Help Kids Write Essay Responses Third Grade

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webAcademy--14 Power Strategies to Boost Reading & Writing Achievement on Standardized Tests

Teach Constructed-Response Writing Explicitly

All the work you do to teach your students to read independently and comprehend proficiently is ultimately assessed in the form of a constructed reading response. This brief writing assesses the level of a student's thinking about the reading and his ability to support his conclusions with text-based evidence. Plan time within the year to teach students this unique form of writing.

Don't have formulaphobia
The nature of "constructing" something implies that it is carefully and deliberately put together. This is true of constructed responses, too. Within 2-4 sentences, students must provide essential information.

Providing students with a structure can aid them in writing stronger responses that demonstrate deeper thinking. A formula not only ensures the essential components are included, but also that they are communicated succinctly and concisely.

STEP 1: Understand the prompt.

Before students can successfully write a constructed-response, they need to know how the prompts/questions work. Most constructed-response prompts include three basic parts. It's important to help students understand how to break down the 3 components of a constructed-response prompt.

  1. Background knowledge: Typically the first sentence establishes a little context or offers a quick reminder of the passage.
  2. Petition: Each prompt includes a task or request for the reader to accomplish. This may be written as a command or a question. This facet communicates what students must do to complete this required element. Look for words like explain, analyze, compare, etc.
  3. Proof: The last sentence in the prompt often specifies that students must include multiple details from the text.

STEP 2: Restate the question.

Students need to know that only their responses are read. Teachers/Scorers don't read the original prompt. Thus, constructed responses have to provide context and make sense all by themselves. Teach students to restate the question by rearranging the words in the original prompt. Model how to do this; then invite students to participate orally.

TIP: Require that students avoid pronouns in their responses. Use specific nouns, rather than he, she, it, etc. This helps bring context to the response when the scorer is assessing it.

STEP 3: Provide a general answer.

The first sentence should include a restatement of the prompt and a general answer with no details. This sentence serves as a topic sentence to the specific details and examples that will follow. (Students often give too many details in their opening sentence. When they do that, there is nowhere for their thinking to go. Encourage them to slow down their thinking.)

TIP: After introducing the concept of a general answer, then outlaw the use of "because" in any first sentence of a CR. If students include "because," they will likely reveal details that should be saved for the supporting sentences.

STEP 4: Skim the text.

Students cannot provide the general answer if they didn't first think of specific details. It's the synthesis or conclusion of the relevant textual details that helps them to develop the topic sentence. So when it's time to go into the text for proof, students should know precisely which details they are looking for--it's just a matter of locating them. This requires skimming.

Model how you slide your index finger down the margin of the relevant paragraphs. Tell students that your eyes are pulling through each line quickly looking for certain words/phrases.

TIP: Explain that skimming is not plowing through the paragraphs or rereading the entire text. Rather, demonstrate how to first get in the vicinity of the details. Show students how to navigate the text quickly using text features and text structures.

STEP 5: Cite multiple author details.

The details students pull from the text are proof that their general answer (Step 3) is correct. And the proof must come in multiple examples. If students provide only one detail, then they aren't fulfilling the prompt requirement of "Use details from the reading." Notice "details" is plural. The expectation is that students find two or more examples.

TIP: Sometimes students provide two text details that are essentially repeats of one another. To ensure students are referencing two different examples, encourage them to look in different portions/paragraphs of the text.

Teach students how to weave the author's words from the text into their sentences of proof. Provide students with sentence starters to support them with this step. The text states...For example...According to the passage...A second example from the text...The author also states...On page __, it stated...

STEP 6: End with how the evidence fits the inference.

At this point, the scorer is thinking...So what? What do the details prove? Show students how to wrap up a response by explaining or interpreting their evidence. When practicing these concluding statements, provide students with sentence starters. This shows...This demonstrates...I believe...Now I know...This proves...

STEP 7: Reread only your response.

Strong responses do NOT require the scorer to read the original prompt. The response should make sense all by itself. The response has to provide context, a general answer, and specific evidence.

That said, when practicing these writings, have students draft their responses on separate paper or in a separate digital document, apart from the original prompt. Without the original prompt for reference, it's easier for students to see when their CRs are incomplete or inadequate.

