Your third grader and reading

In third grade, students shift their focus from learning to read to reading to learn.

By GreatSchools Staff

Is your child reading at grade level?

Is your child reading at grade level? Are there any gaps in his phonics or comprehension? Since learning to read is a long and complex process, some students hit college only to discover their skills aren't where they should be.

How do you know if your child's on track? Our grade-by-grade guidelines give you all the details you need to assess his aptitude.

The leap to learning

In third grade, students are expected to make a huge change in their fluency and understanding. Suddenly, reading is seen as a tool for learning rather than the object of the learning itself. At this stage, children should be able to read a variety of books including contemporary fiction, historical fiction, legends, fables, myths, and biographies.

Third-graders are expected to read with fluency, comprehension, and expression. As they read a variety of books, they expand their vocabulary and interpret the ideas in the texts.

Third-graders are introduced to the ways language is used by learning about similes, metaphors, personification, and imagery. They should be able to select books at their reading level that interest them. Reading specialist Jennifer Thompson recommends using the "five-finger test" to choose appropriate books: "Have your child open the book to any page. If he can find five words that he does not know, the book is too difficult."

Doing research

Third-graders improve on their beginning research skills by reading books on different subjects and answering questions about a topic. Third-graders should be able to use the index, glossary, title page, introduction, preface, and appendix of a book to find information. Using encyclopedias, informational books, and the Internet may be part of a research project.

"Reading informational text is critical for second- and third-graders," says Thompson. "Most of the federally mandated tests contain a great deal of nonfiction reading. Children need to learn to read nonfiction for understanding and need to be taught how to use all of the conventions of nonfiction to assist with understanding. These include the table of contents, index, glossary, captions, illustrations, bold print, diagrams, charts, and graphs."

Decoding words

Third-graders are expected to able to read unknown words automatically, though some children may not be capable of this. The strategies used to decode and read unknown words include using roots, suffixes, prefixes, homophones (for example, aloud and allowed), and word families (such as ack and ight). Third-graders should be able to use context to figure out the meaning of unknown words as well as look them up in a dictionary.

Reading for meaning

Third-graders learn strategies to derive meaning from what is read — including illustrations, text, and prior knowledge to make predictions and grasp the story. They should be able to recognize the sequence of events in a story, as well as their cause and effect. They retell familiar stories, summarizing the main ideas and plot and identifying the characters and settings. They are expected to answer questions about the text, such as who, what, when, where, why, and how. Third-graders begin to distinguish fact from opinion and explore themes that recur across literary works.

Shared reading

Third-graders may take part in shared reading, an interactive reading experience guided by the teacher. During the reading, the teacher demonstrates strategies students can use to read and derive meaning. The teacher may pause in the reading to teach vocabulary, introduce a reading skill, or encourage children to predict what comes next. The book is typically read multiple times over several days.

Literature circles

Third-grade classrooms sometimes start literature circles, student-led book discussion groups. Students choose their own reading material and meet in small groups with others who are reading the same book. Each member of the group is assigned a role and helps guide the group in a discussion of the book. Literature circles allow students to share their thoughts, concerns, and their understanding of a novel.

"The literature circle experience helps the most timid or passive learner become an engaged and active learner," says Thompson. "Literature circles help build confidence as children assume responsibility for their reading."

By the end of third grade, you can expect your child to:

  • Read silently for at least 15 minutes
  • Read fluently with expression and comprehension
  • Read longer stories and chapter books
  • Self-correct when reading
  • Read multi-syllable words automatically
  • Recognize irregularly spelled words, such as said and where
  • Know common synonyms (words that have the same meaning) and antonyms (words that have opposite meanings)
  • Use a range of strategies when drawing meaning from text
  • Use word identification strategies (such as chunks, prefixes, suffixes and root words) appropriately and automatically when encountering unknown words
  • Recognize elements of various text structures such as fiction, nonfiction, fantasy and folk-tales
  • Develop richer vocabularies and use it in his writing
  • Use knowledge of homophones
  • Use dictionaries, thesauruses, glossaries, indices, encyclopedias and online reference materials
  • Compare and contrast characters and settings
  • Identify author's purpose for writing
  • Draw conclusions, summarize major ideas and find the main idea

What to look for in the classroom:

  • Leveled books, which are books organized in levels of difficulty from the easy ones for a beginning reader to longer, more complex books for advanced readers (the leveling of texts allows teachers to match books with an individual student's reading ability)
  • A reading area with a class library of books and a place for students to sit comfortably and read
  • A listening center with a tape recorder, earphones, tapes of stories and multiple copies of the accompanying text provides a model for fluent reading
  • A word wall, which is a list of words displayed in alphabetical order on a bulletin board, used for reference and to reinforce vocabulary words
  • Reading centers, where students can do different activities to reinforce reading skills and strategies such as filling out a story map, using reading software, and making books
Reading Magic

Recommended books

Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever, by Mem Fox (Harvest Books, 2001).

The Read Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease (Penguin, 5th edition, 2001).

Read to Me 2000: Raising Kids Who Love to Read, by Bernice E. Cullinan (Cartwheel, 2000).