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Your first grader’s reading under the Common Core Standards

Reading is the key to building knowledge – and building your first grader’s knowledge is the key to raising a strong reader.

By Jessica Kelmon , Leslie Crawford

Whether your first grader is still stumbling over beginning texts or sailing through books independently, there are nuances in your child's reading to pay attention to under Common Core. From decoding and fluency to knowledge building and hunting for evidence, here are the key reading skills your child should hone this year.

Those tricky vowels

Your first grader certainly doesn't need to know this, but there are 18 vowel phonemes — or distinct sounds — in the English language. Why is this important? Because phonemic awareness is an important indicator of how well a child will read within the first two years of school.

This year, your child will be learning how to distinguish between what's known as long and short vowel sounds in one-syllable words — an essential concept. (Here's a way to explain the difference between long and short vowels: when a vowel sounds like its name, it's a long sound: ape, feet, kite. Short vowels don't sound like their letter: rat, dot, mug.) First graders will also learn some common vowel team conventions for long vowel sounds (e.g. play, tie, mean, and tail). They will become intimately familiar with that trickiest of vowels, the silent e — and how adding an e to the end of a word can transform a short vowel into a long one. Tip: play the silent e game with your child: What happens if you put an e on hop? It turns into hope!

Breaking the code

As your first grader becomes more familiar with how different letters combine to form sounds and words, you may hear a lot about decoding. Simply put, decoding is breaking down the sounds and using rules to make sense of words you read.

First graders learn to recognize the most basic sounds and sound blends (phonemes) they find in one-syllable words. In class, they will be asked to separate — or segment — letters (e.g. h/a/t) or common consonant blends (e.g. st in stop, pl in plate, tr in tree), so they really hear how individual sounds come together to make a word. They also need to learn some common diagraphs, two consonants that make one sound (e.g. sh in shape, th in this, wh in what). First graders will also leap into the world of decoding two-syllable words (e.g. ap/ple, mon/key) and learn that each syllable contains at least one vowel.

Finally, first graders are learning how to read familiars words with new endings, such as run becoming running, bird becoming birds, and play becoming played.

Building vocabulary and word sense

"May I have a pomegranate, Mom?" First grade is often when parents start noticing that, wonder of wonders, their child's vocabulary starts to flourish. Suddenly, multisyllabic words may be bursting forth from your young reader. It's also the year of reading challenges: children are expected to become familiar with one of the common bugaboos of the English language: irregularly spelled words (e.g. school, people, thought). Some kids learn these words readily, but many struggle with sounding out common but unfamiliar spellings. First graders will also be expected to correct their own decoding mistakes based on the context of the story. For example, your child might mispronounce porridge when reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears, then look at the bowl, remember the familiar fairy tale, and correct himself.

First graders practice language categorization, such as sorting words that are types of food, colors, or clothing, and learn to define words by one or more key attributes (e.g. a duck is a bird that swims, a tiger is a large cat with stripes). They'll learn to use their own experience to connect words to their use (e.g. berries, candy, and ice cream are all foods that are sweet) and understand shades of meaning among similar verbs (e.g. look, peek, glance, glare, scowl) and between adjectives that differ in intensity (e.g. large, huge, gigantic). Tip: ask your child to act out the difference between mean, fierce, and terrifying.

Your child's teacher will also expect your child to use new words learned from conversations or reading, including employing frequently occurring conjunctions (e.g. and, or, so, because) in context. For example: "Let’s go to the park because I need to play!"

What makes a sentence?

First graders need to learn how to recognize the print features of one of the main building blocks of written language: the sentence. One: always capitalize the first letter of the first word in a sentence. Two: sentences always end with punctuation — a period for statements, a question mark for questions, and an exclamation point to convey excitement or urgency. Bonus points for first graders who know the meaning of the exclamation point. It's ahead of the curve!

Exploring fiction and nonfiction

Don't be surprised if your child's teacher assigns more nonfiction this year. While fairy tales and picture books may dominate language arts and nonfiction may pop up more in social studies and other subjects, there's clear directive under the Common Core Standards to get younger kids familiar with all types of text.

By the end of first grade, your child should have a clear understanding that there are different kinds of books: ones that tell stories and ones that give information about things that are (or were) true. And, since reading stories, poems, and segments on George Washington's early years are each challenging in their own way, your child should practice reading each type of text. Keep in mind this is still first grade, so subjects should remain grade-appropriate (no Shakespeare yet!) — and reading together and getting help along the way is not just OK but an expected part of helping young readers tackle unfamiliar texts.

