Assessment Alley: Third Grade Literacy Profile

Decoding Skills and Word Analysis

Literacy Profile
What Third Graders Should Know
Phonological Awareness and Oral Language Development
Concepts of Print, Letter Identification, and Text Features
Decoding Skills and Word Analysis
Reading Strategies, Processes, and Dispositions
Reading Accuracy and Fluency at Increasing Text Levels
Comprehension and Reading Response
Writing Strategies, Processes, and Dispositions
Writing Effectiveness
Writing Conventions and Handwriting
Related Resources
Meet the Author


Decoding and word recognition skills include how automatically students read sight words and how successfully they identify unfamiliar words through acquiring the alphabetic principle, blending letters into sounds, using phonograms and analogies.  Additionally, third graders should begin using knowledge of syllable types and patterns and structural analysis to figure out unfamiliar words.

At third grade, these skills include:

         decodes one-syllable words using knowledge of common syllable types and patterns (closed, r-controlled, vowel teams)

         begins to decode multisyllabic words


Where To Start Word List

Where To Start Word Lists can be used to assess a student's approximate reading level when there isn't enough data or background information to determine a starting point.  


Students are given leveled lists of 20 words each and are tested until they correctly read fewer than 16 words.  The teacher starts with a leveled list one grade below the student's current level.  For example, third grade students should start with Level 2.  Using a corresponding chart, the teacher can then determine which level (A-Z) to use for further assessment (such as running records) or book selection.


Running Record

Running Records are used to determine overall reading level with optional assessments for words per minute, word accuracy, self-correction rate, and fluency.  Students read aloud a text (preferably from a book, but worksheets are acceptable) while the teacher follows along with a copy.  The teacher notes errors, substitutions, corrections, and general observations.  When the student finishes the section, the teacher asks literal and inferential questions to assess overall comprehension.  Students may need to be retested with easier or harder books until a "just right" level is found, where students read with greater than 90% accuracy and comprehension.


The Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment Kit is a great resource for these assessments because it contains leveled word lists that correspond to leveled running records and benchmark books. An all-in-one calculator/stopwatch is also provided to calculate words per minute, word accuracy, and self-correction rate with the press of a button!


Because students vary in how they develop skills in decoding and word recognition, small-group approaches are often needed to more closely match instruction to learners' assessed needs... Critical to making a difference with children who struggle in this area is noticing the particular area of need a student shows and then carefully planning instruction and monitoring progress (Biggam 74).  For students who scored poorly on the Where To Start Word Test or Running Records, the following interventions may be implemented.

Folding In Flash Cards

For students who score significantly below grade level on the Where To Start Word List or other high frequency word test, this word-building and automaticity technique may be utilized for fifteen minutes per day. In this intensive intervention, students practice known and unknown words.  Students initially start with three unknown words and seven known words.  The teacher models how to read the unknown words and then follows the following steps:

1. Present the first unknown word, followed by the first known word.

2. Presents the first unknown word again, followed by the first two known words.

3. Presents the first unknown word again, followed by the first three known words.

4. Repeats this process until all seven of the known words are folded in.

5. Repeats the procedure using the first two unknown words, and then finally with the third unknown word.

6. Assess all the words at the end of the session.  When a previously unknown word is read correctly on two consecutive days, it counts as a known word.

7. New words are systematically added as unknown words are mastered.


Coaching Groups

Cunningham and Allington recommend coaching groups to practice word-solving and comprehension strategies. Students may be grouped by specific needs as identified with running records.  In coaching groups, the teacher provides students with a text appropriate for their reading level.  The students read the selection on their own, and then the teacher asks one student to read a section aloud. The group works together to solve challenging words using the following coaching steps:

1. Put your finger on the word and say all the letters.

2. Use the letters and the picture clues.

3. Look for a rhyme you know.

4. Keep your finger on the word and finish the sentence; then pretend it's the covered word to solve.

It's important to remember that coaching groups are flexible and students should be regrouped as their needs change.


Reading posters that support decoding and word recognition: Handy Reading Strategies and Animal Helpers

Last updated: April 16, 2009