Rev up reading for first graders

Easy activities to help your first grader master essential reading skills.

By Catherine Ann Velasco

Concentrate!

Skill: Decoding

Kids love to play Concentration — perhaps because their young brains are so sharp that they can beat the pants off the adults in the room. Try playing Concentration with your child using sight words at her reading level. (Note: if these words are too easy for your child, try second grade sight words.)

Using index cards, make two copies of each word, then shuffle the cards and lay them down. Take turns finding matches; the player with the most pairs wins. (In the beginning, you'll likely have to help your child recognize many words, but give her the chance to try.) As your child becomes familiar with the words in your deck, add more challenging ones.

Word scramble

Skill: Decoding

Pick a sight word at your child's level (note: if these words are too easy for your child, try second grade sight words) and make it the "word of the day." Have your child form the word from letters on the fridge. Mix the letters of that word up with other, random letters, and have your child find the letters to make the word again. Have your child repeat the game a few times, until she can easily make the word. See how many times your child can find the word in books, on street signs, and at the store, and keep a list of "sightings."

All together now

Skill: Fluency

Find a book your child is familiar with and read a page or passage together in unison. You may have to slow your reading down a little to keep pace, but don't slow down too much. Encourage your child to copy your pace and expression. Silly faces definitely allowed!

Practice, practice, practice!

Skill: Fluency

Encourage your child to reread a favorite book until she can read it smoothly and easily. This will build her confidence along with her fluency. For variety (and to give yourself a break) encourage her to read the book to pets, stuffed animals, visiting friends, and relatives.

Be Oprah

Skill: Comprehension

Pretend your son is a guest on your talk show, there to discuss the latest book he's read. Ask him specific questions about the plot, characters, and illustrations, for example:

  • What kind of clothes does Pippi wear?
  • What happened to Pippi's parents?
  • What do you think is going on in this picture?
  • What happened after the robbers left Pippi's house?
  • How did the story end?

Be sure to ask questions that encourage your child to read between the lines, and also make connections with his own experience:

  • Why do you think the teacher was mad at Pippi?
  • Does Pippi's friend remind you of anyone you know?
  • Did anything like that ever happen to you? How did you feel when it happened?

Make your own comic

Skill: Comprehension

Help your child make a comic based on a book he just read. First, talk about what happened in the story, and help your child chose events from the story that he wants to draw (encourage him to follow the chronology of the book and to include a beginning and ending in his comic). Using a ruler and marker, divide the paper into squares. Then let him loose to create his own comic strip by drawing one scene per square, and writing captions beneath each drawing.

Make a poster

Skill: Knowledge

Help your child make a simple poster about whatever she's interested in — robots, snakes, zombies, or airplanes. Go to the library and find books on the subject, and have your child find five interesting facts about her topic (for example, "scientists believe that black holes are created when massive stars die and collapse in on themselves.") She can include these facts on the poster, along with her own illustrations and pictures she finds online.

Know where you're at

Skill: Knowledge

Have a world globe, atlas or computer on hand and show your child where a particular story takes place. Make a point of reading stories from different countries and far off places, and locate them on the map. Let your child try to find China on the map, or Paris, or the Nile river and help him find where you live, too.

Catherine Ann Velasco has covered education and children and family issues for more than 22 years. She's won numerous awards, and served as a fellow of the Casey Journalism Center for Children and Families and the Education Writers Association’s Statistics Boot Camp. Velasco lives near Chicago and can be reached at cathyannvelasco@yahoo.com