separate sounds. Fluency is the ability to read quickly and accurately, a skill that many third graders must hone to tackle more demanding, and exciting, novels, nonfiction books, poems, magazines, websites, and more. Third graders need to be able to identify and know the meaning of most common prefixes (e.g. dis- in disagree; re- in rebuild; un- in unfriendly) and simple suffixes (e.g. -able in agreeable or -less in homeless). They must also be able to decode dozens of multisyllabic words, such as pho-to-graph and est-i-mate, as well as read grade-level irregularly spelled words such as enough, especially, and confusion.

When it comes to mastering what's known as phonemic awareness — the understanding that spoken words are made up of individual sounds — your child should be able to read fairly accurately and fluently (not stumbling over too many words). The idea is that by using the decoding and fluency skills he's worked on for years, your third grader will understand the text he's reading and will be able to read the text out loud smoothly and with expression (not in the monotone reading so common in young children). Tip: It might take a few readings to get it right, which is just fine.

Exploring fiction and nonfiction

Third grade is the year of reading mastery. Under the Common Core, second and third grade reading is intertwined. Kids are expected to read different types of fiction and nonfiction — from poems and early literature to science and technical texts (think charts and glossaries). The big difference for third graders is the expectation that, when tackling fiction and nonfiction, your child should be reading text geared toward the high end of grade 3 independently, with expression and understanding — and without much help from adults.

All about knowledge

With Common Core, there's an emphasis on kids learning 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, and a few key facts that your child learns, relates to what they already know, and "banks" for future use.

What might building knowledge look like? It's your third grader retelling another culture’s myth or folktale such as the Native American myth How Mosquitos Came To Be, by heart — and being able to tell you the story’s main message afterward. Or when third graders tackle Sarah, Plain and Tall, they should understand how Sarah affected Papa, Anna, and Caleb differently and how each character changed over the course of the book. Your child should be able to distinguish the narrator's, each character's, and their own personal point of view, too. Third graders also start to realize how chapter books — and others texts — are organized, with stories unfolding paragraph by paragraph, one chapter after the next. When it's time for Skylark, book two in the series, third graders should become adept at comparing not just how the two stories are similar and different — but how all four characters feel, change, and grow over the course of the two tales.

On the nonfiction side, when your third grader's class tackles The Story of Ruby Bridges, your child should have a handle on the sequence of historical events (e.g. schools were segregated, the schools in New Orleans were ordered to desegregate, Ruby is accompanied by U.S. Marshalls to ensure she gets to the first day of school), understand the concept of cause and effect (e.g. desegregation was controversial and made people angry, therefore U.S. Marshalls were there to protect Ruby), and be able to compare the book's main points with those from another reading about civil rights, desegregation, or Ruby Bridges. And, if that reading is online, your web-savvy kid should be able to use keywords and links to find relevant information about civil rights — or Ruby's experience — efficiently.

Show me the evidence!

“Read like a detective,” is how David Coleman, a principal architect of the Common Core, explains the role of evidence in reading. Hunting for evidence means your child finding — and literally pointing to — answers to questions in text and pictures. To answer the question, "What did Elmer pack in his backpack in My Father's Dragon?" 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.

Your child’s teacher will emphasize evidence in different ways this year, but the main skills your child should work on 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 and then naming key details and explaining how those details support the main idea;
Explaining how specific images — like a diagram of the parts of a flower — contribute information to what they're reading;
Describing how a text delivers information in a logical order, such as presenting the problem and then listing the causes, or presenting a series of steps in order.

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

The wide, wide world of words

Under the Common Core Standards, your child's vocabulary plays an increasingly important role in shaping a student who will one day be ready for college. The surest way to expand your child's vocabulary remains simple: read and read more. Read aloud to your child — or have your child read on her own — a range of texts that raise the vocabulary bar. Your child's teacher will expose her to word-rich texts including classic fiction such as Charlotte's Web, poetry like Robert Frost's Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, and nonfiction like So You Want to Be President? Any reading that allows your third grader to recognize and use an ever-richer and more academic vocabulary will keep your child on track.

All year long, your third grader will be honing her word recognition skills. Increasingly, she'll be expected to rely on clues within the text to decode meaning. While a parent or teacher might correct a child who trips over unknown or multiple-meaning words (e.g. homonyms like bat or bark), by now a third grader should be able to self-correct. For example, in the sentence The miserable troll wouldn't stop crying and complaining, your child might be unfamiliar with the word miserable. But this year, your child should be able to figure out that the word means unhappy from the context. Your third grader should know how to distinguish between literal and nonliteral meanings of words and phrases (e.g. fast as lightning) and distinguish shades of meaning among related words (e.g. knew, believed, suspected, heard, wondered).

Your child will continue building vocabulary skills, too, like using base words as clues to the meaning of unfamiliar word (e.g. believe, unbelievable) or determining the meaning of a new word created when an affix is added to the beginning or end of a known word, such as –ful added to success to make successful.

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.org.

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.