Start early & start orally.
The steps each build on one another. Think of it like playing hopscotch--you can't jump to the second box without hopping to the first one. These skills work similarly. You can't teach step 3 in a constructed response if you didn't first teach steps 1-2. The early steps are prerequisites for the later ones. (NOTE: The steps on our newest Smekens Education poster are listed like a hopscotch board--from the bottom up.) That said, although all grade levels may not teach all 7 steps, start early and teach as many steps as you can.

As you target each step, do so with simple, high-interest texts. Students can't practice the response skill if the text is too complex and they struggle to comprehend it. In other words, let students practice finding evidence with texts that are easy to understand before upping the text complexity.

Also, consider that students can't write what they can't say. So allow them to practice the steps orally in class discussions and small groups before moving the skill to writing. You can improve their thinking without always having them write. (NOTE: This is particularly important for young readers, ELL, and students with special needs.

Third Grade Writing Standards

Writing standards for third grade define the knowledge and skills needed for writing proficiency at this grade level. By understanding 3rd grade writing standards, parents can be more effective in helping their children meet grade level expectations.

What is 3rd Grade Writing?
In third grade, writing becomes a key component of school curriculum. Third grade students write more independently than in any previous grade and spend significant blocks of time engaged in writing on their own, as well as in assigned projects. Students hone their paragraph writing skills and write multi-paragraph compositions. As specified by writing standards, 3rd grade writing activities include learning to organize work using a beginning, middle, and end, focusing on sequence of events. Students are also taught to use descriptive detail and literary devices, such as dialogue, point of view, and figurative language (metaphors and similes). Third-graders continue to expand their knowledge of grammar, spelling, and mechanics, as well as how to evaluate writing and conduct research.


Browse Standards-Based Elementary Writing Courses


The following writing standards represent what states* typically specify as third grade benchmarks in writing proficiency:

Grade 3: Writing Strategies
Third grade writing standards focus on the writing process as the primary tool to help children become independent writers. In Grade 3, students are taught to use each phase of the process as follows:

  • Prewriting: Students generate ideas for writing by using prewriting techniques, such as drawing and listing key thoughts. Students determine purpose and intended audience and make a plan for writing that includes a main idea.
  • Drafting: In third grade, students write several drafts to produce a final product. Drafts should be appropriate to the topic, audience and purpose, and show development of main idea with supporting details. In drafting, students strive to organize information into a logical sequence through the use of time-order words (e.g., “meanwhile,” “immediately”) and cause/effect transitions (e.g., “therefore,” “as a result”).
  • Revising: Students revise their writing to improve coherence, logical organization, voice (formal or informal), and effectiveness. Students also work to achieve a sense of audience, and use precise word choices, vivid supporting details, sentence variety, and literary devices to create interest.
  • Editing: Students edit and correct the draft for appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and other features of polished writing.
  • Publishing: Students produce, illustrate, and share a variety of compositions, including using appropriate computer technology to compose and publish work.

Use of technology: Third grade students will use available technology to compose text.

Grade 3: Writing Purposes
In Grade 3, students write in different forms for different purposes, and communicate with different audiences. Students write compositions that describe and explain familiar objects, events, and experiences. Specifically, third grade writing standards stipulate that students write in the following forms:

  • Narrative: Students provide a context for the action; include well-chosen details to develop the plot; and offer insight into why the incident is memorable.
  • Descriptive: Students use concrete sensory details to present and support unified impressions of people, places, things, or experiences.
  • Informational/Expository: Students write summaries, rules, procedures, recipes, notes/messages, labels, and lists.
  • Persuasive: Students write persuasive text (e.g., advertisement, paragraph) that attempts to influence the reader.
  • Personal and formal letters, thank-you notes, and invitations: Students show an awareness of the audience and establish a purpose and context.
  • Creative (e.g., short stories, poetry, skits, lyrics): Students may employ figurative language (e.g., simile, onomatopoeia), rhythm, dialogue, characterization, plot, and appropriate format.

Grade 3: Writing Evaluation
Third grade students learn to respond constructively to others’ writing and determine if their own writing achieves its purposes. In Grade 3, students also identify the most effective features of a piece of writing using criteria generated by the teacher and class. Writing standards recommend that each student keep and review a collection of his/her own written work to monitor growth as a writer.

