Is you first-grader reading at the appropriate level? It's time for the guessing game to end, and for that to occur, you need a concise overview of the reading skills your first-grader should master before moving on to the next level.
Phonics is the first step in teaching a child to read. Simply put, phonics teaches students to recognize the letter/sound relationship within the alphabet, and to blend those letters and sounds together to create words. The best course of action is to begin with the short-sound vowels. Once the student has mastered them, adding in a few consonants is a productive way to reinforce the vowel sounds by joining a consonant and vowel together to form a blend, such as t-a, ta. After the student has learned a variety of consonants and blends, they can be taught to form words, such as ta-n, tan. The process continues as you teach the long-sound vowels and special sounds, which are groups of letters that are difficult to sound out and should be memorized, like sh and ough. Each phonics principle should build on the ones previously taught and should move children forward in their ability to decode words.
While teaching phonics, it's also a good idea to throw in a few sight words now and then. Sight words are words that are either impossible to sound out or words that are so common that children need to learn to recognize them when they see them rather than having to sound them out each time. Common sight words are the, were, and, been, a and there. Obviously, the more words children know by sight, the easier it will be for them to read complete sentences because they won't have to stop at each word in order to decode it.
First-graders are like sponges in the way they soak up knowledge. They are capable of learning many new things each and every day. For them, there is no better time to increase their vocabulary, which can be done in a variety of ways. The simplest way is to label everything in your home or classroom. You'll be amazed at how quickly children will learn to associate words with objects through this practice alone. Another way is to expose the children to new words on a regular basis. This can be done throughout the day during other subject lessons or merely by reading aloud books on a slightly higher level than those typically read by the children.
To be good readers, children must understand basic sentence structure. Sentences always begin with a capital letter and end with some form of punctuation. When reading, a comma signifies a slight pause, while a period signifies a longer pause. In order to make the distinction, you might tell your child to stop at a comma and then begin reading again, and to stop and take a quiet breath every time there is a period. This should provide the adequate pause. When a sentence asks a question and ends with a question mark, advise children to raise their voice slightly at the end. For exclamatory sentences, explain that the sentence should sound exciting like, “There's a snake under your desk!” Do not allow the child to rush through or ignore punctuation marks. They serve a purpose and will not only affect the fluency of the reading, but also the comprehension.
Parts of a Book
Before your child begins reading through a book, point out the important parts of the book such as the cover, title and author. If the particular book has a table of contents or an index, introduce them to your child and explain how they can help with finding information in the book without having to go through and read the entire book over again.
Now that your child is reading, it's time to focus on accuracy. Listen carefully to determine if your child is reading words correctly, using proper pronunciation, skipping words or adding words that are not there. It is common for children to read the first few words correctly, and then to make up the rest of the sentence as they go along. Instead of reading what is actually written, they “read” what they think it says. While it is common, it should not be allowed to go unchallenged. If it happens once, let it slide, but if it happens again, instruct the child to slow down, go back and re-read the last section. Have the child continue the process until it is read correctly.
Anyone who has sat in on a first-grade reading group can tell you that there is a lot of variation in the fluency level of first-grade readers. A few read better than some adults, some read fairly smoothly while stopping every few words to sound out an unfamiliar term and some truly struggle. They can read the words, but putting them together in a sentence is a challenge because there is no fluidity. The best solution is to have the child re-read every sentence. Once they figure out all of the words, have them read the sentence as a whole. Remind them that reading should sound like talking. It should be smooth, not choppy.
Even the most fluent readers sometimes forget about expression. Their reading is smooth and free of errors, but it lacks feeling. To teach your child about expression, it is sometimes necessary to probe their emotions about the reading topic. You could use questions like the following: "How do you feel about what the rabbit said?" "How do you think the little boy felt when his friend walked away like that?" "If Mama's happy, do you think she would have said that the same way you read it?" Teaching your child to sympathize, and possibly empathize, with the characters in the story often evokes more feeling and expression while reading.
It is not realistic to expect first-graders to remember every fact about a particular story or book, however, they should be able to tell you what the story was about and to answer questions about some of the key points within the book. If not, chances are that the story is not reaching the brain. The eyes are seeing it and the lips are speaking it, but the brain is not really paying attention. For readers this young, it is often best to stop and ask comprehension questions along the way rather than waiting until the end of the story. Questions should be about information that was directly stated in the text, as well as information that was not directly stated, but that your child will need to infer. If your child can't answer the questions or explain what has just been read, go back and re-read the story after telling your child to pay close attention to what is being said. After a while, children pick up on how to listen to their own voice the same way they listen to someone else's
Children enjoy the chance to let their imagination run wild. Not only does prediction allow children to access their imagination, but it also teaches them powerful principles like problem-solving and cause and effect. Prediction works by allowing the children to read part of the story or book and then asking them to guess what might happen next, using clues from the book. Children should be asked how they made their prediction, and their answer should be connected to the text. Children can be taught prediction skills long before they begin reading, but it plays a vital role in the reading process by teaching children to think for themselves and by intriguing them into finishing the story. Prediction can be a lot of fun in small reading groups where each child gets to predict how the story will end, with the grand finale being the completion of the story to discover who was right.
Dana Rongione has been writing since 2004. Her articles have appeared in "Teacher's Interaction" magazine, "Teachers of Vision" magazine and "Devo'zine." She is also the author of nine books. Rongione received two certificates of completion from The Institute of Children's Literature. She holds a Bachelor of Science in elementary education from Tabernacle Baptist Bible College.