How to Teach a First Grader to Read

May 16, 2023

How to Teach a First Grader to Read

School districts that focus literacy education on ‘the science of reading’ utilize phonics instruction to ensure children master the decoding skills necessary for reading proficiency. In first grade, students also will work on comprehension skills to answer the w/h questions: who, what, where, when, why and how.

First graders will gain fluency as they move on to higher reading levels, but each child might progress at a different pace. Parents can help their first grader master crucial literacy skills at home to help them meet benchmark standards throughout the year. Here’s how to teach a first grader to read fluently and help them work on comprehension skills, too:

  • Play phonics games
  • Read aloud daily
  • Practice sight words
  • Talk about stories
  • Use visual cues when reading together
  • Know the child’s reading level
  • Give the power of choice
  • Model good reading
  • Introduce audiobooks
  • Use a guided reading app

These Fun Phonics Games Can Help Children With Letter Identification and Sounds

The alphabet is the code that children need to master in order to learn to read. Children should know their alphabet by memory and the sounds of letters, too. If a child struggles with phonics skills, use games to help them; play can be a tool that aids learning.

There are numerous apps available via the App Store or Google Play that can help children master their letter identification and the sounds of each letter. Conduct a search for ‘phonics apps’ or ‘phonics games.’ Each app will show the appropriate age level; most apps are free, but parents should be aware that many apps include in-app purchases.

Not all parents want their child to learn through technology; some parents are strict about their child’s screen time. There are games that parents can create at home to help their child with their phonics skills. Here are a few ideas:

Letter Match

Create two cards for each letter of the alphabet using construction paper or just standard printer paper. Shuffle the deck, and take turns choosing two cards. When players flip the card, they need to say the letter and the sound of the letter. The player with the most matches wins the game.

Sound Scavenger Hunt

Parents can make a card for each letter of the alphabet. Children will need to go on a scavenger hunt to find an object around the house that starts with that letter (or uses that letter). The child should write the object on the card with the letter.

The Rhyme Blend Game

When children are learning about blends, use rhymes to help them. For every blend they need to master, encourage them to find two objects with the blend that rhyme. Or children can simply name two objects with the blend that rhyme.

Parents also can create their own fun or unique word, sound or blend games. Use the child’s classroom phonics curriculum to help guide the game ideas.

Read Aloud Every Day

Children in first grade are working on the basics of reading. While many of them can read silently and independently, read aloud to and with children every day. Hearing children read aloud can help parents understand if the child is struggling with a specific skill.

Parents also can read aloud to children. Young children listening to a story. In addition, this provides a great opportunity for parents to model good read-aloud strategies to children.

Practice Sight Words

In first grade, children will be responsible for memorizing a list of sight words. These are a group of words that children need to know by sight. Children should not need to sound out these words.

Sight words are an important part of reading fluency; since children know these words when they see them, they don’t have to think about decoding them. In order to master sight words, parents can help children practice them at home. Parents can buy a pack of index cards to create sight word flashcards. Just remember to shuffle the deck so children don’t just memorize them in order.

Parents also could play sight word match games with their child. Make two index cards for each word, shuffle the cards and place them face down. Choose two cards to make matches. Encourage children to say each word when they flip a card.

How to Teach a First Grader to Read

Talk about Stories

Have conversations about books and stories. When parents read aloud or when children read aloud to parents, always talk about what’s happening and the different elements of the story. For first graders, parents can focus on the ‘w/h’ questions of comprehension: who, what, where, when, why and how.

Ask children who they think a character feels and see if they can predict what happens next. At the end of the story, see if children can summarize the book. Children who have difficulty with the w/h questions might struggle with reading comprehension.

Use Visual Cues When Reading Together

Children who struggle with reading comprehension might benefit from using visual cues to help them remember what they need to think about as they read. Make a reading comprehension bookmark that children can use to hold their page and use as a reading guide, too. Reading comprehension bookmarks feature prompts or questions related to the characters, plot, setting, etc. The site 123 Homeschool 4 Me has different reading comprehension bookmarks that parents can print for free.

Know the Child’s Reading Level

If children choose a book that is written at a reading level beyond their reading ability, they’re likely going to struggle with the book. Parents who are helping their first grader learn to read should help them choose books that are written at their child’s reading level. If parents are unsure about their child’s current reading level, they can use Readability’s free reading level assessment to determine the best level for their child.

How to Teach a First Grader to Read

Give the Power of Choice

One way to make a child loathe reading is to choose books for them. Reading is a personal journey. Children will eventually have to read assigned books as they get older; when they read at home, let them choose the book they want to read.

Freedom of choice helps children learn what genres they like and lets them discover favorite authors, too. Children can make an interesting list of topics and use this list to help them find books at the library.

Model Good Reading

If children never see their parents open a book, why would they think that reading is fun? Show children that reading is enjoyable by modeling good reading behaviors. Host a family reading time and gather in the living room to read silently.

Introduce Audiobooks

Listening to a story could help children understand the emotions of characters or hear details maybe they didn’t pick up in the text. Some children could benefit from listening to an audiobook, but parents should encourage them to follow along in the book as they listen.

Many libraries offer audiobooks. Visit the local library to inquire about available audiobooks.

Use a Guided Reading App

First graders who struggle with reading could benefit from using a guided reading app like Readability. The program includes a 24/7 reading tutor that guides lessons and provides feedback and encouragement just like a real-life tutor.

Readability is ideal for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. At each reading level in the program, children have access to a library of age-appropriate leveled books. Children read each book aloud, and, as they read, the tutor measures their reading fluency and helps them if they struggle. The tutor is designed to learn each child’s voice, and the tutor can intuitively understand if a child needs help.

At the end of each book, the child takes a test to determine their comprehension mastery. If a child answers a question incorrectly, the tutor shows them a section from the book that helps them answer the question. The tutor also reads the text aloud, and the child has another opportunity to answer the question.

Readability also offers a feature called Storytime that lets children hear their favorite Readability books read aloud. With Storytime, children can enjoy listening to stories any time.

Parents who feel that their first grader is struggling with reading can explore Readability with their child for free. Sign up today for a free seven-day trial and to work with the AI reading tutor.