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Back to School: Getting to Know Your Second and Third Grade Readers

Desktop with a back to school sign and school supplies

Essential Assessments for Second and Third Grade Readers

Second and third grade is where the ‘rubber meets the road,’ so to speak. Much of kindergarten and first grade reading instruction focuses on building phonological awareness skills and applying the alphabetic principle. Comprehension and vocabulary are addressed primarily through read aloud. In second and third grade, students are expected to read and comprehend longer passages with greater independence.

Why are some second and third grade readers having trouble now?

Some students may have been immersed in a curriculum that did not adhere to structured literacy or the science of reading. Without direct, explicit instruction in the foundational reading skills, these students often show signs of struggle as they enter grades 2 and 3.

Because of this, these students probably relied on their background knowledge and vocabulary rather than decoding when they encountered unfamiliar words. However, as second and third grade readers read more rigorous texts, their old habits are no longer enough to help them word solve. There are several reasons for this:

  • The grammar and syntax of sentences become more complex. If students’ attention is fixated on trying to figure out a word, they don’t have the available working memory to attend to the meaning of a particular sentence, let alone an entire text. Complex sentence structure can be problematic for struggling readers.
  • The number of pictures in texts decline. Students can no longer rely on images to figure out unknown words or to support comprehension.
  • Students are exposed to unfamiliar vocabulary and concepts, so background knowledge alone is no longer sufficient for word solving.

How can I help my readers?

Word study (phonics) is still of critical importance for second and third grade readers because students can’t comprehend what they can’t read.  

Decoding + Language Comprehension=reading to gain meaning

Research reveals that guessing is an ineffective strategy.  In other words, Guessing.  Won’t.  Work.  The most skilled readers apply their knowledge of phonics systematically to solve unfamiliar words.  Using the word patterns to decode words as they read, leaves more cognitive energy (or working memory) so the student can focus on meaning. This allows the reader to achieve the ultimate goal of reading:  comprehension.

How do I determine my students’ level of mastery of phonics?

It is imperative that students know the six basic syllable types and can use them to decode unfamiliar words with automaticity.  

We recommend gathering baseline data on second and third graders with a comprehensive decoding assessment.  If you do not have one available to you, we have designed a single syllable decoding assessment. An Overview of the 6 Syllable Types (shown below) includes the single syllable decoding assessment. This resource provides data to guide teachers in planning their next instructional steps.

Cover of An Overview of the Six Syllable Types.

Another way to determine a student’s mastery of phonics concepts is through the use of decodable running records. These running records target specific phonics elements and can help pinpoint areas of need. When using decodable running records, be sure to administer the running record that aligns with previously taught phonics element(s).

Cover of Mega Bundle of 60 Decodable Running Records

My students have trouble reading multisyllabic words.

If your students can read single syllable words accurately and automatically, we recommend assessing their ability to decode multisyllabic words. We have developed an assessment that targets a variety of two syllable words containing the six syllable types. This assessment includes a guideline for analyzing to assist teachers in targeting next instructional steps. The Mega Bundle shown below also provides materials to instruct students in reading and spelling two-syllable words.

Cover of the Multisyllabic Mega Bundle with syllable division posters
This resource includes a pre and post assessment for each of the syllable division rules.

My students can read accurately, but they are not fluent.

If the running record indicates that a student is able to read accurately, but not fluently, it is likely that they have not yet developed automaticity at the word or sentence level. If this is the case, it can be overwhelming to work on fluency at the passage level. Sometimes it is necessary to back up your instruction to the sentence level, or even the word level to help students develop automaticity.

If the fluency score is not at the expected rate, it is important to pause there and provide repeated practice at the word or sentence level.

Cover of Decodable Word Lists, Phrases, and Sentences by Informed Literarcy

How can I use these assessments most effectively?

If you’d like to learn more about how to effectively use assessments throughout the school year, please check out this blog, How to Begin Teaching Second Grade Readers. The information provided is applicable for third grade as well.

Our store has lots of resources to help teachers assess, analyze, and instruct.

Please check out or TPT store for our Science of Reading-aligned resources.

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for your recent email. I would very much wish to receive your freebies, in specific this one on 2nd and 3rd grade readers and assessment.

    Thank you so very much.

    Pieter Kitshoff

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