Third graders are roly-poly and rambunctious, but they are also curious elementary schoolers. Whether you’ve taught this pivotal, precocious grade for years or are setting up your first class, we’ve got you covered with 50 tips from real teachers for teaching 3rd grade math, 3rd grade science, 3rd grade social studies, history, behavior management, and just about everything in between!
1. Start the year with a challenge.
Build teamwork at the start of the year with a challenge: Divide students into groups and give each group 56 cups. Then, challenge them to build the tallest (or most stable) tower.
From the third grade teacher blogger Mrs. Patton’s Patch.
2. Take advantage of their “in between-ness.”
Third graders are not little kids, they’re not quite upper elementary students, and they’re far from middle schoolers. That means they still love their teachers and school and aren’t afraid to show it!
Take advantage of that with fun ideas for Back-to-School Night or parent-teacher conferences.
3. Try Whole-Brain teaching.
“Try Whole-Brain Teaching for third grade classroom management. My students loved it and did a great job following the rules with it.” —Cynthia B.
4. Start the day with a morning meeting.
Third graders are not too old for morning meeting. This third grade blogger includes the class rules, a self-reflection (What did you do well as a researcher yesterday?), a silly class question (What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?), sharing good news/bad news, and the Word of the Day in her morning meeting.
5. Anticipate that third graders will call out.
“Put icons on desks as reminders for when students blurt out. That reminds them to raise their hand with a nonverbal warning. If they do blurt out, place a laminated warning on their desk, like a stop sign that says ‘Please stop what you are doing and make better choices.’” —Jessica H.
6. Plan an end-of-the-day check.
“We have a PMIL end-of-day check. Students say positive things from their day and a minus (if one occurred), an interesting thing from their day, and one thing they learned.” —Natalie E.
7. Create a warm, welcoming space for third graders.
Beach chairs, pillows, and warm, natural light are some ways to create a cozy space for third graders. Bonus : You don’t have to put your summer stuff away! Add a beach pail filled with bookmarks. We like the above setup from this third grade blogger.
8. Use the principal’s office sparingly.
Don’t send kids to the principal’s office for everything. You want your students to know that you take the principal’s office very seriously. —From Teaching With Class
9. Create a classroom carryall.
This third grade blogger recommends that you stock a shower caddy with everything you need to manage behavior and small groups to save time and keep the day moving smoothly.
10. Use the walls for anchor charts instead of premade posters.
You can check out our archive of anchor charts for inspiration here.
11. Use brain breaks.
Put brain break ideas (high fives, hokey pokey, etc.) on popsicle sticks and then draw one at random when your students need to move.
12. Create a call -and-response routine.
Use a call-and-response like saying “Class, class, class!” to which students answer “Yes, yes, yes!” Or to start work, snap your fingers and say “Go!” then students respond by snapping their fingers and saying “ Go!” This call-and-response gets third grade students’ attention and helps them know exactly what to do. Read more from this 3rd grade blogger.
13. Send home a classroom brochure.
“I made a brochure for parents rather than a welcome-back letter. The brochure was easier to look at and it was easier to find the information. It included the behavior plan, information about lunch prices, and pickup and dismissal times.” —Kendall R.
14. Invest time in teaching 3rd grade students procedures and jobs.
“Model and practice your classroom procedures. You’ll love how independent third graders can be!” —Pam W.
“Pick jobs that they can do around the classroom. It will save you time and you will be amazed at how competent third graders can be.” —Kristi H.
15. Go for a themed classroom.
“Even at this age, kids like the themed rooms.” —Kathleen W.
16. Don’t throw away your supplies from other grades.
If you’re moving into teaching 3rd grade from another grade, know that you’ll have a lot of levels in your class, so those easy readers from younger grades or engaging novels from upper grades will likely come in handy.
“Don’t hide all your kindergarten stuff. I had to pull some out to use in small groups with some students who were not quite to grade level.” —Kathleen W.
17. Love a list.
Thought you loved a well-organized to-do list? Your third graders may just have you beat. Stock your room with clipboards and cover your walls with lists to keep your kids organized and as excited about completing each task as you are.
“Lists, clipboards … they love them.” —Kristi H.
18. Have a policy for school supplies (we’re looking at you mechanical pencils).
“I allowed my third graders to use clickable lead pencils. However, my policy on them was that if I saw them playing with lead or breaking pieces, they were banned from using it for the rest of the year. I only had to ban a handful of students.” —Tefi C.
19. Invest in fidgets.
If you have students who fiddle with just about anything (and teaching 3rd grade, you will), keep their hands occupied with fidget toys so their brains can stay on task. They can be as simple as squishy balls from the party store and maybe, just maybe, it will keep the fidget spinners out of your classroom. Check out more fidget ideas in this roundup post.
20. Talk about emotional bank accounts.
Help third graders understand how their words and actions impact others with an ongoing discussion of emotional bank accounts. We love the anchor chart from this 3rd grade blogger.
21. Give yourself a third grade checklist.
Set out at the beginning of the year teaching 3rd grade with a checklist of things you want your students to know by the year’s end. This list of 25 concepts cuts across subjects and will prepare your students for higher elementary.
22. Plan for lost pencils.
“I did the Great Pencil Challenge … each pencil had a number on it that was unique to that student. At any time, I could call out, ‘Show me your pencils!’ and they had to show them to me. If for some reason they didn’t have it, they were marked LOST. I did this for the last 12 weeks of school and gave a prize to the kids who still had their pencils at the end of 6 weeks and 12 weeks. They all loved it!” —Robin C.
