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Back to School: Getting to Know Your First Grade Readers

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 him or herself 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 (i.e. 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.

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.

We also offer a Letter Name and Sound (LNLS) Freebie!  Just click on the resource below to download.

This FREE Letter Name assessment includes guidelines for analysis.

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?

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 rule of thumb 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.

What do I do after I give the assessment(s) to my students and analyze the results?

Luckily, laying the foundation for phonological 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.

Another fun way to address phoneme substitutions is to sing the song Willoughby Wallaby Woo by Raffi.  This is a frequent request by our K-1 students and is sure to get a giggle.

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.

Phoneme-grapheme mapping helps students segment one syllable words.  This kinesthetic process helps students map the phonemes (sounds) to the written letter (grapheme).  This is a particularly helpful activity because reading and spelling are reciprocal processes and they help to reinforce one another.  Click here for more information on phoneme-grapheme mapping.

Decodable Books: 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 with Elkonin boxes and Phoneme-grapheme mapping.

Here are some other blogs we’ve written regarding the importance of Decodable Texts:

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.

We teach best when we work together.  Do you have a favorite resource that you use to help develop phonological awareness or the alphabetic principle?  Please feel free to share your ideas in the comment section below.


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