Building your child's knowledge bank

Under Common Core, there’s a new emphasis on kids learning new ideas and information from every book they read and relating that learning to what they already know. Think of it like using reading comprehension skills to build a knowledge bank: with every poem, story, or passage read, there's a main point, a message, or a key fact (or two) that your child learns. The emphasis here is on thoughtfully relating these new bits of knowledge to your child's life, experiences, and prior knowledge.

The first step: building fluency, which just means your child learning to read with enough speed, accuracy, and expression to support understanding. Then, the key skills that'll help your first grader build knowledge include, for example, knowing who's telling a story, being able to identify feeling words, and describing how two characters, events, or facts are connected. After reading Frog and Toad Together a few times, for example, your first grader should be able to retell the highlights of the story, describing Toad's list, one of Frog and Toad's adventures, and how the characters are similar and different. When reading a nonfiction book about your child's favorite animal, your first grader should be able to use a table of contents to look up specific information and the glossary to learn a new word. And, if you're looking online, first graders should be able to use icons and navigation menus to find what they're looking for. All of these skills — being able to remember story lines, recalling key details, and finding information — are positive signs that your child's "banking" knowledge.

All about evidence

“Read like a detective, write like an investigative reporter” is how David Coleman, one of the principal architects of the Common Core, explains the emphasis on evidence. For first graders, hunting for evidence means finding — and literally pointing to — answers to questions. To answer "What was Grandpa making for breakfast at the beginning of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs?" your child may remember Grandpa was flipping pancakes, but showing evidence is pretty literal at this age: it means your child should flip through the pages and find the words — or the picture — to point out the answer.

Your child’s teacher will emphasize evidence in different ways this year, but the main skills your child should have include:

Asking and answering questions about both the main point and key details in books and showing exactly where those answers show up in the text or illustrations.
Using text or illustrations to describe characters, setting, and major events in a book.
Figuring out a book's one or two biggest ideas and using the text or images to show how the author conveys these ideas.
Distinguishing between information that's in text versus information that's in pictures.
Naming the reasons an author gives to support her points — and pointing those reasons out in the text or pictures.

Keep in mind that in first grade, hunting for evidence can be really fun. Play it up by having your first grader put on a police hat whenever you're searching for evidence.

is a senior editor at

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.

