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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.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

07/6/2012:
"I'd like to get an idea about what to expect from my students at the beginning of grade two by looking at samples of grade one writings "
10/10/2011:
"I just came from my first graders parent teacher conference. He has three grades he has an A- in math, an B in language/writing, and he has a D- in reading and this disappoints me because i saw his reading test and the test has 5 questions he forgot on two out of the tthree test hes taken he forgot to answer to two of the questions which made two of the three test a 60% and a 50%. now the reading test he did good on which means he answered all the questions he got an A- on it. cant his teacher just say make sure u answer all the questions son. instead of saying oh he forgot to answer two questions that really pissed me off because he's a good reader and comphrends very well. now they have 5 weeks left before the grading period ends and 5 test to do will he have enough time to get an A in reading? "
07/19/2010:
"cool"
07/19/2010:
"My first grader does not like to read. She does well with her comprehension, but she seem to simple search for keywords and gets it correctly most of the time. Her writing is ok. She holds the pencil awkwardl and when I attempt to correct her she becomes frustrated. Her teacher says she'll only write about thinks that interest her if she has no interest on a subject she simple says she can't do it. The goal over the summer is to get her to be more interested in reading which may help to develop her writing skills. "
11/9/2009:
"what is a posycoeductive test?"
06/1/2009:
"I think that teachers today are overwhelmed by the amount of children they have to teach and the standards set by the no child left behind act. Parents need to take an active role in their childrens education. I now homeschool all my children.When I sent my oldest to elementary school I always had extra workbooks and writing materials at home as well. If he needed extra practice then I made sure he got it. Dont rely to much on overworked, over stressed teachers to get your child up to par. "
02/25/2009:
" I have a parent who insists her child not 'scribe'. She insists the child bring work home so the mom can type her work. How can I convince her that writing is essential. In the classroom, the child is very capable of printing. Please help."
11/12/2008:
" I would think the teachers would be alittle more connected with the students they teach, however, my grandson is in the first grade and he's being bullied by a 6th grader, yet It's always seems to be his fault. What's wrong with this picture? Also, this school is getting paid by the State of Alabama, to take in troubled kids, ones which get aborted from regular schools, Kids that have no disciplinary teachings. One would think that care and saftey would come first instead of money. "
04/2/2008:
"I'm glad I found this site. We just had Parent-Teacher conferences last night & I jsut now found out that my son (6) isn't at grade-level in writing. He reads and comprehends at 3rd grade level, math skills are at 2nd-3rd grade level, but he struggles at writing & HATES it. I'm very dissapointed at the utter lack of communication from his teacher, but also that his homework doesn't reflect the need for additional practice. Out of 5 homework pages for the week, 3 are math, 1 is reading and only 1 is writing. He has trouble with spacing between words, which I believe is a result of him being left-handed & not able to see where one word ends & the next should begin. When I mentioned this last night, she was amazed & hadn't realized that he was lefty. I asked him to write a sentence, but to lift his hand after each word to see where the next word should start. The result was perfect spacing. I am going to start him with a journal this month to see if his writing improves with a little more practice -- I think it will. I'm just extremely disappointed with the public school and this teacher in particular for not addressing this sooner. They're considering having him repeat 1st grade due to his writing skills, which I am firmly against."
02/27/2008:
"I was told many 1st graders struggle with the silent 'e' at the end of the word. Reading teachers remind them that the 'e' goes on the end to help the vowel( they do learn more about it in 2nd grade). Practicing the word families help too (like hate, kate, rate, skate, etc...) There's a site called starfall.com that helps, too. Hope you enjoy!"
02/20/2008:
"Hi I have a problem with my son he trys to write but when ever there is a word like hate or love or kate he just writes the first three letters. phonatically he is write but i am not able to make him understand the right way to spell. "
02/19/2008:
"I am not sure in my son's class they have those handwriting lessons - he writes not good and I don't see in his notebook they have those letter trainings as you mention : 'First-graders often have handwriting workbooks in which they practice each letter daily.' I am trying to fix him, but I can only do it home, and the most of his handwriting activity is in school. "
02/19/2008:
"I find GreatSchools website to be very informative; I know better what to expect in school for my first and fourth grade children. I also use it to select books to read at the appropriate grade level."
02/15/2008:
"my son is 6 years old in the first grade he is currently still behind most of his class mates and I get very concerened but he stays with my mother because i am currently deployed in the military what can i do to help him catch up ???"
02/15/2008:
"This was very helpful. My son is three and a half and he knows most of his letters and can write his brother's name and his own. We practise writing letters and numbers at home when it's his down/relaxing time. He has his own 'journal' that he uses to 'write' and draw. Am I doing too much, too soon? He enjoys these activities but I don't want to push too much on him. Thank you."
