Third Grade Reading

Transitional reading at the third grade reading level is a critical stage in reading development.

Third grade is typically the last point at which classroom instruction will focus on the various skills needed to accurately and fluently decode text. Learning to read will shift in fourth grade to reading to learn as students are expected to gain information by reading independently. Third grade readers who have been unable to grasp the preceding transitional reading skills will begin to flounder as more complex vocabulary is introduced and comprehension becomes the primary goal.

Where earlier grades monitored decoding ability and fluency through regular checks of oral reading, silent reading will become the norm in third grade. Comprehension will be almost entirely dependent on what students gain from the text they can read by themselves.

Transitional readers in third grade will continue to build upon the skills that were introduced in second grade such as text structure and literary elements and many of these activities will now be connected to writing. Literature circles and reader’s workshops typically include independent reading followed by sharing ideas verbally or in writing.

Many reading activities will be connected to text-based prompts as teachers begin to evaluate comprehension on the basis of written responses. Students at this stage will begin to more fully develop skills for inferencing, drawing conclusions, and summarizing, and writing skills instruction may include writing for different audiences and for different purposes. Many teachers also begin to explain the process of proofreading and revising and will provide opportunities for students to edit their writing.

Transitional reading in third grade also includes two key features that will prepare students for literacy demands in fourth grade.

Reading instruction at the third grade level begins to expand understanding of text to include determining main ideas and key details and finding text-based evidence to support a conclusion. Higher order thinking skills are further developed by teaching students to distinguish between fact and opinion.

Students who are reading below grade level will find it even more difficult to complete assignments as text becomes more complex and there is a higher expectation for comprehension. Students who cannot obtain the necessary information by reading may begin to employ avoidance strategies. Third grade readers are old enough to be aware of differences in ability and it is common for children who are struggling to begin exhibiting issues with behavior and low self-esteem.

For many reasons, the transitional reading skills acquired by students in second and third grades largely determine a child’s reading trajectory.

While some students mature later than others or develop a love of reading only when they are able to select their own reading material, students who are not able to read at grade level by the end of third grade are much more likely to have long-term reading difficulties.

Additionally, neuroscience indicates that students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities suffer academically when they do not receive appropriate intervention in the first three grades.

Research on reading and the brain indicates that early reading intervention can actually “rewire” the brain to activate and make connections that will be necessary for fluent reading. Sally Shaywitz, a renowned reading researcher, has stated that schools can’t wait because “third grade is too late.” Transitional readers who have received appropriate instruction and support, and intervention when necessary, are ready and able to move to the next stage of reading development.


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