Comments from readers

"This article for a tutor who are trying to bring a 1st grader to grade level is an excellent guide. "
"Every child develops at their own pace and should not be pressured. They should not be compared to a standard. You show here what a 1st grader should know at the end of 1st grade, with at least 4 months of maturity to develop before they enter 2nd grade. 1st grade academic levels are very crucial in the child’s future development. A teacher can either hinder by focusing on their deficiencies or help by creating a more positive learning experience by meeting their needs. Children should be allowed to learn at their own speed. Not crammed with information and then mark them with "needs improvement" if they didn't get it. Please. That teacher is ignorant and is probably missing out on a bright child’s talents. "
"This article is very informative.As i am teaching dyslexic child in grade 1 it helped me to know what are the things the child should know when she completes her grade.But one thing which is not clear in this article is 'Read simple one- and two-syllable words, like cat '.The information in this article is very helpful. "
"i did this still struggling "
"I need to enhance my grandson scores in reading and math to circumvent him repeating the first grade."
"I think it's wonderful for parents of a child that was placed properly in school. Our 6 year old in first grade has a 105 grade point average...and they intend to progress her into second grade! Politics can not be more important than our children!"
"This website really helped me out. It had a lot of information that is very helpful in my classroom."
"Hi! my daughter was born in Russia and it is difficult to study in American schools. Firstly there is no step-by-step training system in the first graid. In 40 minutes thay trying to make a set of unrelated tasks, the second in many schools teachers do not pay attention to the physical condition of a student - as sitting, holding a pencil, looking at the board, as well as no attention is paid to good nutrition. So it is very understandable why many moms create a home schooling. I am very worried about my daughter, because she could not understand how to begin to read. The school could not explain the available reading system for the child. I bought books with sound and pronunciation of each sound Leap Frog. I recommend, a very good help for beginners. At school, children read the text and make him memorize, without understanding the sound balance. So if you want to teach a child to read - start to work on the sound of each letter - it is very well done in a playful way: call the letter - call sound - from easy to difficult. Thus I was able to make the first progress in reading. To all mothers and fathers Good luck in the education. Children are the most precious treasure in our lives!!! "
"This is a good idea for the First Grader to learn. As a parent,I am very please with everything I see."
"A note for the homeschooler- your child NEEDS to be in school, based on your comment here. Your spelling and grammar should not be passed along to your child! Let her go back to kindergarten, if necessary!"
"Thank you this really answered all my questions and more. Very helpful!!!"
"My daughter is in 1st grade and is seven years old. We just got her end of year report for her reading and she is reading 157 words per minute! We thought this was outstanding but her teacher has made no mention of this being exceptional. I work in a field where I deal with different people of different professions and I happen to have a client who is a 'Leap' teacher for another school district. I asked her thoughts and she suggested that I try and have her read a third grade level book and see how many words she can read per minute. I did so this evening and she read 135 words per minute! Once again I am amazed or am I just that mom who thinks her kid is gifted with reading...thoughts???"
"I have a 7 year old and she was put into homeschooling because of a few problems she was having at school,she needed one on one and alot of attention so I started teaching her and for 8 months she was doing wonderful even doing 2 digit math which she is only in first grade and here just the other day I rerigistered her back into school because she was doing so good and they called me after only 4 hours of being registerd back and said that my daughter was way behind and they won't even evolated her,they said it takes to long to do that,I know this is not true because when she is with me,she does everything that a first grader is pose to do and more.I need help! Do I need to put her back into homeschool or let the school system keep downing her intelligents.since she is back in public she thinks she is stupid again and that she can't do the work.Help someone.what should i do when the school won't even take time to help these kids that need extra help?"
"I am a Title I reading Teacher. I currently work in a second grade classroom and I have a daughter in the 1st grade. I would like to respond to several of the March remarks. 1st of all, the person who says the previous info contradicts because of the Fluency rate...keep in mind in 1st grade they learn a lot of words that are 3 and 4 letters long, with both short and long vowel patterns, as well as blends and diagraphs. They also learn a lot of sight words. The fluency rate is based on 1st grade material. As they get older, the material gets harder, and the fluency expectation goes up. 2nd the person who was talking about dyslexia, I have researched and researched dyslexia, and honestly there is so little on the web, except programs for sale. I am beginning to feel no one knows anything definite, so they don't post anything definite about dyslexia. I really liked this article and feel it is informative for parents who often feel education professionals spout jargon."
"my grandson is in first grade, he seems to be on track as far as reading. the teacher sends home the small books for him to read at night. he is a huge beatles fan, i came across a book called Who Were the Beatles, it is in a series of who was...for children. he was so excited he sat down and read for two and a half hours, he finished the book! i know for sure because he was reading aloud, it was a 99 page book, with pictures of course. it's true children will focus if they are interested!"
"I am the parent of a first grader. I thought this article was excellent and revelent for me. It gave me important information to look for during this school year. Please keep up the good work."
"Hi. why spanish is the second language that the kids can learn.What about french."
"Thank you this was very informative.Why have they made it so hard to get kids help,now it takes almost a year and they still dont want to get kids help .All they want to do is put them on medicine and get them out of their hair.That is the way it seems.Here they give the kids 8-10 vocabulary a week and up to 15 spelling words,They expect them to know all of them by the end of the week and take the grandson is a little slow because of a previous hearing problem and it takes him time to sound out the words buthe can do it ,but they are failing him and still cant get him in special ed."
