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Grade Level Expectations: First Grade Skills

written by: Deidra Alexander • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 8/2/2012

Moving from kindergarten to first grade can be quite perplexing. School becomes more directed and the student feels more like a big kid. Get your first-grade child prepared to pass to second grade.

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    More Is Expected

    School starts slowly to become more challenging in the first grade. Work sent home for review and extra practice are tasks worked into the routine of the year. The student receives information at a rapid pace.

    Each school district is a tiny bit unlike the other in what first grade skills they work on as well as the pre-entry and exit skills they expect them to have. If you want to help your child advance, reach the right level on the state’s prescribed timeline, or work beyond those expectations, review what kids need to know in each subject.

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    First of the Year


    At the start of first grade, they are expected to know all of the words learned in preschool and kindergarten or words from the pre-primer list. First grade-level reading targets the retention of sight words. Homework and class work alike revolve heavily around common words that the student rehearses and recites regularly. Beyond remembering words, they learn to decode words and comprehend text. Text will be short and words small, but basic reading skills (primer words) will definitely be developed toward mastery.

    Writing and Spelling

    First graders start to work on capitalization and punctuation in the first portion of the school year. Spelling lists consist of short words that practice letter sound.


    Counting small units of money is a first-grade skill along with skip counting. This complex subject will build steadily over the next few years. The child learns to count to 100 and above as she learns addition and subtraction. You can read about a first grade and Kindergarten activity using a tiny seed.

    Very basic concepts about the world of science, geography, civics, and social studies reach the first grader on field trips, through movies, and in class play. These topics are less likely to be interesting to this age group so it is made fun through the implementation of these strategies, but be assured that they are learning these subject areas, just on their processing level.

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    End of the Year


    Context is a huge part of the young reader’s navigation through literature. Story mapping comes to the light in first grade. Reading flow leavens and decoding is a first-line backup tool for words unknown.

    Writing and Spelling

    Short sentences to comprise stories are all the rave for the little learner and they can draw to pictures to accompany them. Their sentences no longer run together, either, and they make more sense as they writer continues to compose stories. Journal writing is a task they feel comfortable with. Making corrections for misspelled words is a well-practiced skill for first graders by the end of the year. Spelling tests of short lists of sight words are the usual weekly assignment.


    Math concepts like telling time by the half hour, learning odd and even numbers, studying place value, and writing larger numbers are what young learners need to know before exiting first grade to move on for success in the second grade. Math facts like facts of five and ten will fill their free time after school. First graders have worked on many basic word problems on addition and subtraction and they know some math rules to help them in the first weeks of second grade.

    Momentum builds for social studies and science topics to include physical science in the area of measurements of liquids and solids and chapters devoted to single countries to discuss their contributions to society.

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    Using Real-World Experiences to Reinforce Class Work

    Though it may feel like first-grade students are pushed too fast, they are not. The majority of the first grade skills posted are basic enough that the student with average development can grasp them within an entire school year. If this does not happen, do not worry; they have time to catch up as these skills are worked on repeatedly and built upon until third grade, when advanced concepts are introduced. Engrain what you want them to know when you support what takes place in the classroom with real-world lessons.

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