In Your Child’s Classroom

Reading for meaning

Third grade is a turning point for your budding reader. He will spend less time learning how to read as he spends more time reading to learn. He’ll come to know the essence of reading – deriving meaning from a written text. If he doesn’t understand what he reads, then reading becomes an empty exercise. When he learns the vital reading strategies taught in third grade – making connections, questioning, visualizing, determining importance, synthesizing – then he’ll have reading skills he can carry through life.

Children who don’t understand what they are reading “are just calling out words,” says our consulting teacher, Donna Adkins, 2004 Arkansas Teacher of the Year. “This is very important for parents to understand. Taking meaning from the text is the essence of reading.”

Your child’s reading selections grow to include a variety of materials such as fiction, nonfiction and reference. In fiction, he’ll begin to learn about character and plot development, and he’ll start to identify with a character’s feelings.

Adkins explains: “It’s very important that children learn to read nonfiction. Nonfiction requires a different type of comprehension and thinking than fiction. Much of the reading your child will do in the future will be nonfiction, such as textbooks.” In nonfiction, your child learns how to focus on what is important in a paragraph, how to summarize and how to find vital information using conventions such as headings, bold print, table of contents and index.

Get help if you child is struggling.

If your child is having difficulty with reading skills, it’s important to seek help now before he falls too far behind.

Adkins explains: “Research shows that children who are behind at the end of third grade rarely catch up, so it is important to get help. If you know your child is behind at the start of third grade, then make sure the teacher knows you are concerned, and that he needs intervention now. Schools are required to provide interventions, and it is best for the parents to be involved so the child doesn’t slip through the cracks.”

Writing for a purpose

In third grade, your child learns about language as she writes it. She learns about paragraphs, parts of speech and different types of sentences, but most important, she learns that her writing has a purpose. Her teacher will be looking at the substance of what she writes as well as the form. Your child learns editing skills to correct her writing and make it stronger. She learns how to write nonfiction, including the beginning skills for writing reports and organizing information.

Reading skills take a back seat

Because the emphasis switches from reading to meaning in third grade, you’ll want to be sure your third-grader has already established good skills in recognizing letters and words, and sounding out words he might not know.

There will still be some focus on developing reading skills including:

  • Understanding suffixes, prefixes and word pattern
  • Learning about words that don’t follow “the rules”
  • Strategies for understanding long words

What to Look for When You Visit

  • A variety of reading materials: children’s dictionaries, short picture books and longer chapter books. It is also important to have different genres (such as nonfiction, mystery and poetry) available .
  • Children talking with the teacher or each other about what they are reading – discussing the characters and the meaning of the book.
  • A lot of language activities: children involved in creating, thinking, writing, drawing and talking about what they’re learning.
  • A variety of activities to keep students interested and to meet the needs of students at all levels. Students might work in small groups, by themselves or as a class.
  • A classroom library that changes periodically to keep all of the students enthusiastic about reading. Look for examples of fiction, nonfiction, poems, magazines, chapter books, picture books, menus and brochures.