02/14/2008:
"My son is 7 and in the 1st grade. I'm thankful to know we are not the only ones trying to figure all of this out! First grade is not what it was when I was in school. "
02/14/2008:
"thank you, very helpful information"
02/14/2008:
"I am surprised at the level of this writing for first graders, my son is in preK and doing these things and my daughter did this in kindergarten and was already writing 2 page stories while in kindergarten. They do go to a private school. My daughter is in first grade now and can easily write a 4 page paper on a given subject or after reading a chapter book. I find it very surprising that this is first grade work in a public school."
02/14/2008:
"To Step daughter parent: How much do your children read? I have found that reading is also a key factor to spelling. Reading words repeatedly in a book helps them to form the sounds they see and understand them. My 6 1/2 year old 1st grade daughter LOVES to read! She insists on reading at least a book a night before bed and, when friends ask what to get her for Christmas or her birthday... books! She has so many, we can't find room for them. She excels not only in reading, spelling but also in math! I believe that reading helps the child hold interest in what they are doing, as my child is super-hyperactive. No drugs for her though! When she asks for help in sounding out a word, I give her the vowel sound only (unless it's a really difficult word). Then she's able to sound out the rest of the word. When she's doing homework (10 words per week, spelling test on Fridays and another homework, usually math), I tell her to say the word as she's spelling it. Say it first, write it and say it a! gain. When I test her, I make sure to say it slowly and pronounce the letters and syllables heavily so she can hear all the letters. It seems to work as, again, she usually gets 100's. Good luck to you and to those who have trouble. My trouble with my daughter is she's soooooooooo hyper, but they tell me it's a good thing! :)"
02/13/2008:
"My daughter is 6 yrs old first grader and she's reading and comprehending at a fourth grade level. Is this something that happens often and what should I do to keep her moving at this rate ? "
01/18/2008:
"My step-daughter who is now 8 failed first grade last year she's now passing w/ great grades but her little brother who will be 7 in March is in first grade and we're having the same problems.I work w/ him everyday after school. I make him write his words evryday, I quiz him, I've made flash cards, I've baught games and videos to help but he's not getting it. The school recommends that we put him on medicine but we've been down that road his conduct improved but he walked aroung like a zombie and I'm not putting him through that again..If anyone can help me, help him learn please do. It may be too late for the school year but I'm not giving up pn him."
11/12/2007:
"My child started 1st grade in august, the teacher started giving them spelling test and at the parent teacher conference (3 wks after school start) she told me that she wants to have a psycoeductive test because he was not writing correctly. Is this enough time to evaluate a child that is supposed to learn those skills now? "
10/22/2007:
"I teach first grade and it's horrible to see all the comments left on what other teachers are doing to these poor 5, 6, and 7 year olds! I would never send homework like that home...word study should be fun and an interaction between parent and child. Parents in my class study with their child how they see fit at home. I do weekly book reports to gain comprehension...my students grades have shot through the roof:) If you are sturggling with your teacher assigning too much homework, ask the principal what the amount is nightly for first graders."
10/9/2007:
"My child is the third week of first grade and the teacher has informed us that she wil be grading him on a daily bases every time he writes. All letters should be correctly formed each time they print.He has at least seven types of homework every night. It is a shame to see him so stressed out."
09/20/2007:
"FYI ---There is ABSOLUTELY NO ACADEMIC VALUE to words searches. There have been numerous studies done. I'm not saying the way the rainbow words were done were correct eitheir, however there is studies on how color and letters help students remember words. Maybe that was teh teacher's thinking. "
07/27/2007:
"My daughter is about to start 1st grade and I am very worried. One of the childern I baby-sit has just finished 1st and he never learned the meaning of the words or their parts of speech. When will the childern start to learn about those things."
06/18/2007:
"My granddaughter recently spent the las 2 yeas k4 and k5 in a christian school which used the Abeka cirriculum. now she will be attending a public school for first grand and i am worried about her being on a higer learning leavel then the children that may not be as advanced. Do you think the teacher would be able to spot this situation. I had this problem with my children when they went to public school from private (different state). Do you have any suggestions for me as we make this move."
01/10/2007:
"Comment on repetitive word writing: Our 1st greader started out having to write 20 words three times each in a different color...he hated it and seemed counter productive to the learning process. His teacher then gave the kids a couple of other choices such as word searches and crossword puzzles as well as 'ABC' order...if the kids still wanted to do the 'rainbow words' they could so. My child has not done 'rainbow words' since that day and he regularly brings home 100% correct on his tests including a weekly compliment of bonus words. My opinion is that having to really think about the word through word searches, etc. is much more effective and fun to boot!"
01/10/2007:
"Excellent article!! Lets me know that my daughter is right on track!"
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