Third Grade Teachers - How to work with your third graders at their developmental level so you and your students can have a great year
Third Grade New Teacher Tips
Third grade is that sweet spot between lower and upper elementary. Students are still young and enthusiastic, but they are more advanced and capable of taking on more complex tasks.
But, being in that sweet spot can make things kind of tricky, especially if you're teaching third grade for the first time. What kinds of activities and worksheets work for third graders? And what can you expect at their level of development?
Don't worry! We've got you covered!
Here's everything you need to know about teaching third grade for the first time so your students-and you!-can get the most out of the school year.
Make Fact Fluency Fun
Many teachers start practicing facts with their second graders, but third grade is where fact fluency really takes off. Many curriculums require students in the third grade to memorize facts, including multiplication facts. The trouble is, drilling math facts can get boring, and if it's boring, your students aren't going to learn the facts they're meant to learn.
However, it really isn't about what the activity is. It's about rotating activities so that learning facts is more fun.
Pick a new activity every week, or allow students to choose which kind of fact fluency activity they want to do if they have some free time. That way, they always feel like they're doing something new and different, even if the goal of memorizing important facts is the same.
Activity ideas include:
- Flashcards, where students can check the back for the answer
- Dice in a cup, where students find the product of two dice
- Multiplication war, where each student flips over a card, and the first to find the product wins the card
- Online games, like Practicing Math Skills Online from EdHelper
- Whole-class games, like Around the World
Worksheets are a great way to practice facts too! They allow students to practice their math facts at home, but they can also be used in the classroom when extra practice is needed.
Incorporate a Mixture of Long and Short Activities
One of the great things about teaching third grade is the fact that eight- and nine-year-olds can focus on an activity for 30-45 minutes. That can make life a lot easier for teachers, but that doesn't mean every activity should be 45 minutes long.
Third graders still have trouble focusing, especially if it's an activity they aren't that interested in. It's a good idea to plan a mixture of long and short activities to keep them engaged.
For example, students may work at a literacy center for 30 minutes while you meet with a reading group. But then, when teaching a new math concept, you might break your lesson, worksheet time, and partner activities into 15-minute spurts so students don't have time to get distracted.
Use Hands-On Activities to Teach New Math and Science Concepts
Math and science concepts in third grade are more abstract than they have ever been before. Third graders are capable of grasping these concepts, but they do need a little help. The more hands-on you can make these activities, the better.
In math, that might mean using manipulatives to teach fractions so students can actually see what 3/8 looks like. In science, it might mean bringing in a scale model of the solar system so they can see just how big the sun is compared to each planet.
Focus on Reading to Learn-Not Learning to Read
Third graders are finally ready to take the leap from learning to read to reading to learn. That means spending less time on things like phonics and more time on things like comprehension.
Third grade is the perfect time to introduce age-appropriate book reports, have deep conversations about the books they're reading in small groups, and assign independent or partner worksheets that focus on comprehension.
Practice Patience and Encouragement
Whether it's a math worksheet, a hands-on science activity, or a book your students are reading, you have to be patient enough to answer their questions because they will likely have a lot of them. Third graders love asking questions, and the better you're able to answer those questions, the more engaged your students will be.
Not only do you have to practice patience when answering questions, but you also have to practice patience when it comes to your students' moods. Third graders are notorious for being grumpy one minute and cheerful the next. If you can keep your cool on the roller coaster ride of third-grade emotions, things will go much more smoothly for you and your students.
Flip-flopping emotions aren't all bad! They make it easy to encourage your third graders. A few quick words of encouragement are usually all that's needed to get them back on track.
Get Ready For the Big Test
Every state has mandated standardized tests that must be given to students, and they all start in third grade.
There are a lot of preparations that need to be done in order for your students to be successful, but don't let it overwhelm you. And don't teach to the test. It turns out classrooms that don't teach to the test actually do better on the test compared to classrooms that spend a lot of time on drills and completing sample test questions.
Take a "whole child" approach instead. Treat academic achievement as just one part of healthy, successful development. Let your students explore their own interests and share their ideas without feeling like you're wasting time because you aren't working on testing materials.
Do your best to integrate subjects. When math is learned in conjunction with science, or reading with social studies, for example, students do better in the short term and the long term.
Also, as a first-year teacher, don't be afraid to lean on the curriculum and other teachers for help. They can provide you with tips and advice that will make tackling the test a lot less stressful.
Take Advantage of Their Enthusiasm
In third grade, students are extremely enthusiastic, but their enthusiasm is a lot more focused.
They love to do new and exciting things, especially if they aren't the kinds of things they expect to do in school. They love working with each other, and they tend to be overzealous when tackling new projects. Although they are starting to care about what other students think of them, true peer pressure hasn't taken over, so students feel confident being themselves, even if they're being silly or weird.
Take advantage of this enthusiasm by doing things that light them up! Things most third graders will love to do in the classroom include:
- Writing a class play based on a book they read in a small group
- Creating dance moves to go with geometric shapes and patterns
- Singing songs, especially modern pop songs they know, during transitions
Let Them Work in Groups, But Switch Them Up
Third graders are starting to become more social. They enjoy having a larger friendship group, and they love having the opportunity to work with their classmates. However, third graders can get a little cliquey, too. If left to their own devices, they will likely choose to work with the same kids over and over again.
Let them work in pairs and groups, but make sure you switch them up so students work with the opposite gender, as well as other kids they don't normally play with on the playground. Because third graders are so open and enthusiastic, they will usually work with others happily, and they may even walk away with a new friend!
Third graders are more social, they have a deep desire to understand everything around them, and they're still enthusiastic about learning. When you play to their strengths with the ideas on this list, both you and your students are sure to have a productive-and fun-year!
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