Centers and project-based learning engage, inspire, and challenge our third graders. “Project-based learning works well for all kids and challenges high-achieving students to go beyond what’s required in the everyday classroom.“
—Melissa Land, Wesley Prep Third Grade Teacher
How We Think About Third Graders
In third grade, we recognize that our students are at a unique point in their elementary education. Students are making the jump into the upper elementary grades, and with that comes an increased level of responsibility and independence. In third grade, students not only become more responsible for their own work and behavior, but they are beginning to think more critically and abstractly about challenging concepts and skills. We recognize that third graders are reading and writing fluently; therefore, students are challenged to analyze their reading material and to write stories that incorporate figurative language.
How We Emphasize and Reinforce Skills in Third Grade
We use a variety of methods to emphasize and reinforce skills in third grade. The classroom is set up so that students are exposed to a variety of teaching methods. Students are first introduced to skills from a whole group/direct teaching method, which involves the use of the ACTIVboard to directly teach the new concept to the students. We’re big proponents of this exciting teaching tool, which serves as a digital blackboard but with extraordinary interactive capabilities. Research has shown significant learning gains with their use in the classroom.
Our third graders also rotate through interactive learning areas called Centers to reinforce and review the skill through small group interaction.
Our Centers typically include:
- A Teacher Table Center where our teachers review new skills with the use of diagrams/charts and manipulatives in an interactive way with a small group of students
- A Desk Center where students complete work that will be graded
- A Floor Center that involves a learning game or partner work to reinforce the skills in a fun and cooperative group format
In addition to Centers, repetition is key to learning among third graders. There are so many new skills introduced in this grade that we review each day before teaching a new lesson. Students are evaluated through teacher observations, daily grades, and end-of-unit tests.
How We Use Project-Based Learning in Third Grade
Projects are used in third grade for a variety of developmental reasons. One vital lesson is for students to complete long-term projects. This helps them to practice meeting deadlines, follow a rubric, and turn in a final product, which gives them a feeling of accomplishment. These projects are usually in the form of book reports that are assigned each nine weeks. Each book report format is different and is completed with different genres of literature. For example, students create a travel brochure book report over a nine-week period. For this report, third graders each read about a different country and follow a rubric that outlines what their travel brochure should include, such as native foods, language, population, clothing, education, historical events, or popular tourist attractions. Students are thrilled to highlight their country on the ACTIVboard map and present their brochures as they travel around the world in virtual space for this project.
Another reason project-based learning works well is that it challenges high-achieving children beyond what they are required to do in the everyday classroom. Gifted students thrive on this type of challenge, and these students are able to choose from a list of ongoing projects that they may work on when they have finished their work. These projects may be done with a partner or alone. Types of projects include designing a book cover for a novel, writing a new ending to a novel that they have read independently or with the class, or designing a playground using perimeter and area.
Another important example of a third grade project is the simple machine games. With this project, students take what they have learned about simple machines and create a kid-friendly game that includes at least two types of simple machines. This is one of our kids’ favorites!
How We Differentiate Instruction in Third Grade
In third grade, differentiation takes place mostly through learning Centers. Students are placed in flexible leveled groups as they rotate through the centers so that the teacher can meet with groups and tailor small group instruction to their individual needs. The Teacher Table Center looks different for each group in the classroom. In reading, students use leveled readers for guided reading that meet the needs of the individual groups. These books contain the same vocabulary words and incorporate the same reading skills for the week but are written for on-level or above-level readers.
Toward the end of the year, students participate in classroom book clubs with their reading groups. Students read and analyze different novels (assigned based on the group’s reading level and goals) and participate in novel discussions with their group and teacher. Students are given roles each week, such as:
- The journalist, who draws pictures depicting that week’s reading
- The discussion leader, who writes several thought-provoking questions to keep the weekly discussions going
- The line lighter, who records lines from the reading that they feel are examples of good literature and why
- The word smith, who defines and uses new or unfamiliar words
- The summarizer, who writes a summary of the important events
These book clubs are a great way to introduce the higher-level readers to a more abstract way of analyzing text and to review some of the basic story elements with lower-level readers. After reading their novels, each group completes a project where they take what they have learned and read and create an “out of the box” product, such as: a board game created from the novel The Tale of Despereaux, a pop-up book created from the novel A Cricket in Times Square, and a hanging mobile of objects and descriptions crafted from the novel The Sign of the Beaver.
How We Develop Character and Social Skills in Third Grade
Our third grade students are evaluated socially on what we call their Five Expectations. Starting with the first day of school, we begin giving examples of these expectations and role-playing appropriate and inappropriate ways to solve conflicts in the classroom. These expectations include:
- Applying their personal best
- Following directions
- Being respectful of self and others
- Being prepared
- Being on appropriate task
How We Prepare Third Graders for the Next Stage of their Education
By the end of the school year, our third graders emerge with a clear understanding that behavior is a choice that they control and the amount of effort that they put into their work shows in their final product. They are proud of their work and are instilled with the pride to always turn in their best work. Their attitude shows that they want to take on challenges in and out of the classroom in a positive way and with a willingness to learn. The variety of projects that students work on during their third grade year prepares them for the long term projects that they will encounter during their fourth grade year. Students also develop an understanding of grades during their third grade year that prepares them for the rest of their educational life.