First Grade Reading Comprehension: Unlocking the Treasure Chest

What Does It Mean?

Reading comprehension is the ability to make sense of a text or story. Comprehension is more than just sounding out words on a page. Reading Something Funny Some children sound great when they read out loud, but if you ask about what they just read, they may give you a blank look.

These children are good at decoding, but have poor comprehension skills. Readers with good understanding are able to understand the vocabulary and the overall story, and think about the text by comparing it to their previous knowledge.

What Kids Need to Learn

Reading should be interactive and dynamic to squeeze the most meaning from the printed words. Here are some of the things children will need to learn in order to have good reading comprehension:

  • recognize many words at a glance
  • make letter-sound connections automatically
  • read in short phrases instead of word by word
  • develop a strong spoken vocabulary; they know and use a variety of words
  • understand how to use other clues, like pictures or context, to help figure out meaning
  • describe what they read in their own words
  • predict what might come next in a story
  • recognize connections to other books or to their own lives
  • ask questions to interact with the text or clarify meaning

Putting It In Context

In kindergarten, children worked primarily on decoding words. Stories were very short, simple, and repetitive. In first grade, they will work on more complex skills, and texts will be more involved, with a greater variety of new vocabulary. They will encounter many types of books, and the words may be simpler. Pictures are still very important in helping kids understand what they are reading. In second grade, texts branch out even more, requiring a large vocabulary. Second grade texts use less repetition, and introduce new ideas. Stories become more detailed and involved.

Why It Is Important

Have you ever read a page of a book while your mind wanders?
Reading Comprehension You may have read every word, but at the end you couldn't say what you just read.

Good reading comprehension requires kids to be actively involved with what they are reading. They think about it. It makes them feel something. They have opinions and judgments about what they just read. It changes something inside them, opens up their world view. It helps them understand something they may not have understood before. The goal of all reading is to create meaning.

Challenges Kids Might Face

  1. Lack of background knowledge: If a child knows nothing about what she is reading, it will be next to impossible to understand a text. We don't learn things out of thin air; we build on what we already know. Without any background knowledge, words on a page will be meaningless.
  2. Poor decoding skills: When every word has to be painstakingly sounded out, it can slow a child down so much that it's difficult to hold on to the thread enough to get meaning from it.
  3. Limited vocabulary: Some children may be able to read the words, but not know what they mean. Weak vocabulary will make reading much more difficult.
  4. Decoding as means to an end: For some kids, "reading" is simply the sounding out of written words. If they've said it right, they are "done". These kids will need an extra nudge to think about what they are reading and interact with the text.
  5. Don't know how to use reading strategies: These kids try to understand, but can't. While some kids naturally incorporate reading strategies, such as looking at pictures to help with meaning, others don't do this naturally and just get stuck. These kids need to be deliberately taught strategies for reading comprehension.

How to Help Kids Who Are Struggling

  • Re-read good books again and again. First graders don't mind going back to their favorites over and over (you will get tired of them before they do) and every time they read them, they will become more fluent. Go a bit deeper with your questions with each new reading.
  • Talk about it before, during, and after reading. It's not like a movie; you can talk through it. Be inquisitive: What do you think will happen? Why did he say that? What would you do next if you were him? What part did you like best?
  • Find books about topics your child is interested in. Kids will be much more likely to actively explore a book about something they love. They will also likely have more knowledge about the topic, so it will be easier for them to read.
  • Read to your child every day. This is probably the simplest and most important thing you can do to help your child develop good reading comprehension. You will be modeling fluent reading, giving your child practice thinking about stories, teaching new vocabulary, and fostering a love of books and reading.
  • Connect emotionally to books. A child's most natural connection to the world is emotional. When you read aloud, exaggerate the funny, amazing, frustrating, or other emotional aspects of the story. When your child is reading, interject comments to pull out the emotion: "Poor kitty! NOW what's he going to do?"
  • Stop and check. When kids misread something, ask: "Does that make sense?" This encourages them to back up and check the meaning. Eventually they will start to mentally ask themselves this question as they read.
  • Help them out. Don't insist that children sound out each and every word, all the time, whenever they read a book. It's ok to supply a difficult word to keep the flow of the story. Too many stops and starts make it choppy, and make it hard to keep up with the storyline. You can always go back and have the child read the difficult line again to internalize the words you helped with.
First grade reading comprehension is complex, and requires many coordinated skills. It may be necessary to spend concentrated time on foundational skills such as phonics or sight words, or to work on vocabulary development, before kids will be really successful understanding the books they read.

For more information on reading comprehension, be sure to take a look at our related article on reading fluency.


Get your FREE gift:

5 Foolproof Ways to Help Kids Love Math

Foolproof Ways to Help Kids Love Math

Enter your name and email for your free ebook.

“Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself. ”
~John Dewey