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At a Glance: The Changes in Teaching Between Third and Fourth Grade

By Erica Patino

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It may seem like starting fourth grade is just like starting any other school year. But there’s a big difference between what third graders and fourth graders do in class. Here are some of the changes.

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At a Glance: The Changes in Teaching Between Third and Fourth Grade

When it comes to academics, the move from third grade to fourth is a big shift. Although what’s taught can differ by school district, here are typical differences between grade 3 and grade 4.

Third grade: The emphasis is on reading fluently—mastering vocabulary and figuring out words from context. Kids may still be reading story books.
Fourth grade: Kids read a variety of content—encyclopedias, news stories and books with chapters. They’re expected to form ideas about what they read.
What’s changing: Fourth graders are expected to comprehend what they read and to form conclusions about it. They may be asked to write essays demonstrating this understanding.

Third grade: Math class focuses on arithmetic skills like multiplication and division.
Fourth grade: Kids move on to math concepts like fractions, decimals and basic geometry, including measuring lines and angles.
What’s changing: Arithmetic builds the foundation for more complex math like geometry. If your child struggles with arithmetic, moving on to more advanced math can be difficult.

Third grade: Kids often do hands-on science projects that require experimenting, measuring and observing (such as growing plants).
Fourth grade: Kids may start classifying organisms, such as plants and flowers. They start learning about more abstract concepts, like electricity and the motion of objects.
What’s changing: Concepts like classification require organization. Abstract science ideas require higher-level thinking than kids were expected to demonstrate before.

Social Studies
Third grade: Often, a lot of time is devoted to understanding the geography and history of your child’s home state.
Fourth grade: Emphasis may shift to learning more about the U.S. and the world. This includes reading maps and learning national history.
What’s changing: Social studies takes on a broader focus so kids start to understand more about the world.
Graphic of At a glance: The changes in teaching between 3rd and 4th grade
Graphic of At a glance: The changes in teaching between 3rd and 4th grade

About the Author

Portrait of Erica Patino

Erica Patino is an online writer and editor who specializes in health and wellness content.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Ginny Osewalt

Ginny Osewalt is certified in elementary and special education, with experience in inclusion, resource room and self-contained settings.

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