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Reading & Language

First Grader Listening Milestones

Kids in a classroom

Your first grader learns more new information from listening than from reading books. First graders are expert listeners, but just beginning readers. When your child listens to an explanation of a concept or to an informational book read aloud, she can understand and remember more complicated information than she can when she reads on her own. This is because she does not have to focus on figuring out the words.

Many first graders enjoy listening to long stories. First graders’ knowledge of the world, ability to follow complex plots, and natural enthusiasm for stories make longer books ideal for this age and stage. Rather than reading one or more short picture books in a sitting, your first grader will enjoy listening to chapter books, such as Stuart Little. Many also enjoy listening to longer, more complex picture books, such as Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, in a single sitting.

First graders learn most new word meanings through listening and talking rather than through reading books themselves. Older children and adults learn new words from reading books, but this is not true for first graders. They can only read simple books that contain easy words whose meanings they already know, so first graders need to develop new vocabulary in other ways. Your first grader learns words through listening to books read aloud, through discussing new words with adults, and through the introduction of new vocabulary into everyday experiences.

Your first grader is learning how to be a good listener in the classroom. Knowing the unwritten rules of conversation, such as taking turns in conversation and building upon the comments of another person, is a skill that is related to reading. Children who use these rules make better use of group discussions and further their understanding of what they read through listening and discussing with others.

Encouraging Your First Grader

  • Read aloud books that are more difficult than your child can read. As a beginning reader, your child is only reading very simple text, so read-aloud time is the time to challenge him with new vocabulary and ideas. First graders enjoy both picture books with complex themes and ideas, such as Baseball Saved Us, and simpler chapter books, such as My Father’s Dragon. Some books are too difficult or contain material that is difficult for first graders to understand, however, so choose carefully.  
  • Discuss the book before, during, and after you read to develop reading comprehension. Before reading, talk with your child about the title and the front cover. See if she can guess what the book is going to be about. While you are reading, ask your child to make predictions about what will happen next. Encourage her to ask questions about words or story events. You might even think aloud, saying, "I wonder why Ramona didn’t want to go to school." When you verbalize your thoughts, you encourage your child to think about meaning as well. When you are done reading, ask your child what her favorite part was or why a character felt the way he did.  
  • Read many different kinds of books to your child. Reading a wide variety of books aloud to your child will help expose her to many different vocabulary words and ideas. In addition, your child will learn different writing styles and ways of presenting information. As your child gains skill in writing, this will also help her be able to use different styles. When you read a variety of genres, including realistic fiction, information, poetry, fantasy, and biography, talk specifically about the special features of each one. For instance, point out captions under pictures in informational text and explain their purpose. You might also try reading several books by the same author and comparing and contrasting the styles across books. Or read a book and then watch a video and discuss similarities and differences.

Next: Learn more about how talking helps first graders develop into readers.

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