A good teacher goes beyond teaching students how to score well on standardized tests. A good teacher also looks at the big picture of what students should learn so they can go on to be well-rounded, educated adults. Take a look at some of the key concepts your third graders should know by the end of the year about reading, writing, math, science, geography, history, art and music. If you’re covering most of these, then you’re well on your way to helping your students have a bright and knowledgeable future.


1. Understand different types of sentences.

To become a stronger writer, it helps to understand different types of sentences. Students should know the four main types of sentences: declarative (statement), interrogative (question), imperative (command) and exclamatory (excited). Have your students practice writing and then reading these out loud to one another.

2. Get to know famous mythical characters.

Did you know that the word Thursday is named after Thor, the Norse god of thunder? It actually translates to “Thor’s Day” in Old English. Another area of mythology to study with students is the planets. Many have been named after ancient gods. To bring mythology into some of your reading units, check out these free resources on Norse myths and stories from ancient Greece and Rome.


3. Learn how prefixes work.

It might seem like a fancy term for third graders, but prefixes are definitely a concept they can conquer this year. You know prefixes—those little word beginnings like re-, un- and dis that are actually clues to what the word means. Take apart words like reuse, untie and disappear as a group to help students understand what the prefix is doing to the word. Then challenge them to find more examples! Here’s a link to one of our favorite anchor charts on prefixes (as seen below).


4. Learn how to do basic research.

Third grade is an excellent year to start teaching research skills in relation to writing. It’s too soon to just let them “Google” on their own. Instead, focus in on a unit of study, and give them a few teacher-approved websites they can go to for their research. For instance, if you’re doing an animal unit, websites like the San Diego Zoo and National Geographic Kids are excellent places to start. Have them look up facts and make some bullet points on their assigned animal before they start writing.

5. Write a story with a beginning, middle and end.

This is about the age when students really need to start pulling a story together. Overall pacing will come a little later, but they should start making sure all of their stories have a basic beginning, middle and end. Here’s a link to a free printable (as seen below) students can use while organizing their story. Have them test their stories on each other to check for beginning, middle and end before they turn it in to you.


6. Conquer homophones.

There are many adults who still have a problem with words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings, so help students learn the correct words early. Some of the most common homophones are: their/they’re/there, your/you’re, its/it’s, here/hear and to/too/two.


7. Have a basic understanding of maps.

Yes, knowing north, south, east and west is essential, but it’s important that your students know how to put that knowledge into practice. Try a Geography Challenge and turn it into a game. With this you’ll have students work in pairs. One student should tell the other a country to find, along with directionals like “Turkey is north of Africa and east of Greece.”

Map of Europe. Detail from the World Atlas (Rand Mc. Nally).

Map of Europe. Detail from the World Atlas (Rand Mc. Nally).

8. Know the major rivers and why rivers are important.

Focus on the biggest ones and the impact they’ve had. For instance, the Nile in Egypt and the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) in China are both rivers that shaped the development of civilizations in these areas. With more examples like these, you can help students understand that major cities often grow where rivers flow. To help you out, check out this curriculum on world rivers.

9. Know who Caesar is and the importance of Ancient Rome.

Julius Caesar is one of the essential leaders to learn about when it comes to Rome and world history. He’s also a great subject for getting students interested. As students are learning about Caesar, broaden the teaching so they understand just how important Ancient Rome was to the rest of the world. Much of our laws, language and architecture have stemmed from Roman civilization, so this is a must-learn unit for this age group. Get a free Ancient Rome curriculum here.

Augustus the first emperor of Rome and father of the nation

Augustus the first emperor of Rome and father of the nation

10. Discover the Vikings.

The Scandinavian Vikings are always a popular subject with third graders, and it really helps students understand exploration and the interaction of cultures. As you dive into your Viking unit, have your students do a little bit of role-play. Take on a Viking name, understand their mythical characters, and learn about Viking children and their upbringing. Download several free lesson plans here from Core Knowledge.

A Viking longboat sails to new shores for trading and companionship.

A Viking longboat sails to new shores for trading and companionship.

