Language & Literacy Development in 8- to 10-Year-Olds

Discover how your child's language and literacy skills will develop from third through fifth grade.
By Michelle Anthony, PhD




As you have undoubtedly noticed, various aspects of development interact with and influence each other. Possibly the areas of greatest mutual influence are language development and literacy. Particularly for 8- to 10-year-olds, the two are at times indiscernible. For this reason, we will discuss them together. By the age of 8, most children have moved from learning to read, to reading to learn. Because a child’s language and literacy skills form the foundation of academic achievement, it is at this point in development that struggling readers begin to show significant gaps in ability. 

What to Expect From Third Graders

Around third grade, children can read fluently, apply (and check) comprehension strategies (e.g., ask themselves if the word they read makes sense), and expand their abilities to a wider array of texts (e.g., mystery, fantasy, historical fiction, poetry, etc.). For more ways to support the development of reading strategies, check out Into the Book or Blue Ribbon Interactives. Children more effectively apply their schema (their set of personal experiences) to their growing understanding of books, vocabulary, and communication. As a result, their written and spoken ideas are increasingly persuasive, interesting, and engaging. Schema also helps children deduce what they do not yet know. They can draw on their schematic understanding to predict outcomes, respond to questions, and to make comparisons with other texts, their own experiences, and the world at large.

Children this age also use their developing inference abilities across many types of interactions — printed and spoken. For example, when a parent says, “Boy, I sure have a lot of packages to unload,” their child can intuit the indirect request for help. Parents can support their child’s developing inference abilities by asking unspoken questions about information their child has heard or read. For some online practice inferring, try these quick “mysteries,” or play an online version of the inference game Battleship (itself an inference game), with inference questions interspersed.

Children this age can retell stories, and form and defend ideas. Understanding of cause and effect comes in more fully, as does an awareness of fact vs opinion. Facilitate these budding skills by asking your child questions about the topic or setting of a book before she reads, by asking ‘why’ questions along the way, and by having open-ended discussions about topics, such as how the author’s opinion comes across in the book. For online fun, try this game

Along with literacy abilities, language skills also impact social development, as is seen in children’s understanding of the give-and-take of conversation. As a result of increased thinking and language skills, children this age are often quite chatty. They can form exciting narratives, describe events in detail, categorize topics, negotiate, and order events sequentially — all skills that help form the basis of friendship. Understanding and applying social conventions is important in this age group, and parents can support their child’s ability to introduce new topics, extend conversation with comments and questions, or offer balanced opinions on a subject. Learning to take turns, use appropriate eye contact, and build off the topics of interest will also support friendship endeavors.  

Phonetic, Grammatical, and Writing Abilities

Eight- to ten-year-olds can produce and decode all speech sounds, including consonant blends (e.g., str-, fr-). Their phonemic awareness (knowledge of sounds) is strong and they can usually decode unknown words easily. Most can produce and understand complex sentences such as, “The boy that moved here from Venezuela is nice.” They are learning to identify parts of speech and can incorporate irregular verbs (e.g., “went” instead of “goed” or “bought” instead of “buyed”) correctly in both speaking and writing. 

Children’s spoken stories will surpass their written ones in terms of complexity. However, working towards varied sentence structure and more details in written compositions is a continued goal for this age. By third grade, children will add basic adjectives and adverbs to their work, and can create compound sentences. Learning to include specific references (e.g., saying “that car” as opposed to “that one”) is a developing skill. 

Children this age can apply basic sentence mechanics and are learning to write for a variety of purposes and a diversity of audiences (e.g., a letter, a summary, an argument, etc.). They are learning and applying the rules of spelling and the writing conventions for both print and cursive. In addition, they can use their metacognitive skills (the ability to think about language and its usage) to evaluate their writing. For example, they will reread a story and notice where it gets confusing, because they are reading as if they are the reader who is hearing it for the first time. They may also begin to notice that they use the same type of sentence over and over, and that doing so is relatively boring for the person reading it.  

Developing Skills

Increased interaction with words and text expands a child’s vocabulary greatly in these years, often by more than 3,000 words a year, but sometimes as much as double that amount! Many of these new words come from independent reading; thus the importance of ongoing extensive reading. For this reason, continue to read aloud books that are above your child’s independent reading level and engage your child in discussions about them. 

As a result of increased metalinguistic skills, children this age more fully understand double meaning (e.g., run for office, run a race), and can apply verbal humor (e.g., “Is your refrigerator running? You’d better go catch it!”). Riddles and jokes make their full appearance, and can be a wonderful way to engage reluctant readers and playfully expand vocabulary. By age 10, many children are able to identify aspects of theme in both reading and conversation, as long as the ideas are not too abstract. Children can also apply thinking skills to language and literacy by forming connections between past, present, and future endeavors, asking questions about them, and creating ideas and opinions that they can effectively share with others. 

Stages & Milestones
Listening and Speaking
Age 10
Age 9
Age 8
Child Development and Behavior
Communication and Language Development
Elementary School