“Kids are natural question askers. But they don’t always know how to ask the nitty gritty questions you need to ask to understand the meaning of literature. They’ll ask superficial questions, like what color a character’s dress was. With the reciprocal teaching approach, I model for them and show them the kinds of questions they need to ask. I might start with sequence, asking what happened first in a story. Then I move on to comparisons, asking what is similar or different between past stories and the one we’re reading now. With fairy tales and nursery rhymes, I ask them to find similar themes. If you don’t show them, they never learn. They need to hear it, see it, and try it themselves.”

—Susan Derber

First grade teacher

Sandburg School

Springfield, Illinois

Spelling and Writing

By the end of the year, first graders should be correctly spelling three- and four-letter short vowel words. They are composing fairly readable first drafts, paying some attention to planning, drafting, basic punctuation, and correcting. Also, they are increasingly comfortable with a wide variety of writing formats: stories, descriptions, letters, and journal entries, as well as illustrations and graphics.

It is important for parents and teachers to understand that invented spelling is not in conflict with correct spelling. On the contrary, it plays an important role in helping children learn how to write. When children use invented spelling, they are in fact exercising their growing knowledge of phonemes, the letters of the alphabet, and their confidence in the alphabetic principle. A child’s “iz” for the conventional “is” can be celebrated as quite a breakthrough! It is the kind of error that shows you that the child is thinking independently and quite analytically about the sounds of words and the logic of spelling.

Yes, first grade children should be expected to correctly spell previously studied words and spelling patterns in their final writing products. But experimenting with spelling in the primary grades provides an invaluable opportunity for new readers to understand and extend their lessons on letter-sound and sound-spelling relationships. The combination of invented spelling and well-designed instruction over time ensures that their independent spellings of new words will become increasingly correct even as it makes studied words easier to remember.

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