Third Grade

third grade girls writing in notebooks
  • What Kids Learn in Third Grade

    The Basics

    In third grade, children start putting the learning pieces together to take on more complicated assignments. As they continue to apply the basic skills they learned in first and second grade, they begin to do some work independently rather than with the explicit directions given in earlier grade levels.

    The third-grade curriculum focuses on learning about the past, present, and future. Literature, social studies, and even science follow events over time, such as observing the phases of the moon or how rocks erode into sand.

    Language & Literacy

    Third graders learn what it takes to be a good reader. They have a better handle on what to do when they don’t understand a word or passage, like looking at pictures in a book for clues. They’ll often discuss books in small groups and ask questions about what they’re reading. They’ll summarize and use graphs to organize their thoughts about the books they read. Their teacher will introduce many literary genres and a variety of print forms, such as newspapers, magazines, and Web sites.

    Third graders also learn organizational methods that help them prepare for more complex writing assignments. They’ll create maps, webs, and Venn diagrams (diagrams used to compare and contrast two things) to plan their work. They’ll write reports, creative fiction, and personal narratives. They’ll also be asked to take more responsibility for the writing process, including revising, editing, and proofreading.


    Math becomes much more challenging in third grade. Students work with larger whole numbers (numbers like 3,000) and with fractions and decimal numbers. They’ll look at odd and even numbers and patterns that involve those numbers. They’ll solve and explain addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems. Students are asked to do more math work on paper and in their heads, instead of with physical materials.


    Science investigations become much more detailed in third grade. Students explore more complex natural systems, such as relationships between the sun, Earth, and moon, weather concepts, and living systems like the food chain. They’ll learn about landmasses and bodies of water, and how to identify them on a globe or map. They’ll begin to investigate different states of matter such as solids, liquids, and gases, and to observe the behaviors of sound and light. They’ll be asked to make smart guesses about their observations.

    Social Studies

    Third grade social studies lessons begin to expand children’s view of the world. Students learn about the natural environment and how groups of people have adapted to or modified the environment. They’ll study how methods of travel and communication have changed throughout time, and in different regions.

    Socially, third graders can better understand the consequences of their behavior. Because they are better at making friends than at keeping them, conflicts can arise so teachers may work on conflict resolution strategies with the class.

    How Kids Learn in Third Grade

    Confident Learners

    Third graders are generally courageous, confident, and open to new experiences at school. They work to understand the reasons things happen. Although most third graders begin to prefer some subject areas over others, they will take pleasure in mastering new skills across the curriculum. At home, however, many third graders start to strive for more independence from their parents which can make talking about school a challenge.

    Your third grader’s command of language is growing rapidly, and she enjoys using her linguistic power for all the reasons adults do: to converse, debate, explain, argue, protest and create. They love to discuss the things that they learn about and the books that they read. Their organization, logical thinking and problem solving also improve this year. They’re frequently able to make connections about the world in deeper and more abstract ways.

    Group Work

    In third grade, friendships become extremely important, as children long to be part of a group. In fact, they may be overly sensitive and dramatic about their school friendships. Skillful teachers take advantage of third graders’ need for social interaction by planning small and large group work on longer and more complex projects. Group work is also a good way for teachers to match students with different strengths and weaknesses. A struggling reader might pick up a new reading strategy from a more literate peer, but may also take pride in being the “master” artist that the group relies on.

    Worries & Anxieties

    Third graders are doers, but they have a tendency to undertake more than they can handle. They may get anxious if they feel like they have failed. The increased competitive attitude in the third-grade class can magnify reading struggles and other learning difficulties, and the pressures of standardized testing can sometimes distress a child who is already unsure of her abilities. Parents should pay attention to changes in their child’s attitude about school and learn to make sure their child isn’t internalizing any anxieties. They should be ready to provide support at home when needed.

    Parents, Don’t Stress Over . . .

    Disorganization: This is a big transition year, which means less hand-holding. The teacher is no longer checking that the assignment is written down. The responsibility can be hard for them to grasp, especially for kids who don’t have older siblings to model after. Try bolstering your child’s responsibilities at home so that he begins to adopt a more “I’m in charge of me” attitude. You can just matter-of-factly say to him that third-graders feed the dog and pack their own snack — didn’t anyone tell him?
    High expectations: This is the year when school is harder because now they have to prove that they really know the work. And knowing the work means reading and understanding it. Reading ability needs to be all there. Try joining a reading program or spending time each week reading together as a family to keep those skills sharp.
    Friend drama: Kids, especially girls, are embroiled in buddy woes (“She said what?!”). Try taking concerns seriously. Your child may be feeling very upset, discouraged or confused, so be sure to ask lots of questions (“Do you have any idea why she said that? Were you more angry or embarrassed?”). And listen with full attention. She’ll know she has the support to work it out.


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