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Back to School: Getting to Know Your First Grade Readers

Desktop with a back to school sign and school supplies.

It’s Back to School time! Looking for some fun reading tips and activities your children will love? This post offers free printables that will make the first weeks of school a success for students and teachers!

Essential Back to School Assessments for Early Readers

Back to School is an exciting time for primary students! First graders tend to be even more excited about the first day of school than kindergarten students. Like kindergarten students, first graders come to school shiny and eager to learn.  They too benefit when the classroom teacher takes the time to establish routines and set consistent classroom rules.  And, more than likely, there will be several new faces so it’s imperative that time is spent on building relationships and social interactions.

While all that is going on during the busy Back to School season, the classroom teacher must familiarize themselves with the reading skills of each of the students.  That’s no easy task.  We feel ya!

Back to School: Where does the classroom teacher begin?

It’s important to review the end of year assessments from kindergarten.  More than likely, the kindergarten teacher assessed the students’ phonological awareness skills because a child’s success with phonological skills is the strongest predictor of reading success.   Any areas that weren’t mastered should be reassessed.  The same is true of letter names and sounds because a student’s understanding that spoken sounds are attached to written letters, the alphabetic principle, is also critical for reading success.

In addition, administering and analyzing a baseline running record will help the teacher determine reading strengths and weaknesses.  A word of caution:  Be careful about which running records you choose to administer.  Some still adhere to the debunked strategy of using MSV (meaning, syntax, visual) cues to word solve.

Running records should help teachers analyze whether students are responding to Science of Reading instruction.  Lucky for you, we’ve written 60 running records complete with Guidelines for Analyzing and Teacher Reporting Forms.  These running records align with the Science of Reading and follow a structured literacy format.

Cover of Mega Bundle of 60 Decodable Running Records
This bundle of 60 running records is an excellent resource to help teachers determine their students’ strengths and needs.

In our blog post, How to Assess Students with Science of Reading Aligned Decodable Running Records, we explain seven reasons why teachers should implement decodable running records as part of their assessment practice.

What if the student is new to school or if there is no information regarding foundational reading skills?

We know you have a lot to manage, so we’ve put together a simple-to-use Phonological Skills Assessment (PSA).  Directions, as well as ‘Things to Consider’, are included in this resource.

Phonological Awareness Assessment
This resource is FREE to our subscribers. Click here to sign up.
the letter name and sound assessment on a clipboard wth a pencil

We also offer a Letter Name and Sound (LNLS) Freebie!  

Once you’ve downloaded these resources, you will need to administer the assessments one-on-one and analyze the results.

How do I determine what to teach first?

After administering the assessments, it’s vital to analyze the results. In all probability, your students will have a broad range of skills.  The first step is to review the PSA and the LNLS Assessment to determine the overall knowledge base of your class.  The general guideline is if 80% or more of the class has achieved mastery of a skill, then the skill is best addressed in a small group with those students needing reteaching.

Those subsets indicating <80% class-wide mastery are best addressed in the whole class setting.

Both the PSA and LNLS Assessment include guidelines for analyzing to help inform instruction.

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How can I build my students’ phonemic awareness skills?

Luckily, laying the foundation for phonemic awareness can be addressed in a playful manner.  We all know play is essential for learning to occur.

Here are few suggestions to get you started:

Phoneme Substitutions:  The Hungry Thing by Anne Seidler is an engaging read aloud in which the main character mixes up food items by changing the beginning sound.  A fun activity is to encourage students to ‘feed’ the Hungry Thing by changing the beginning sound of each student’s favorite food.  After reading the story, the teacher can suggest that in order to feed the Hungry Thing, students must use the beginning sound of /z/ for example.  So a student may suggest zamburger instead of hamburger.  Another student might suggest zopsicles instead of popsicles.

The cover of the book, The Hungry Thing by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler

We created these phonemic awareness games, which are always a big hit with our kindergarten and first grade students!

Phonemic Awareness Little Monster Game
These games correlate directly to our phonological skills assessment.

Elkonin boxes are particularly helpful with teaching students to segment and blend the sounds in one syllable words.  This short article from Reading Rockets, further explains Elkonin Boxes.

How can I help students develop the alphabetic principle?

Pairing phonemic awareness with print is a powerful bridge to decoding and encoding with success.

Phoneme-grapheme mapping is a process that helps students segment one syllable words.  This kinesthetic process helps students map the phonemes (sounds) to the written letter (grapheme).  This is a particularly powerful activity because reading and spelling are reciprocal processes, and they help to reinforce one another.

Reinforcing of Phonetically regular words resource

Click here for more information on phoneme-grapheme mapping.

Another fun way to encourage your students to segment and blend is to add a kinesthetic component.  We love these pop-it fidget sensory toys for segmenting and blending activities.

Rainbow Colored Pop It Fidget Toy

What is the best approach to building reading skills?

As your students come to understand the concept of segmenting and blending as shown in this video, it is important for them to practice this skill in connected text.  It is essential to select texts that contain the element or syllable type students have been practicing.  The best way to do this is with decodable books.

A set of 10 short vowel decodable books written by Informed Literacy

Decodable texts for beginning and struggling readers are a non-negotiable!  We’ve written extensively about the importance of implementing decodable books in primary classrooms.  If you’d like to know more, be sure to check out the following blog posts.

The Benefits of Decodable Texts

The Magic of Decodable Texts

How to Determine the Decodability of a Text

For additional suggestions, refer to our previous post: Getting to Know Your Kindergarten Students.

Where can I find resources for my first-grade readers?

Our Teachers Pay Teachers store is filled with resources that help beginning and struggling readers develop the skills to become successful readers.

Do you want more helpful tips for back to school?

Be sure to check us out on Instagram and DM us if you have any questions.  Hope to see you there!


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