words that use the letter ‘w’.” Give them a chance to talk about the different ways the letter is printed, noticing the differences between uppercase and lowercase and the different design or fonts that appear. Then, have the children circle the words that begin with the target letter and put their finished and corrected copies in their alphabet files for that letter, ready to be used for hunts and trades along with the other words in folder for that letter.

Decoding, Word Recognition, and Oral Reading

During first grade, the emphasis is on moving from pretend reading to conventional reading, relying less on others to read, and more on oneself. By the end of the year, every first grader should be able to read aloud with comprehension and reasonable fluency any text that is appropriately designed for the first grade, at least on a second reading. A book that is appropriately designed for the first half of first grade should be read with reasonable fluency and comprehension the first time through. By now, they are decoding accurately any phonetically regular one-syllable word, and they are able to rely on the alphabetic principle to attack unknown words. They also should be able to recognize common, irregularly spelled words by sight (e.g., “have,” “said,” “where,” “two”).

Across the days and weeks of the school year, there should be a clear plan for when new curriculum elements will be introduced—with sufficient time for intentional and intensive treatment by the first grade teacher. Just as important, children need ample time to explore and practice, so that what they have learned becomes easy and automatic.

Books and kits, as well as district-, school-, and teacher-made materials, offer many activities for first graders. As always, different children may be concentrating on different elements at different times. (The following are examples of valuable whole-class activities that can easily complement any teacher ’s approach to literacy instruction.)


Making Words—Give each child a set of 26 letter cards, with corresponding uppercase and lowercase letters printed on either side (vowels in red, consonants in black). Here’s how to work with them:

  1. You announce and display the letters for the day: one or two vowels and three or more consonants.

  2. The children pull the same letters from their own set of cards.

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