By Sean Alexander

Third-grade education — especially curriculums for critical subjects like math, reading, science, writing, and history — varies depending on the school’s city or state, academic goals, even individual teacher preferences.

Differences in state-level curriculums can make it difficult, or even impossible, to determine what your third grader should know. For example, even though similarities between Ohio’s third-grade language arts curriculum and Virginia’s third-grade reading requirements include significant concept overlap, the order of instruction is completely different. Where Ohio launches its English curriculum with significant reading comprehension and text analysis sections, its Virginia counterpart jumps straight into prefixes and homophones, before extensive coverage of verb tenses.

If your third-grader is excelling in his or her studies, accelerated classes might be a possibility. Conversely, third-graders falling behind or struggling to understand basic science and art concepts might benefit from grade-specific tutoring on a flexible schedule. Familiarizing yourself with basic third-grade learning precepts is the first step toward determining where your third-grader’s education ranks.

What Do Third-Graders Learn?

Understandably, it’s impossible to assess the efficiency of a third-grade curriculum without understanding the specific concepts a third-grader should know. Standardized testing begins in third grade, issued on a per-state basis to assess individual student education and progress toward fully understanding concepts.

There are basic subjects a third-grade student should know, no matter the city, state, or district in which they are educated.

Third-Grade Math

At this mathematical level, students will learn and build upon the basics of multiplication tables, for both integers and fractions. These specific lessons can include:

  • Introductions to both multiplication and division;
  • Comprehension of fractions as equal and unequal parts and expressing those fractions as phrases and complete sentences;
  • Place models to the thousands;
  • Shapes like quadrilaterals;
  • Calculation of a shape’s perimeter;
  • Calculation of a shape’s area;
  • Expression of time across digital and analog applications.

These and other core concepts help to formulate a basis of understanding for a third-grader’s mathematical education.

Third-Grade Reading

At a third-grade reading level, students increase their understanding of basic vocabulary, reading comprehension skills, and word recognition. These specific lessons often include:

  • Stories assigned by level, indicating the difficulty of vocabulary and complexity of storyline;
  • Reading comprehension exercises that include compare-and-contrast elements and sequencing checks, to ensure students are processing information correctly while listening or actively reading;
  • Focus on compound words;
  • Regularly new learned and applied vocabulary terms;
  • Lessons in poetry and poem composition.

Even simple, third-grade reading lessons can form the basis for more complex comprehension in future grades and successive lessons.

Third-Grade Science

Third-grade science can cover a wide variety of potential topics, including earth and its surface, space and the planets, the human body, and animal classifications. These lessons can include:

  • Changes to the Earth’s surface and evidence for these changes;
  • Natural events like earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes;
  • Thermometer reading and factors which influence changes to weather and climate;
  • The basic science of force and motion;
  • Plant and animal identification, and fundamental differences between living things;
  • Specific animal classification studies;
  • Body systems and functions, including the skeletal system and its role as infrastructure.

Featuring a wide array of potential scientific lessons — everything from amphibians to African wild dogs — third-grade science helps to improve your student’s capacity to learn and retain fundamental lessons on life and its functions.

Third-Grade History/Social Studies

Third-grade students already possess an ever-growing understanding of history in light of social events, and that comprehension is further bolstered by lessons on map reading, rudimentary geography, colonial American living, and more. Third-grade history/social studies curriculums should include:

  • Comparison of the similarities and differences between cultures;
  • Study of influential persons throughout history;
  • Details on American and British colonial life;
  • Economic basics on the production of goods and services, capital, and the relationship between products and labor;
  • U.S. state capitals.

Geographic and economic-based concepts outline the foundational history and social studies lessons, where students improve their understanding of government, geography, and everyday life across cultures.

Third-Grade Writing

Third graders should already possess a fairly developed understanding of written language. Lessons in further writing instruction allow third-grade students to write more complex content and leverage newly learned prepositions, punctuation, and other grammatical concepts. Specific third-grade writing lessons can include:

  • Writing prompts tailored to third-grade capabilities;
  • Instruction on character development and developing plot;
  • Specific narrative elements like transition words and prepositional phrases;
  • Diagnosis and writing of sentence types;
  • Generation of story and content titles.

Lessons in third-grade writing prepare students for even more complex content, including essays, claim defense, and paragraph formation.

Third-Grade Words to Know

By the third grade, students should possess a rudimentary understanding of certain vocabulary terms. These words-to-know often include the following categories:

These and other sight words, commonly recognized spelling words, and basic academic terms ensure that your third-grade student is thoroughly prepared for even more challenging words in future grades.

Is My Child On Grade Level?

It’s natural to wonder where your third-grader ranks compared to other students, and how well they’re acclimating to current academic requirements. One great way to determine your child’s progress is simply by asking during a parent-teacher conference, along with any other questions that better inform your understanding of your child’s performance.

It’s also important to regularly check in on your student, to gauge their feedback toward lessons taught in class. Do they see any concepts as particularly easy or challenging? How do they feel about the teaching style? Are there particular subjects that interest or bore your student? The answers to these questions for your third-grader can help you more appropriately gauge how well they’re progressing toward the next grade jump.

How to Help Children Who Are Falling Below Grade Level

Some children simply require a little extra attention or academic help, to realign their progress with where a typical third-grader stands. Distance learning, difficulty concentrating, learning disabilities, or even your child’s opinions toward class can influence the degree to which they retain the concepts taught in class. Ultimately, you can arrive at a solution to address your child’s academic issues once you understand why they’re falling behind. If your child finds specific subjects challenging or difficult to master, grade-level-specific academic tutoring is always a viable option.

Helping children with learning disabilities can mean becoming an advocate for your child’s overall wellness and recognizing which individual academic concepts are understandable for him or her. Distance learning can be difficult for parents and students alike, though certain distance learning strategies can make success more attainable. Commonly, third-grade students find mathematical concepts especially challenging, which is where math tutoring can help them retain taught lessons, develop increased self-confidence and rejoin the class’s progress.


  • Sean Alexander

    COMMAND PILOT, OWNER Sean has been a professional educator for 15 years and has taught math, physics, and astronomy at all levels.  His experience ranges from working at a high school for severe learning differences to teaching advanced physics at Stanford.  After completing his graduate work in theoretical physics Sean founded Alexander Tutoring, with the mission of revealing the deep connections between math and nature to as many students as possible. 

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