Grade 3: Written English Language Conventions
Students in 3rd grade are expected to write with more complex sentences, capitalization, and punctuation. In particular, third grade writing standards specify these key markers of proficiency:

Sentence Structure

  • Write longer and more elaborate sentences and organize their writing into larger units of text.
  • Understand and be able to use complete and correct declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences.


  • Identify subjects and verbs that are in agreement and identify and use pronouns, adjectives, compound words, and articles correctly in simple and compound sentences.
  • Identify and use past, present, and future verb tenses properly.
  • Identify and use subjects and verbs correctly in speaking and writing simple sentences.


  • Punctuation, including end punctuation, apostrophes, commas, colons, quotation marks in dialogue, and apostrophes in singular possessives.
  • Punctuate dates, city and state, and titles of books correctly.
  • Use commas in dates, locations, and addresses and for items in a series.


  • Capitalize all proper nouns correctly.  These will include holidays, product names, titles used with someone’s name, initials, geographic locations, historical periods, and special events .


  • Master regularly spelled patterns such as consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) (hop), consonant-vowel-consonant-silent e (CVCe) (hope).
  • Write with more proficient spelling of one-syllable words that have blends, contractions, compounds, spelling patterns (e.g., qu, consonant doubling, changing the ending of a word from -y to -ies when forming the plural), and common homophones (e.g., hair-hare).
  • Spell words ending in -tion and -sion such as station and procession.
  • Arrange words in alphabetic order. Uses a dictionary or other resources as necessary.


  • Students write legibly in cursive writing, allowing for margins and correct spacing between letters in a word and words in a sentence.

Grade 3: Research and Inquiry
Third grade students learn how to gather information systematically and use writing as a tool for research and inquiry in the following ways:

  • Understand the use, structure, and organization of various reference materials (e.g., dictionary, thesaurus, atlas, encyclopedia).
  • Determine information needed for a search by narrowing or broadening a topic and identifying key words.
  • Write questions for investigating and take simple notes from relevant sources, such as classroom guests, books, and media sources.
  • Select appropriate facts and compile notes into outlines, reports, summaries, or other written efforts using available technology.
  • Record basic bibliographic data and recognize intellectual property rights (e.g., cites sources of ideas).

3rd Grade Writing Tests
In some states, standardized writing assessment begins in the third grade. Students will be given questions about grammar and mechanics, as well as a timed writing exercise, in which they must write a response to a writing prompt. In addition, third-graders are evaluated by their writing portfolios and classroom-based writing tests.

Most state writing assessments are correlated to state writing standards. These standards-based tests measure what students know in relation to what they’ve been taught. Educators consider standards-based tests to be the most useful as these tests show how individual students are meeting grade-level expectations. Teachers use the assessments to pinpoint where each student needs improvement. State departments of education often include information on writing standards and writing assessments on their websites, including sample questions.

Writing Test Preparation
The best writing test preparation in third grade is simply encouraging your child to write, raising awareness of the written word, and offering guidance on writing homework. For example, you can talk about the different purposes of writing as you encounter them, such as those of letters, recipes, grocery lists, instructions, and menus. Encourage your students to practice responses to specific cues such as third grade writing prompts. By becoming familiar with third grade writing standards, parents can offer more constructive homework support. Remember, the best writing help for kids is not to correct their essays, but offer positive feedback that prompts them use the strategies of the writing process to revise their own work.

Time4Writing Online Writing Courses Support 3rd Grade Writing Standards
Time4Writing is an excellent complement to third grade writing curriculum. Developed by classroom teachers, Time4Writing targets the fundamentals of writing. Students build writing skills and deepen their understanding of the writing process by working on standards-based, grade-appropriate writing tasks under the individual guidance of a certified teacher.

Writing on a computer inspires many students, even reluctant writers. Learn more about Time4Writing online courses for third grade.

For more information about general learning objectives for third grade students including math and language arts, please visit

*K-12 writing standards are defined by each state. Time4Writing relies on a representative sampling of state writing standards, notably from Florida, Texas, and California, as well as on the standards published by nationally recognized education organizations, such as the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association.

You’ve been exploring the writing standards for first grade. To view the writing standards for other grade levels, use one of the following links:

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