Your first grader and writing under the Common Core Standards

From high-frequency words to full paragraphs with introductions, details, and conclusions, first graders learn how to organize and present their thoughts in writing.

By Jessica Kelmon

If you were amazed at how your child’s scribbles transformed into words last year, get ready for pure delight as your first grader learns to write full, meaningful paragraphs this year! Under the Common Core State Standards, first graders learn everything from spelling and grammar to expressing — and clarifying through revisions and edits — their thoughts.

 While the bar is high for first grader writing under the Common Core Standards — “shared research and writing projects” and citing “sources” to answer questions — remember that this year’s work is a progression, starting with mastery of the alphabet.

A to Z — and all the sounds in between

Teachers often kick off the year with an ABCs review, just like in kindergarten. But this year’s review is also likely to include a couple dozen high-frequency words (e.g. he, and, good, play) your child should recall from last year, triggering your first grader’s memory of the letter sounds he’s familiar with and how those letter sounds combine to create words.

If your child didn’t master the alphabet last year, it’s okay. Under the Common Core Standards, first grade is the year to nail ABC fluency and the ability to print all upper and lowercase letters.

Cn u rd this?

A first grader may start the year writing “cac” for cake or “becs” for because. Dropping a word’s silent e at the end or middle vowel sound to spell it the way it sounds is known as phonetic or “invented” spelling. (See a real example of “invented” spelling.) Children are often more comfortable using consonants and the sounds at the beginning of words because they’re more distinct than vowels or sounds at the ends of words. By using invented spelling, children are demonstrating what they know about letter sounds. Research shows that letting children use invented spelling (and not immediately correcting them) allows them to focus on the purpose of writing: communication.

With daily writing practice, your first grader should gradually transition to conventional spelling for simple words with common spelling patterns (e.g. bike, like, hike, and sing, ring, king – or see our first grade rhyming words worksheets for more examples) and high-frequency but irregularly spelled words (see our first grade snap words worksheets for some examples). Keep an eye on your first grader’s spelling near the end of the year: if a child’s spelling does not improve or their invented spelling is arbitrary rather than phonetic, it can be a sign of a learning issue.

But don’t expect to banish invented spelling completely this year. Under the Common Core literacy standards, first graders should be encouraged to keep using what they know about letter sounds (aka phonemes) and newly learned spelling patterns to spell irregular, unfamiliar, and new vocabulary words, for example "preshis" for precious and "inportint" for important.

3 types of writing in first grade

Under the Common Core Standards, first graders should practice and learn three kinds of writing: opinion, informative, and narrative. Opinion and informative writing will likely start with kids reading one or more books and responding to what they’ve learned. In an opinion piece, your child introduces the book or topic he’s writing about, states his opinion or preference about it, gives a reason or two to support his opinion (e.g. Ramona was wrong because she hurt Susan when she pulled her curls.), and then offers some sort of conclusion to complete his writing.

In an informative piece, your child names what he’s writing about and gives some information, facts, or details about it (e.g. Dinosaurs lived on Earth a long time ago. Some dinosaurs were bigger than people are today…), and, as in an opinion piece, offers some sense of conclusion.

Writing a narrative is like writing a story, and your child’s story may be inspired by books, experiences, or pure imagination. Your first grader’s story should describe two or more events, include some details about what happened, and use sentence order, verb tense, and words to put the events in order (e.g. Then Goldilocks tries the second bowl of porridge. Next she eats the third bowl of porridge.) and give some sense of the story coming to an end — not only by writing “The End,” although that’s a good start.

Check out these two real examples of good first grade informational writing:
• "Water is inportint"
• "How to savs water"

bttr, better, best!

Teaching your child to write well means helping her understand that writing is a multistep process. Before your child picks up a pencil, prewriting begins with reading, thinking, rereading, taking notes, and discussing. This important first step is about building knowledge and processing new thoughts. When your child’s first draft is done, the teacher and other students might ask your child questions about the work — to elicit details or facts that could be added, to prompt your child to find more information (maybe from another book on the same subject), to make sure your child’s word choices convey what she means, to make sure there’s an introduction and a conclusion, or to help organize the order of events in a story.

Then your child may be asked to do a revision. After one or more revisions of the draft, the teacher might help your child with the final edit — focusing on spelling, capitalizing proper nouns and the first word of a sentence, and adding a period at the end. These steps — prewriting, doing a first draft, revising their work, and editing the final piece — helps first graders learn all the important parts of writing: gathering and recalling information, organizing their thoughts, strengthening and clarifying their ideas, and improving grammar and presentation.

Research and sources and publishing, oh my!

Picture this: “Excuse me, Mommy, but based on my reading you should let me play a little before my homework because it’s good for my brain.” This may sound funny coming from your 6-year-old, but it may not be far off — assuming your child’s evidence stacks up. (It does.) The Common Core Standards for writing put a huge emphasis on kids responding to questions and prompts by — you guessed it — recalling information they’ve learned, looking up answers to their questions, and using that evidence to inform their arguments.

In their writing, this means that kids will pull information from various books, websites, class presentations, and other experiences to form their opinions, arguments, and even stories. When they use this information, they should be able to recall where they learned the facts they’re including and organize them into their own writing. An example in the standards you might expect to see your child working on: reading a few “how to” books and mimicking the new structure to write their own instructions — in order! (For great practice, check out our pizza recipe worksheet.)

Finally, the Common Core Standards emphasize students working together and with the teacher to “use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.” While this may mean posting handwritten work on the wall for others to see, or typing and printing a report — don’t be surprised if you get an invite to read your child’s blog post! But don’t worry if you’re not raising a little techie, the standards spell out that this work is only to be done “with guidance and support from adults.”

“I go’ed there,” no more!

Get ready for your first grader’s grammar — in the form of noun-verb agreement, adjectives, sentence complexity, and punctuation — to leap forward. First graders learn to use singular and plural nouns with matching verbs in simple past, present, and future forms (e.g. I walked home., He runs home., They will skip home.), common, proper, and possessive nouns (e.g. sister, Shawn, Shawn’s); articles (e.g. a and the) and determiners (e.g. this and that), pronouns (e.g. I, me, my, they, them, their, anyone, and everything), common adjectives (e.g. good, happy, sad, small, cold, and pretty), and increasingly difficult prepositions like during, beyond, and toward.

In fact, think of first grade as the year of “because” — because your child’s sentences should move beyond simple statements to compound statements, questions, and exclamations using conjunctions (e.g. but, so, and, or, and because) to connect thoughts and ending with the correct punctuation marks: periods, question marks, and exclamation points. Finally, building on the capitalization rules your child learned last year (I and the first letter of a sentence’s first word), your first grader will learn to capitalize the first letter of people’s names and dates — and add commas in dates (Tuesday, February 14) and to separate words in a series (e.g. I like dogs, cats, and rats.).

Check out these related worksheets:
Commas
Verbs
Verb tenses
Above, on, below

What about the big H?

Despite what you may have heard, the Common Core Standards don’t do away with handwriting. The standards acknowledge that your child still needs to know how to write legibly — and that means penmanship matters. In first grade, the only specific skill is printing upper and lowercase letters. However, half the language skills and all of the writing skills — from writing paragraphs to learning grammar — are meant to be mastered in your child’s handwriting. Does that mean your child doesn't need some typing skills, too? Not at all. But maybe not yet, and that’s okay.

Check out these related worksheets:
Practicing letters a and b
Practicing letters c and d

Updated November 2013 to align with the Common Core Standards

is an associate editor at GreatSchools.org.