How to Help a 3rd Grader With Reading Comprehension

Reading in the 3rd grade

Learning how to help a 3rd grader with reading comprehension can be difficult. The earliest years of learning to read are focused on letter-sound connections, using those letters to form whole words, and then using those words to form meaningful sentences. But, in the third grade, your child is starting to encounter new reading goals. These can include reading independently, starting to read simple chapter books, and reading text with fewer illustrations.

Another important third grade reading goal is reading for content. Why? Because reading at this grade level is no longer an independent subject. Your child will be expected to read during the study of other subjects, as well, such as social studies, geography and even math. And, he must be able to pull meaning from what he’s reading.

What is reading comprehension?

Comprehension means understanding. When a child masters comprehension skills, it means he can read a sentence, paragraph or a whole chapter of a book and understands who the story was about, what happened to the characters and what the story as a whole had to tell us. Without comprehension, reading is meaningless. It’s just a long string of sounds.

How can I help my 3rd grader with reading comprehension?

Comprehension is a vital part of your child’s reading skill set. Here are a few ways you can help him hone that skill:

  • Start small – Comprehension, like all reading skills, takes time to develop. Don’t expect your child to be able to dive into a long reading passage and immediately pick up all the nuances of its meaning. Starting with short sentences, short passages and short books will help him learn comprehension without being overwhelmed by words.
  • Do a double take – Some children struggle so much with sounding out each individual word in a sentence that by the time they reach the end, they have no idea what they’ve just read. If your child is still struggling to read fluently, then let him read a single sentence as slowly as he needs to to successfully read each word. At this point, don’t ask him the meaning of the sentence he’s just completed. Then, read it back to him yourself, clearly and smoothly. Once he’s heard the whole sentence again, ask him to put it into his own words. This way, he can concentrate on reading and comprehension separately, and will start to make the connection between the sentences he’s reading and the meaning they contain.
  • Make a guess – A fun way to really engage your child in what he’s reading – and focus him on comprehension at the same time – is to ask him to guess what’s going to happen next. Before he even starts a book, have him look at the cover and guess what the book is about. Then, several times during your reading session, stop him and ask him to guess again. Was he right before? What does he think is going to happen next?
  • Play it again – When choosing books for your child to read, pick stories that he has heard before. This will allow him to make the connection between the words he’s trying to read and the story as a whole. And, once he’s read a book, don’t resign it to the bookshelf, especially if it’s a favorite. Practicing reading the same book more than once is a great way to increase fluency while locking in comprehension, as well.
  • Talk about it – When your child is reading aloud to you, stop him every so often and ask him to tell you what’s going on. If your child is struggling with comprehension, you might want to ask after each sentence. If your child doesn’t understand what he’s just read, read it back to him and see if he understands now. As his comprehension skills grow, you can stop him less often, after a whole paragraph, for instance, and later, after a whole page. You might find that your child even enjoys retelling the story he’s just read in his own words, and will work harder to understand it so that he can retell it accurately.
  • Let him quiz you – Kids are used to having to perform their schoolwork for adult approval, both in the classroom and at home. This can make reading seem like a one-sided chore. Turn that thinking on its head. Tell your child that after he’s finished reading aloud to you, he’ll get to ask you some questions about the passage to see if you were listening. Trying to come up with tricky questions about the content – in order to stump you – will motivate your child to really pay attention to meaning as he works through his reading homework.
  • Pair him up – Don’t expect your third grader to simply read a book all alone and still build his comprehension skills. Try pairing him up with another reader – a sibling, grandparent or friend. Then have the two of them take turns reading a paragraph or even a whole page. Before trading places, have the one who was reading describe what they’ve just read in their own words. Did the listener understand the passage the same way? If not, both readers should re-read that passage together and see what it really said.
  • Don’t forget writing – Nothing helps convey the idea that what we read is meaningful quite like creating an original story. After all, once your child understands that his own stories convey ideas, it’s that much easier for him to search out and recognize meaning in the words others have written. If his stories don’t convey the meaning he intended, you have the opportunity to help him edit them until they say just what he had in mind.
  • Practice, practice, practice – The more your child practices reading, the more fluent he will become. He will recognize more and more words by sight, he’ll get a feel for the rhythm of reading, and he’ll be able to read faster. All of this will foster comprehension, as well. After all, if he’s no longer struggling with the pure mechanics of reading, then your child will be able to focus more on what he is reading. Check out the 3rd grade reading passages here at They’re a great way for your child to practice reading for comprehension!

We hope you find these tools helpful in learning how to help your 3rd grader with reading comprehension!