First grade is one of the most important years of school. Traditionally, we think of Junior High or High School as the place where kids learn the real valuable stuff. However, a child’s performance in 11th grade can be traced back to his 1st grade reading skills. For example, we know that 1st grade word recognition skills predict 11th grade reading volume (Stanovich & Cunningham, 1998). We also know that kids that fall behind in reading rarely catch up without an intervention (Torgesen). If you’re wondering: what should my child know before first grade, this post outlines the most essential reading skills. These skills can keep an entering first grader on track.
When a child enters 1st grade, ideally he can read short vowel and consonant digraph words and some of the most common sight words. Also, an entering first grader has developed some simple phonemic awareness skills. His reading speed is budding slowly, very slowly. His speed is measurable and he can read more than 18 correct words per minute. A child with these fundamental skills can successfully learn at a good rate in first grade.
What should my child know before first grade?
An entering first grader should have the ability to:
- Read short vowel words. Short vowel sounds are: a_ as in apple, e_ as in elephant, i_ as in itch, o_ as in octopus and u_ as in up. Thus, an entering first grader should be able to read words like map, fit, get, lit, hop, rag, fun…etc.
- Read consonant digraph words. Consonant digraphs are sh as in ship, th as in bath and then, ch as in chip, _tch as in match, ck as in pack, wh as in when, _ng as in song, _ang as in sang and ing as in king. Thus, an entering first grader can read words like: catch, shell, fish, back, ring, moth, witch, match, chop, chess, wing…etc.
- Recognize some of the most common sight words like the, have, of, to, was, some, there, many, they, their, from, people, are…etc. Sight words are common. Without the most common 20-40 sight words or so, an entering first grader will not be able to read books.
- Successfully engage in phonemic awareness activities. A phoneme is a fancy word for sound. Thus, phonemic awareness is sound awareness—the ability to hear, segment and manipulate sound. For example, rhyming is a phonemic awareness activity.
- Segment 3-phoneme words. (ex. Teacher: Tell me the sounds in map in order. Student: mmm-aaa-p). For more information on phonemic awareness check out:
- Blend 3 phoneme words. (ex. Teacher: sss-aaa-p. What is it? Student: sap).
- Hold continuous sounds. In other words, he should know which sounds we can hold for a long time without sound distortion. For example, m, sh, th, s, n, m, f are just a few continuous sounds. For more on continuous sounds see:
- Clip stop sounds. He should know which sounds should be clipped. For example d, b, c, t, ch, ck, are some examples of stop sounds. You must say them quickly to prevent yourself from adding an “uh.” The child should say “t—“ and not “tuh,” “d—“ and not “duh” and so forth.
- Spell short vowel and consonant digraph words. These are words like: dog, rich, bus, mat, ship, catch, fin, then, math, tin, pop, bash, shell, that…etc.
- Read 18 or more correct words per minute. This is a good enough rate to launch from. By the end of 1st grade, kids should read about 60 correct words per minute.
Sample end of Kindergarten text
When you wonder, “What should my child know before first grade?” it can be helpful to actually see a text. What texts are kids reading by the end of Kindergarten?
First, Kindergarten requirements vary. Since Reading Elephant is dedicated to serving parents and educators of struggling readers, let’s assume the child doesn’t just “pick up” on reading. Contrarily, the student needs a step-by-step methodical approach to learning to read. If this is the case, your struggling reader should be able to read texts with consonant digraphs.
Click the following link for a sample sh digraph book:
Click the following link for a sample ng digraph book:
Print the texts. See if your child can read them. If not, what specific words are they struggling with? Do they struggle with sight words like: the, they, she, he, said, was, are, from? Can they recognize consonant digraph sounds like sh, ch, _ng, _ang…etc.?
If you notice your student’s weakness, you can answer, “What should my child know before first grade?” Let your student review what he already knows. Simultaneously, target his weakness. Introduce new material incrementally. In Reading Elephant phonics books, sounds are introduced one at a time.
Struggling readers need a methodical approach to learning to read.
First grade is important
Why is it important to make sure your child is on track? In sum, learning to read is a skill that children develop in a series of steps:
- Phonemic awareness
- Building fluency
- Academic vocabulary & complex syntax
- Finally…reading comprehension
At first, kids develop phonemic awareness skills. Then, they can blend sounds to figure out that elongated sounds like “mmmm-aaaa-nnnn” can be truncated to say “man.” Next, kids learn to decode. Their decoding skills build in a series of steps. Then, they can focus on building fluency or reading faster. Finally, they can develop academic vocabulary—or words found in texts but rarely found in speech. As a result of all of this work, kids can comprehend what they read.
Miss a step, and the process crumbles. Kids that struggle with phonemic awareness can never progress to the next step: decoding. Kids that struggle with decoding can never progress to the next step: building fluency.
Research-based interventions are incredibly effective at helping kids that struggle with any of the steps. Thus, if you’re child falls behind, trained reading interventionists can help.
Reading Elephant offers a methodical phonics books series to help educators of struggling readers. If you’re interested in, “What should my child know before first grade?” check out our short vowel and consonant digraph books.
Cunningham, Anne E. & Stanovich, Keith E. (1998) What Reading Does for the Mind. American Educator/American Federation of Teachers.
Dehaene, Stanislas. (2009). Reading in the Brain: the New Science of How We Read.
Torgesen, Joseph. (1998) Catch them before they fall. American Educator.