23. Model, model, and model some more.
Third graders are increasingly developing their independence, but they still need modeling (and lots of it)! Plan to model, and model again during whole group, then be ready to step in with more modeling during centers or small group work.
“Modeling and practice for sure.” —Cathy T.
24. Create Book Lover’s Books.
Give each third grader a Book Lover’s Book, a loose-leaf binder that stores all students’ notes for reading and writing and helps them identify and practice their reading strategies. Read more at Scholastic.
25. Read aloud.
Third graders love to be read to. We rounded up a great list of read alouds from educators teaching 3rd grade here.
26. Use interactive notebooks.
You can use interactive notebooks for any subject or unit. Check out these tips for organizing interactive notebooks from another awesome 3rd grade blogger.
27. Insist on full sentences.
Third graders are still forming those academic habits, so when they ask questions, talk about their reading, or explain themselves, make them speak in complete sentences. It’ll pay off in their writing and their thinking.
28. Build an extensive library.
“Get all the books you can get your hands on. You’ll have kids who struggle to read and kids who read five grade levels up. You never know what’s going to catch the interest of a reluctant reader. Go to garage sales, library sales, Goodwill stores … lots of cheap books if you dig around.” —Lori E.
29. Stock your shelves with third grade faves.
Here are third-grade book recommendations from our community:
- The Mouse and the Motorcycle
- Because of Winn-Dixie
- Stone Fox
- Ivy + Bean
- The Year of Miss Agnes
- Otis Spofford
- The One and Only Ivan
- The BFG
30. Protect your books.
“Cover your books with clear contact paper. They will last for years.” —Ginny K.
31. Stock up on series.
Third graders love series, particularly mysteries. Some recommendations from third grade teachers:
- Magic Treehouse
- The Boxcar Children
- Geronimo Stilton
- Percy Jackson (for more advanced readers)
- A to Z Mysteries
- The Littles
- Dear America
- Cam Jansen
32. Bring in books with minority protagonists.
“Don’t forget to search out minority protagonists—The Elevator Duck, the Amazing Grace series (there is even a chapter book), Mister and Me, The Stories Julian Tells (another series) are good options. It is even harder to find books with Asian, Hispanic, and First Peoples main characters.” —Rachel C.
33. Challenge them with close reading.
Use this example of close reading for teaching third grade from Collaborative Classroom.
34. Update Daily 5 for teaching 3rd grade.
Terrific Third calls Daily 5 “The Big 5” and arranges her reading centers around the work that students do when they Listen to Reading, Work on Writing, Read to Self, Read to Someone and Work With Words. (Check out her third grade blog to see how she merges Daily 5 with an Under the Sea theme as well.)
35. Use current events.
Third graders’ interest in the world is ever-increasing. Capitalize on that by bringing in articles from sites like Tween Tribune or NewsELA. While students read each article, they can track their ideas, reactions, and comments on sticky notes, then use those to write comments about the articles (or post their comments on a large board in your classroom). Idea from Thoughts of a Third Grade Teacher.
36. Have a sense of humor.
Teaching third grade requires a sense of humor, both for yourself and your students. Poetry from Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky hit right at third graders’ funny bones.
37. Make some anchor charts interactive.
Check out these examples from Crockett’s Classroom.
38. Practice math-fact fluency (every day).
Fourth- and fifth-grade teachers will thank you! The better your students are at their math facts, the easier math time will be, particularly when they get into problem solving. We like this penguin multiplication game from 3rd grade blogger Lightbulbs and Laughter.
39. Focus on fractions
If it’s not math fluency, it’s fractions. The better understanding third graders have of fractions, the better off they’ll be when the quantities get more complicated or the operations get sophisticated. We really love this pool noodle fractions hack for teaching 3rd grade.
40. Try math “huddles.”
Post a question on the board, then have students brainstorm various ways to solve it. Get more ideas from third grade blogger Thinking of Teaching.
41. Set up a math routine.
Third graders thrive on predictability. Check out this math routine from The Teaching Channel.
42. Use games and keep them organized.
Third graders love games. The trick is keeping them organized and make sure students are learning from them. Check out this Pinterest board of math game organization.
43. Use differentiated groups.
Teach third grade math with three groups of instruction: Teacher Time, Partner Practice, and On My Own Time. Get more from this third grade blog.
44. Brush up on any skills before you start teaching third grade.
“Give yourself a MobyMax student account (a self-teaching, practice-based program for math and language) and use it to practice the areas you’re not sure on.” —Seana N.
45. Consider a classroom economy.
“Usually the last month or six weeks of school, my students were responsible for keeping track of their own money. They received a ‘salary’ on Monday morning, but then they had to pay rent for their desk, and as a class we decided what wants and needs should cost and what the fines should be for negative choices, how they could earn bonuses, etc. The kids loved it and it kept them on track those last few weeks of school.” —Pam W.
46. Get hands-on with teaching 3rd grade science.
You can’t do too many experiments and models with third graders. Here are 19 Fun Ideas for Force and Motion, a What Is Blood Made Of? model for third grade biology, a seed experiment using popcorn, and a Make a Cloud activity for weather.
47. Teach third graders civics (seriously!)
Here are some easy tips for teaching 3rd grade students this important subject.
48. Have students insert themselves into history.
After reading biographies, have students create presentations that put themselves in history, like this idea from a 3rd grade blogger.
49. Plan for higher-order thinking.
Put higher-order thinking questions on a key ring and use the key ring to make sure all your students are thinking critically.
50. Get them journaling
Check out these 57 writing prompts for teaching 3rd grade students to start journaling.
Did we miss anything? Share your best tips for teaching 3rd grade in the comments!