Why is reading in 3rd grade so important? As a former third grade teacher, there is a lot of pressure to “catch” kids up by 3rd grade. There are very good reasons for this! Third grade is the last year kids are learning to read and in fourth grade kids are reading to learn. There is a huge distinction between these two ideas, which is why reading in 3rd grade is so very important. Learn how one of my third graders entered the year on a kindergarten reading level and left on an end of second grade level in reading. That’s over two years of growth in just one school year!

If you’re looking for help for your reader, you may be interested in a personal reading plan. I assess and use many research-based strategies to help your reader grow!

Kindergarten Reader Entering Third Grade

Meet Jay. Adorable little blonde third-grader who stepped into my classroom reading on DRA 4. The DRA is a reading assessment our district used to assess reading skills. While no assessment is perfect, it is a worthwhile assessment since it includes fluency (reading aloud) and comprehension. Jay came to me reading on an end-of-the-year kindergarten level.

I always had students enter the year reading below grade level. The summer slide is real! It is not uncommon for kids to end the year on one reading level and slide back a little over the summer. Jay was different.

He did not have the decoding skills to read at a first-grade level. He needed a LOT of reading help. I think it was fate that Jay ended up in my classroom that year as I just started my Master’s in Reading Education through the University of Virginia.  

I made a plan with my instructional assistant to get Jay the help he needed. She taught Morning Meeting each morning while I essentially tutored Jay for 30 minutes every morning. I completely understand the importance of Morning Meeting, and Jay definitely still felt a part of our group. He just needed the extra support so we all decided together.  After the greeting, Jay would say “Good morning” to the class and get right back to reading. 

Building Relationships is Important for All Readers

When Jay walked through my door and we met for the first time, I asked him, “What are you excited about for third grade?” His response:

“Anything but reading.”

As I had just started my Masters in Reading Education, I felt this in my soul. I said, “Jay, we read so many great books in third grade, what do you mean?” His response:

“I hate reading.”

Of course, I couldn’t let this go as a young teacher. I think he saw the shocked look on my face and explained further:  

“I can’t read.”

Without showing how much he was breaking my heart, I simply said, “Jay, we’ll change that this year.”

What kindergarten books look like

He was telling the truth. This is a page in a DRA level 4 book, Sam’s Race. 

“Look at Sam,” said Mom. 

“Sam is in the race.”

The majority of the words on this page are sight words. If the teacher previews the book, Jay would already know the words Sam and race from the title and the picture walk. Basically, Jay wasn’t even reading the words on this page. He had them memorized.

The problem with DRA 4 books is that they are not very interesting. It is really hard to get kids excited about reading when they are reading one to two sentences on a page. The stories are short and basic- as they should be at this level- but for a third-grader, they leave much to be desired for both the plot and decoding practice.

I knew I had to rebuild Jay’s relationship with books. I had to show him that not every book was this simple and boring. This part was easy, since reading aloud quality picture books has been a goal of mine since student teaching! Jay saw books come to life in my third grade classroom.

I also had to build a relationship with Jay. I think this part of reading instruction is overlooked. Obviously, your child’s teacher or tutor needs to be qualified and understand how to teach reading. However, your child also needs to trust that person and have a good relationship with that person. Both of these are important.

Reading in 3rd Grade: From learning to read to reading to learn

In third grade, the focus shifts. There are no longer two hours+ per day spent on phonics, sight words, reading, and writing instruction. There is much more social studies, science, and math that plays a huge role in the schedule. While you can teach some reading strategies, there is less time in the day for explicit phonics instruction.

In fourth grade, students are expected to read to learn. That means they need to read the Social Studies textbook or Science article and synthesize and learn from it. Jay was really going to struggle in fourth grade if he entered as a beginning reader.

Wondering what type of reader you have? Take the quiz and find out!

Research-Based Reading Activities

Every single strategy I tried with Jay came directly from my Master’s program. I would go to class on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning we would be trying something new! I had a specific plan to get him from a kindergarten reading level to as close to a third grade reading level as he could get.

A lot of teachers put a lot of emphasis on sight words. Jay had a hard time remembering specific words, so I made a list of words he was struggling with and the rest of the sight words (like, my, etc.) we just used phonics to figure out when he was reading. Did this take longer? Sure, but at the end of the day, he was reading!

I spent a lot of time studying words with Jay. We looked at patterns and really attacked the words. Word Study was developed at the University of Virginia, so I definitely took everything I learned and applied it to specific sorts for Jay.

Sometimes we get lost in “cute” reading activities. I’m always up for a good craft, don’t get me wrong. But, at the end of the day, we don’t need to be coloring pictures or copying words for a “reading activity.” If we want to teach better readers, we need them to, well, read!

It took some warming up, but eventually Jay looked forward to the books I picked for him. He loved anything with sharks, dinosaurs, or bugs! If I couldn’t find a book on his level, I wrote one myself and he flew through those reading levels. Book choice really does matter.

Reading Help in 3rd Grade

We want to help struggling readers ideally BEFORE they get to third grade. Reread all the books and develop that love of reading at home! I promise that’s step one. You can read more about the importance of reading aloud to your kids here. If you want to know what type of reader you have, and get a list of strategies and books specific to your reader’s type, then click here to take the quiz.

If you think you have a struggling reader, let’s help them! You may want a personal reading plan or apply for virtual tutoring. Let’s spread that love of reading together!

Kim Creigh, M.Ed