Reading 101: A Guide for Parents

Comprehension: Activities for Your First Grader

First graders are learning to think actively as they read. They use their experiences and knowledge of the world, vocabulary, a growing understanding how language works, and reading strategies to make sense of what they're reading. 

Overview

First graders are quickly developing impressive skills as active readers! Here are some of the things your first grader can do:

  • Independently read and retell familiar stories.
  • Notice when a text doesn't make sense, and begins to use strategies such as rereading, predicting, and questioning to understand it.
  • Read and understand fiction and nonfiction and know the difference between made-up stories and facts.
  • Predict what will happen next in stories.
  • Think about and share prior knowledge before reading a nonfiction book.
  • Discusses how, why, and what-if questions in sharing nonfiction texts.
  • Answer simple written comprehension questions.

Here are some basic things you can do to boost your child's comprehension skills:

Try to read at home together every day

Just 15 minutes each day makes a big difference! Although your first grader may be reading independently, reading aloud allows you to introduce your child to more sophisticated vocabulary and stories, including chapter books.  It's also one of the best ways to help children learn about the world and make connections between their own lives and what's in the book — and that helps children see the world with empathy. And last but not least, it's a wonderful time to snuggle up with your child and share the experience of reading and discovery together.

Keep it fun 

Remember that reading together should spark curiosity, joy, and a desire to explore and learn. Conversations about books should be enjoyable, and not a set of quizzes and questions. As you try some of the activities listed below, remember to keep it light and lively for your child.

Storytelling and audiobooks count, too 

Sharing family stories out loud and listening to audiobooks are wonderful ways to expose your child to language, how stories are built, and knowledge about the world.

Bring in the nonfiction

There are so many great nonfiction and informational books for very young kids (such as the popular DK Eyewitness series and National Geographic series). Try to include some of these during your next trip to the public library. Children love learning about the real world and are proud to share what they know!

Explore your world together

Even a walk around the neighborhood or a trip to the grocery store can be a rich learning experience for young children. On a walk, your child may watch what's going on at a construction site, and then be able to connect it to stories about building and the big machines that make it happen — bulldozers, cranes, cement mixers, and more. These personal connections help children connect what they read with what they know — a powerful way to build comprehension skills!

Signs of good reading comprehension in first graders

Try these comprehension activities at home

"I predict ..."

When you sit down for a read aloud, look at the book's cover together. Ask, "What do you think this book might be about? Why? Can you make some predictions?" Guide your child through the pages, discuss the pictures, and brainstorm what might happen in the story. Talk about any personal experiences your child may have that relate to the story.

Five-finger retell

After reading a story together, have your child tell you five things about the story, using her fingers to talk about each one:

  1. Characters: who was in the story?
  2. Setting: where did the story take place?
  3. Events: what happened in the story?
  4. End: how did the story end?
  5. Favorite character or part of the story

Active reading

Model active reading when you read with your child. Talk about what's happening as you're reading. Stop and discuss any interesting or tricky vocabulary words. Help your child make pictures of the story in his mind. Ask your child, "What just happened here? How do you think that character feels? Have you ever felt like that? What do you think will happen next?" Not only will this develop your child’s comprehension, but critical thinking skills as well.

Mind movies

When you come to a descriptive passage in a book, have your child close her eyes and create a mental movie of the scene. Encourage her to use all five senses. Read the passage over together, looking for details that bring the scene to life. Ask questions like, “How do you know it was a hot day? Which words help you understand that the child was lonely?”

Tell me about it

After a read aloud, one of the best and easiest ways to check for understanding is to ask your child to summarize what the book was about in their own words. You can ask a question or two to help your child clarify her thinking or to add more detail.

Can your child tell you what happened in the story?

This video is from Home Reading Helper, a resource for parents to elevate children’s reading at home provided by Read Charlotte. Find more video, parent activities, printables, and other resources at Home Reading Helper.

Think alouds

Connect the book to your child's own life experience. For example, A River Dream: "This book reminds me of the time my father took me fishing. Do you remember the time we went fishing?"

Connect the book to other books they have read. For example, Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: "This story reminds me of Cinderella. Both stories are about sisters. Do you know any other stories about nice and mean sisters? Let's keep reading to find out other ways the stories are similar."

Connect the book to big ideas/lessons. For example, Stellaluna: "This story helps me understand that we are all the same in many ways, but it's our differences that make us special."

Wordless

Wordless picture books provide your child with practice using clues to create meaning. There are no wrong stories with wordless picture books, only variations based on what the "reader" sees and puts together. Rosie's Walk, Good Dog, Carl, and Beaver Is Lost are all interesting and fun wordless picture books to explore. Find more wordless books on BookFinder.

Map this book!

Draw a map of the book's setting, and be sure to include the places where the main action happens!

Beginning-middle-end

This is a great way to see if your child understands the main parts of a story. After reading a book together, give your child three sheets of paper, with "beginning" on one sheet, "middle" on the second sheet, and "end" on the third sheet. Ask your child to think about the three parts of the story, and then draw what happened on each on the sheets. Arrange the sheets in order, left to right. What happens if you re-arrange the sheets? Does the story still make sense?

Words, words, words

Be sure to include books with rich vocabulary in your read alouds and call attention to interesting words and phrases from the story. This may include repeated phrases or idioms (such as "get cold feet" or "I'm all ears"). Offer a kid-friendly definition and connect the new word or phrase to something your child already knows.Talk about how the author used language or words to make the text interesting, informative, funny, or sad.

Illustrated timelines

After reading a story, have your child create an illustrated timeline of events from the story. Tape together five sheets of paper along the 8-1/2-inch side to create one very wide sheet that is 55 inches X 8-1/2 inches. To help plan the timeline, your child can add numbers that mark important points of the story. Then it's time to fill in the sequence of events with words and pictures. Once the timeline is complete, ask your child to re-tell the story — acting it out is okay, too! Variation: Create the timeline using Post-Its on a wall or outside using sidewalk chalk.

Talk show

Set up a talk show set with two chairs facing each other. If you like, make two microphones out of paper tubes or other craft supplies. You are the host and your child is a character from the book. Ask questions about the character, such as who you are, why you are important to the story, what happened to you in the story, what is the craziest interaction you had with another character, etc. Then switch roles!

Book trailer

Using a cell phone camera or other recording device, make a short video of your child talking about about why he recommends this book. Encourage your child to show the book cover and some of the inside pages when talking about a certain character or action sequence. Share the book trailer with family and friends!

Picture the character (Part 1)

Try this activity from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). The FCRR "At Home" series was developed especially for families! Watch the video and then download the activity: Picture the Character. See all FCRR comprehension activities here.

Picture the character (Part 2)

Try this activity from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). The FCRR "At Home" series was developed especially for families! Watch the video and then download the activity: Picture the Character. See all FCRR comprehension activities here.

Does your first grader read to learn about things?

"What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person ..." —

Carl Sagan