Third Grade Writing Units of Study – A First Look

UnitsHas your school year finished? We are nearly there and while this year is winding down, goals are being set for next year. I am changing schools (and countries) this summer so I am not a part of a formal process of goal setting at this time, but I am anticipating what I will be focusing on next year. On top of moving I will be teaching third grade for the first time come August. One thing I know I will need to get my head around are the third grade Units of Study for writing. If you are not familiar with them check out this post where Beth gives some great step by step advice. I have taught the fifth grade “new” units of study the past two years so the structure is familiar, but delving into third grade is completely new to me. I borrowed a colleague’s books and spent some time familiarizing myself with the big ideas for each unit. Here is what I found.

Unit 1: Narrative – Crafting True Stories

Third grade is where writer’s notebooks are introduced, how fun!


The year begins with exposing writers to this essential tool and then diving into the work of writing. It is a year of independence and growth and the tone is set with the expectations of this first unit. Third grade is about moving from primary to intermediate work.

This unit looks at finding ideas and then encouraging writers to move from plot-driven to character-driven narratives. Conferring and self-assessment are essential parts of any writing workshop and begin in Bend 1, setting the tone for the year. As writing teachers, we also play the role of cheerleader, helping students to build their writing stamina and to understand that writing can be hard, thus giving tools and strategies to use when the going gets rough. Learning to move from summarizing what happened to telling a story is a large emphasis of this unit. How do you write in a way that allows the reader to see a movie in their mind? Another skill that is focused on is to edit along the way, rather than when you are ‘finished’ with a piece of writing.

Come On Rain!

Mentor Text: Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse with illustrations by Jon J Muth

Unit 2: Information – The Art of Information Writing

Resist the urge to think about this unit as “All About Books” because it is more than that. Information Text is such a huge genre. Have fun brainstorming all the different types.

Info text types

Third graders are more than willing to tell you all about what they know best. Channeling their richness of experience into writing is what this second unit is about. Organizing information and developing ideas are the focus of this unit. In second grade writers learned how to group information. For third grade, writers learn logical groupings. This organization is joined with a simple introduction, a few sentences to elaborate on each topic, all the while infusing domain-specific vocabulary into their writing.

In order to lead students through this unit I have started brainstorming what I could be an expert on. What is something you know well?

Expert On

Deadliest Animals!

Mentor Text: Deadliest Animals! by Melissa Stewart

Unit 3: Opinion – Changing The World

voices have power

You could think of this as a ‘baby essay’ unit, as it is laying the foundation to all essay writing.

Students will:

  • introduce topics
  • support topics by
    • list reasons
    • support with fact and details
  • use transition words
  • make word choices for
    • effect
    • audience
  • research
  • organize evidence
  • utilize what they know about spelling
  • continue to self-assess
  • continue to use the writing process

We’ve all had students try to convince us of something, be it that their football team is the best or that we should extend recess. Watch out! You are about to equip them with the tools to support their ideas and rally around what is important to them. This unit begins with writing persuasive speeches, moves to petitions, editorials, and persuasive letters, and finally sets up collaborative “Cause Groups” that incorporate all they have learned as they move others to action.

Unit 4: Narrative – Once Upon A Time

From facts to storytelling is the journey writers encounter as they walk in the world of fairy tales. The unit’s introduction points out that fairy tales are participatory, gleeful, and even gruesome AND we love them. What better way to teach story arc (and to use a storyteller’s voice) than to explore creating a world and bringing the characters to life.

sticky for unit 4

This unit goes through three narrative cycles. The class first walks through adapting one of the mentor texts. (It is suggested that you use “Cinderella” for your modeling and let the class chose one other for shared writing.) Once writers have guided practice of changing setting and characters, perhaps adapting the need and motivation of those characters, they are ready to adapt one of their own favorite fairy tales. Finally, students are asked to write an original fairy tale, using all they know about writing to draw their readers into their own story.

Mentor Texts: “Cinderella”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, and “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”
(Do you have a favorite version of any of these? I would love to start a collection.)

Now What?

For any grade level the units are so dense that taking the time to understand the overview of each unit helps me to get my mind around what is being asked of the students over the course of the year. I feel like I now have a good foundational understanding of what is expected for writing next year. I am still at the ‘broad strokes’ part of tackling these units. Deciding dates for each unit, as well as additional units, plush publishing parties, etc. are not up to me at this point. I’ll see what has been decided when I arrive in August. Until then I have some mentor texts to get to know this summer, some writing to do, and some relaxation ahead of me.

What about you? Any tips for the third grade units? Are you changing grade levels? How do you approach new units?

Kristi Lonheim teaches internationally, in the Middle East for the past ten years. She is passionate about dark chocolate and encouraging life-long learners. The latter necessitates the need for students to be competent writers with a love of reading. When not at school she likes to hang out with her family, travel, enjoy the outdoors, offer hospitality, and read. Kristi blogs at and tweets from @lonheim.