Do you have a student that just finished first grade? You might wonder what they should know how to read. Kids learn so much phonics in first grade that their reading skills improve dramatically. A child at the end of first grade is far ahead of a child at the end of Kindergarten. In this post, I offer 1st grade reading passages to help you understand where your student is.
In our culture, we often think of first grade as yet another year where kids learn to sit in chairs and stand in line. However, contrary to popular thinking, the reading skills kids acquire in first grade are among the most critical and most enduring of life skills. We don’t need Shakespeare sonnets (unless you’re a literature professor), but we do need to know how to read.
Sample 1st grade reading passages
In this post, I outline the different stages of reading in first grade. There are many. No child fits exactly into each stage. However, you can use the sample passages as a rough guideline. You can think of first grade as a time of exponential growth. Reading skills should change rapidly. A 9th graders reading skills and 12th graders reading skills are virtually the same. In contrast, a Kindergartners reading skills and a first graders reading skills are worlds apart.
Let’s imagine a student that’s doing well. We’ll walk through several passages that this student can read in first grade.
Short vowel sounds
At first, kids may enter first grade with short vowel and some consonant digraph knowledge. Here is what a beginning first grader might be able to read:
Pam had a fish shop. She shut the shop. She had to run to the ship. The sun was up. Shell got a net. She had to get fish.
Consonant digraph sounds
Next, a first grader would deepen their knowledge of consonant digraphs. Also, he’ll learn more sight words. Thus, about a month in, he should be able to read:
When it is Spring, I run on the big hills. I pick some buds. I run to hand one to mom. She gives me a big hug.
Next, a first grader would learn blends, or how to read two or more letter sounds in a row.
Spot is my dog. He does not like to get in the bath. When I run the water, Spot runs. He is fast. I rush off to catch him. He pants and pants.
Then, a first grader would learn the silent e pattern (also called, bossy e, magic e, the e at the end, final e…lots of names for this one!). Silent e 1st grade reading passages look like:
Jake had a big home. His home was made of pine logs. In his home, Pete had a nap. Pete was Jake’s cute cat. They had the best time together. They spent time on the lake.
Long vowel sounds
Meanwhile, the first grader is still learning to read sight words. In addition, he’s acquiring long vowel phonics sounds (ai, ee, oa, igh…etc.) Thus, a mid-year to end-of-year first grader should be able to read a passage like the following:
Mom, dad and I are on a safari ride. The animals roam the land. Cubs nap next to their mothers. A big lion roars. Zebras run. They do not want to be near the big lions.
Next, a first graders reading skills continue to get more complex. Then a child would learn how to read r-controlled sounds (ar, or, er…etc.). In addition, his sight word knowledge would increase as well. In sum, R-controlled 1st grade reading passages look like:
Ben the monkey likes to swing high up in the trees. He zips through the air. He turns his arm right in time to grab the next branch. Whiz! Ben is fast. The other monkeys cannot keep up with him.
Some first grade classes might also learn other vowel digraphs
A first grader might end off the year at about this level. However, some school’s might require a higher level. If your first grader needs to learn other vowel digraphs (oi, ow, au…etc.)—sounds that are often taught at the beginning of second grade—he might be expected to read 1st grade reading passages like the following:
Elephants have strong trunks. If a little elephant falls, a bigger elephant can hoist him up on his feet. Elephants use their trunks in many ways. They might spray water on their backs to cool off. Sometimes a little elephant holds his mother’s tail.
As you can see, kids largely learn to read in first grade. 1st grade reading passages vary quite a lot in their complexity. Learning to read extends into third grade. Thereafter, kids read to comprehend. That is, by fourth grade, a student is expected be able to decode nearly any word.
Since kids progress from “Pam had a fish shop” to “Ben the monkey likes to swing high up in the trees” there clearly is a lot of work to do in first grade.
Why care if your student is on track?
If a student falls behind, he may need explicit, systematic phonics instruction with decodable texts. About 30% of student’s require this sort of method to break the code. The other 70% learn best with explicit, systematic phonics instruction too, but these kids are largely immune to poor reading practices. However, 30% of kids will face heartbreaking reading difficulties if they don’t receive research-based methods.
The typical kid that falls behind begins to view himself as unintelligent. He thinks his reading struggles mean he’s dumb. Unfortunately, in our society, we use ease of learning to decode as some sort of intelligence gauge—nothing could be further from reality. Bright kids—in fact the brightest—can have severe decoding difficulties.
If a child falls behind, he’ll avoid reading. As a result, his reading skills will worsen. Oftentimes, these kids then receive loads of “interventions”—speech pathologists, OT specialists, resource suggestions, after-school tutoring—none of which works! Since nothing works, he internalizes the reading failure even more. As his peers progress, the gap between his reading skills and the average student becomes ever-widening.
There’s no reason to wait. Research-based interventions work.