"As a first grade teacher, I like to respond to some of the comments from parents dated 03/11/2010, since they are the most recent. To KY parent who says first grade requirements are 35 wpm: that is true for this time of the year, but at the end of the year it will be 60 wpm. You are so right about read, read, read. The more a child reads, the better reader he/she becomes. For the parent whose 7-year old son is falling behind, ask the teacher for leveled readers (phonics-based) that are at his level. Work on those with him. Have him read them again and again. He will eventually get it. He may have gotten stuck at long vowels or triple clusters or other phonics. It sounds like he may need some intensive phonics instruction. Not all children progress at the same rate. Think developmental! To grandma, sounding out names of characters may be too much to ask for an emerging reader. Nonsense words can only be read if your grandchild has already learned those sounds and can blend them. Help her and don't let her get frustrated, because then she may start dislike reading. She is obviously capable if she surpasses her AR goals. To the parent with a dyslexic child: how do you know your child is dyslexic? This is something that needs to be diagnosed by experts. If you and the teacher suspect dyslexia, you need to have your child tested. There are different kinds/levels of dyslexia with different strategies to try. Go online and do some research. "
"My son ( 1st Grader) is behind on his reading. he was taught Phonics in Kindergarden and we had to chage schools and it's like he had lost everything he had learned because his now does not teach Phonics. Help??????"
"the list above on what to expect by end of first grade is very contradictory. One item says 'Read simple one- and two-syllable words, like cat' - I say to myself, ok, no problem, my first grader can do that. But then a few items above it says 'Read out loud with reasonable fluency' and I say, hold on, my 1st grader must be behind. There is a big gap between reading 'cat' and reading with 'reasonable fluency'. I wish you could be more clear."
"my son is seven and at the start of first grade he was on the roll and reading at grade level. Now i just had a conference with the teacher and she said he's falling behind grade level now. i need some help! What can i do to get him to become a better reader and work harder?"
"What about the dyslexic child."
"I live in KY and the first grade requirements are 35 wpm. Since my 7 yr old has been read to very early on she is reading and has a reading comprehension on 108wpm! All I can say is read read and read as much as you can. Take the time out at bedtime or whenever y0our schedule allows."
"my first grader is also learning compound words, playing word games with a description of the compound word so the other can guess the word. She is also learning contractions and is reading above her level. Games seem to work really well for comprehension and creation. "
"My granddaughter is having trouble with sounding out names of characters in her books. Also the nonsense words that make the books fun, she has trouble with and gets frustrated when she tries to sound them out. On straight forward books, she has surpassed her AR goals every grading period. Overall, I think that the system is doing a good job."
"My Child is beginning to read more independtly. I love her so much!"
"my 7 year old son is having trouble with his reading he is in first grade and can't put the words together I'm trying everything possible to help him and is not working I really don't know what else to do help!!!!!!!!!!!1"
"I'm truly greatful for the Rebecca Sutton Program it really does work. I have followed their every instruction and activities for my first grader and he has been reading fluently.Since I started the lessons with him, He's mastered all 21 'no excuses words' as well as the 'core words'. Were very excited about it all and we will coninue to use this method until he can reach 65 wpm goal."
"it'd be helpful to add a list of recommended books for each stage."
"i agree about reading out loud to it self thats the way the kids learn whats going on in the story ,, hope to move up there soon "
"What does 32 mean in reading for a first grader?"
"My son is coming up to the third marking period in first grade. We put him in kindergarten a year late due to his struggle with academic skills, even though he has an awesome vocbulary and appears to be very bright. My husband or I work with him every day on reading - even weekends. He sounds out nearly every word. HE is NOT doing 65 wpm. Now What??!"
"I have a grandaughter who is in first grade the first marking period she had a B second marking period she had a C. So far this marking period she has an F in reading .She has problems with her fluency when she reads . Yet when it comes to her other classes she has an A-B average all marking periods. I have a hard time getting her to pay attention when she reads. She becomes very distracted. I have started this week with going into a private room in the house to see if she starts to develope her fluency in reading. I feel that when the started the nonsense words she lost it. Why would children be taught nonsense words. I realize I'm from a different era and I raised two other daughters but I don't remember them being taught nonsense words. I think this is what help my grandaughter loss her place . "
"My son is in first grade, and in the begining of the school year he had a lot of problems reading. He could comprehend what was read, but he was having trouble recognizing words. His teacher gave me a list of words he should recognize and I made flash cards for him, just using index cards. We also kept reading together; taking turns each reading a page to each other. Dr Suess Fox in Socks is still one of his favorites. Now that we are in the second half of the school year, he has gone from recognizing only about eight words, to about 65 words. His teacher couldn't believe the progress. They have also started chapter books, such as the Magic Tree House Series. His older brother read them and thought they were great, so he is excited to follow his brother. Again we take turns reading to each other, such as paragraphs. Also we go to our local library often, and he has a great time choosing his own books. I hope this helps someone else, but I think the flash cards for word recog! nition helped a lot."
"My son is in 1st grade, my daughter is in Kindegarten, my daughter is reading such words as cat, dog & such in their school, but my son is now into chapter books, he is very proud of himself. I would like to help him with his re-telling, he has such a hard time with it. How can I make it easier for him to retain the information? Thank you for your time & wonderful articals! "