Skills Children Learn in First Grade Language Arts

Boy reading book at desk

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Language arts is the name given to the study and improvement of language and communication. It is what many of us refer to as English and grammar, encompassing not only how we read and write but what we read and write.

First-grade language arts instruction builds on the skills children are expected to have learned by the end of kindergarten, moving them from reading readiness to actual reading skills. It also aims to expand their written skills from letters and words to complete sentences and complex thoughts.

While curriculum can vary by state and even school district, there are generally accepted targets children are expected to meet by the end of their first year in elementary school.

Phonics and Phonemic Awareness

Phonics instruction helps children learn the relationships between the letters of written language and the sounds of spoken language.

By the end of first grade, a child should be able to:

  • Recognize digraphs such as sh, ph, th, and ch
  • Recognize sound blends such as fl, tr, sl, sm, sn, bl, gr, and str
  • Recognize diphthongs such as oi, oy, ou, and ow
  • Pronounce word endings in -ed, -s, and -ing
  • Create a group of rhyming words such as "cat," "sat," "hat," and "mat"
  • Count the number of syllables in words

Spelling Skills

The first grader will develop a command of standard English by understanding the spelling rules by which sounds are formed.

By the end of the first grade, a child should be able to:

  • Spell three- and four-letter words with short vowel sounds
  • Identify and create contractions such as "isn't" or "wasn't"
  • Spell words with specific rules such as those with a silent e
  • Recognize compound words such as "baseball" and "bullfrog"
  • Alphabetize words

Reading Skills

The first-grade student will develop the comprehension skills needed to derive meaning or context from what is being read.

By the end of the school year, the child should be able to:

  • Read from left to right and top to bottom of a page
  • Use strategies to decipher the meanings of words (including breaking down multi-syllabic words into morphemes or deriving the meaning through context)
  • Recognize types of sentences including statements, questions, and commands
  • Identify the parts of speech such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns
  • Recognize the beginning, middle, and end of a story
  • Recognize a variety of narrative genres such as fiction, non-fiction, or poetry
  • Describe the characters and settings of a story
  • Be able to retell a story after reading it
  • Be able to predict events in a story
  • Be able to infer meaning from text and pictures
  • Make a connection between one's self and the text being read
  • Read a level 16 book

Writing and Grammar Skills

Writing skills are foundational to understanding how words and sentences can clearly communicate actions, concepts, and instructions in an organized way. By the end of the school year, a first grader should be able to:

  • Form letters correctly with a pencil
  • Spell grade-appropriate words correctly
  • Understand basic sentence structure
  • Understand the rules of capitalization
  • Know how to end a sentence with the appropriate punctuation
  • Write a sentence for a specific purpose
  • Use descriptive words
  • Use transitional words to show the sequence of events such as "after," "next," or "finally"
  • Understand where a paragraph begins and ends
  • Write a short story with a beginning, middle, and end
  • Write informative reports
  • Edit for understanding and to enhance meaning

Mastering Language Arts Skills

Some children will be able to develop these skills before the end of the first grade. In fact, it is not unusual for verbally gifted children to grasp many of the more advanced concepts while still in kindergarten or even earlier.

This doesn't mean that a child who is less advanced won't catch up or that someone who is gifted in one area won't fall short in another. The learning arts curriculum is designed so that a child with strengths in one area can apply those skills to develop others. By the time that second grade comes along, most children will have the necessary proficiencies to advance comfortably.

For those who don't, tutoring may be needed. To this end, children often have the greatest opportunity for growth when between 6 and 8 years of age.

Rather than waiting for a problem to become serious, tutoring in the first and second grade helps strengthen the foundational skills so that the child is never at the risk of falling behind or becoming frustrated.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Duncan LG. Language and Reading: the Role of Morpheme and Phoneme Awareness. Curr Dev Disord Rep. 2018;5(4):226-234. doi:10.1007/s40474-018-0153-2

  2. Kloss K. Scholastic. 8 Sure Signs Your Child Is Verbally Advanced.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Middle Childhood (6-8 years of age).

By Carol Bainbridge
Carol Bainbridge has provided advice to parents of gifted children for decades, and was a member of the Indiana Association for the Gifted.