11. Learn about Native American cultures.

Start by learning about different Native American cultures, people and ways of life in different regions. Help your students understand that tribes and cultures vary a great deal from one area to the next. For example, compare and contrast the Hopi and Zuni tribes in the Southwest to the Mohican and Iroquois in the Eastern Woodlands. Check out this free downloadable lesson about Native Americans: Regions and Cultures from Core Knowledge.

12. Explore the 13 colonies.

As the line from the popular musical Hamilton says, many colonists were “young, scrappy and hungry.” Yet they were coming from all over the world with different hopes, motivations and dreams. Have your students try to put themselves in the shoes of these emigrants, and then they’ll be able to better know how the colonies were formed and how they were different from one another. They could even write their findings in verse—a great opportunity to combine history with a writing unit—and a fun tie back to the popularity of Hamilton.


13. Understand 2-D and 3-D.

The difference between two-dimensional art (height, width) and three-dimensional art (add depth) is fun for students to examine in artworks and to put into practice.

14. Learn about American Indian art.

It’s always good when you can build on a unit from one subject to the next. (History and art are excellent examples of this.) As third graders learn about Native Americans in history or geography, help them get inspired by kachina dolls, Navajo blankets and other works of art. Try this sand-painting activity from the blog Kinder Art.


15. Keep a steady beat.

In music education, kids are starting to learn more about beats and rhythms. Have them try picking out a beat in a piece of music or song and clapping or tapping their feet along with it. Encourage them to identify instruments in a song that keep the beat.

16. Understand the different instrument families.

It won’t be long before many students will have the opportunity to pick out an instrument to play in band. Introduce them to the families of musical instruments: strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion. Listen to recordings and watch videos to help them become familiar with the sound of instruments in each family. Thanks to Mrs. King’s Music Class for this idea for teaching instruments (pictured below).



17. Read and write up to six-digit numbers.

Students should be able to comprehend numbers up into the six digits. This means reading them, writing them and even rounding up and down if you give them a random number. Knowing big numbers is fun for students—it gives them such a sense of accomplishment.

18. Make change from a dollar bill.

Bust out your play money and set up a mock shopping area in the classroom. Encourage students to make change in the simplest way possible. You can even use cupcake liners (like the idea below from blogger Life Over C’s) to make it fun and stay organized.


19. Understand weight and volume.

Hands-on activities are key to helping students understand how to weigh and measure in both metric and U.S./Imperial units. Have them record their results and learn to use common abbreviations such as g and oz.

20. Solve problems with time and temperature.

Students should be able to solve problems that ask them to add and subtract in units of time or temperature. How much time has passed since class started? How many degrees warmer is it today than yesterday? Students can graph their day, citing what they did and how the temp changed throughout the day.

21. Begin to master multiplication.

At this age, students should know their math facts factors up to 10 x 10. They should also be able to mentally multiply by tens, hundreds and thousands. Try mixing multiplication facts in with word problems too. You can also try this Zap It! game from Mrs. Young.



22. Classify animals.

While third graders don’t need to get into details of genus and species, it’s good to start introducing the concept of animal groupings early on—for example, cold-blooded vs. warm-blooded and vertebrates vs. invertebrates. You can then look at characteristics of different groups of vertebrates: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Get a free lesson on the classification of animals right here.

23. Learn how sight and sound work.

Build on students’ general knowledge of the five senses to explore how sight and sound work. Third graders will be amazed learning about the parts of an eye (like the cornea, iris and pupil) and the ear (including the eardrum and tiny bones like the hammer, anvil and stirrup). Download a lesson plan on Light and Sound here.

24. Understand man-made threats to the environment.

These can be some serious topics, but kids need to know what’s happening in the natural world around them, including man-made threats like air pollution and water pollution. As they learn about these, be sure to explore how they can be part of the solution.


25. Reach for the stars.

The night sky fascinates kids at a young age, and by third grade they should learn to recognize several of the most familiar constellations like the Big and Little Dippers. Then try this activity from Gift of Curiosity to map them! They can also learn how to find the North Star. If you want to tie constellations to history or reading, start reading and learning about mythology too.


Looking for more info on what third graders need to know? Learn more about the book here or the starter kits here.