Welcome to a big reading year! Your child’s reading skills are strong — and getting stronger. Third graders are transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn and learning to go deeper into the meaning of what they read. Also, expect your child to tackle new and challenging fiction and nonfiction books, poetry, articles, and even online research with less assistance from adults than ever before.

Key 3rd grade reading skills

Decoding and fluency

Decoding is the ability use patterns to figure out words and decipher their separate sounds. Fluency is the ability to read quickly and accurately. Third graders need to learn 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.

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 voice so common among young children). Tip: It might take your child a few read-throughs to get it right, which is just fine.

Related: Watch our Milestone video Does your 3rd grader read smoothly like this?

Exploring fiction and nonfiction

Third grade is the year of reading mastery. From an educator’s point of view, 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 (e.g. 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, understanding, and without much help from adults.

Building knowledge

Your third grader should be learning from every book she reads and relating that information to what she already knows. Think of it like using reading comprehension skills to build a knowledge bank: with every poem, story, or book she reads, there’s a main point, message, and a few key facts that your child learns, relates to what she already knows, and “banks” for future use.

What might building knowledge look like? It’s your third grader retelling 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 reads 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.

Related: Watch our Milestone video Is your 3rd grader building knowledge from reading?

Show me the evidence!

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.

Related: Watch our Milestone video Does your 3rd grader show understanding like this?

The wide, wide world of words

Your child’s vocabulary plays an increasingly important role in your child’s college readiness. The surest way to expand your child’s vocabulary is simple: reading. Read aloud to your child, have your child read on her own, or have your child read aloud to you. Your child’s teacher should expose her to 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 child will hone her word-recognition skills. Increasingly, she’ll be expected to rely on clues within the text to decode meaning. 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 shades of meaning among related words (e.g. knew, believed, suspected, heard, wondered), and how to use base words as clues to the meaning of an unfamiliar word (e.g. believe, unbelievable), and how a new word is created when an affix is added to the beginning or end of a known word, such as –ful added to success to make successful.

Related 3rd grade reading resources