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1st grade English Language Arts skills: Find out what you need to know

In first grade, students learn to read and understand simple illustrated books and stories and articles.
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In first grade, children learn to “blend” the sounds of single letters and pairs of letters into words that they can read and write. First-graders learn to read and understand simple illustrated books and stories, articles, and other sources of information. They learn to write short words and combine them into sentences to describe an event, give information or share an opinion. First-graders will also learn to think carefully about what they have read and to express their thinking in writing and in discussions.

Reading and writing

Understanding and using new words

Understand and use many new words when reading, writing, listening and speaking.


  • Words that have more than one meaning (a bat can be a flying mammal or a club used to hit a baseball)
  • Words that are used to show shades of meaning (look, peek, stare).
  • Words that are used to show different levels of intensity (mad, furious; large, gigantic; tired, exhausted).
  • Vocabulary related to science (grow, liquid, material, etc.) and math (subtract, total, compare, etc.).

Reading words by sight

Quickly read words that appear frequently in texts “by sight.”


  • Words like: that, when, were, because, said, and where.
  • Some words are used so often in print that they must be recognized easily and quickly.
  • Your child’s teacher will have lists of these “high-frequency words” that your child can practice.

Read unfamiliar words with phonics

Use phonics (matching letters and sounds) and other reading skills to read unfamiliar words.


  • Identify sounds at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of a spoken or a written three-letter one-syllable word: What sound is at the beginning of the word “mop”? What sound is at the end of the word “pet”? What sound is in the middle of the word “dig”? Be able to identify the letters that make those sounds.
  • Combine, or blend, the sounds of the first, middle, and ending letters of common three-letter, consonant-vowel-consonant, words to read and understand them – for example: combining or “blending” the sounds made by the letters c-a-t makes the word cat.
  • Use word patterns (If I can read “like”, I know how to read “hike”) and context (What word would make sense in this sentence?) to figure out unknown words.
  • Know the sounds made by the most common pairs of consonants in which the sounds of both letters can be heard – for example: bl, br, cl, cr, dr, fl, fr, gl, gr, pl, pr, sc/sk, sl, sm, sn, sp, spl, spr, st, str, tr, tw. Identify words that start with these consonant pairs – for example, black, crayon, play, etc.
  • Know the sounds made by the most common two-consonant combinations in which the letters combine to make a single sound: ch, ph, sh, th, wh. Identify words that start with these consonant pairs – for example, cherry, shirt, think, etc.

Read with purpose and understanding

Read first-grade level text with purpose and understanding.

Asking and answering questions

Ask and answer questions about the main characters, major events, and the setting of a story, using key details from the text and illustrations.


  • What or who is this story about? Where does the story take place? What is the problem in the story? How is that problem solved?
  • What words in the story tell you how the main character is feeling?
  • How are these two characters alike? What in the story makes you think so?
  • What does this illustration tell us about this character? Why do you think so?

Retelling a story

Retell a story, including key details, and explain its central message or lesson.

Identifying main topic and key details

Identify the main topic and key details of informational texts (articles, books about science or social studies topics, etc.).

Example: What is this book about? What is the writer trying to explain? How does the writer explain that? What facts and examples does the writer give?

Using basic rules of English

Use basic rules of English capitalization and punctuation.


  • Capitalizing the first word in a sentence, the pronoun “I,” and the names of people, days, and months
  • Ending sentences with a period, question mark, or exclamation point

Printing and spelling

Print letters of the alphabet, upper case (capital letters) and lower case. Spell unfamiliar words phonetically (by sound).

Writing a story

Write a real or imagined story putting events in order, including details and some sense of closure.

Writing informational pieces

Write a short informational piece on a topic, stating a main idea, including some facts and a closing.

Writing to share an opinion

Write to share an opinion about a topic or text, clearly stating the opinion and a reason for it.

Gathering facts and information

Work with others to gather facts and information on a topic.

Listening & speaking

Clear expression

Practice expressing thoughts, feelings, and ideas clearly and in complete sentences, using basic rules of spoken English.

Participating in conversations

Participate in conversations about topics and texts being studied, following agreed upon rules (listening to others, speaking one at a time), responding to the comments of others and asking questions to clear up any confusion.

Reading aloud and shared reading

Actively engage with rich and challenging texts through read-alouds and shared reading.

Sample texts:

  • "Mix a Pancake" by Christina G. Rossetti
  • "Mr. Popper’s Penguins" by Richard Atwater
  • "Frog and Toad Together" by Arnold Lobel
  • "Hi! Fly Guy" by Tedd Arnold
  • "A Tree Is a Plant" by Clyde Robert Bulla
  • "Starfish" by Edith Thacher Hurd
  • "From Seed to Pumpkin" by Wendy Pfeffer

For tips to help your first-grader in English Language Arts class, check out our first grade English Language Arts tips page.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts and align with the Common Core State Standards.