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1st Grade Reading Games

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

First graders are often new to reading and worried about their identities as readers! This lesson gives you some ways to teach reading games, engaging important skills while keeping reading lighthearted and fun. You will learn about using games to teach and reinforce skills in decoding, sight word automaticity, and comprehension.

Why Play Games?

Have you ever wondered how to prevent students from feeling too stressed or overwhelmed while they are learning to read? Sometimes, first grade teachers are tasked with so much that we can lose track of students' emotions. Teaching students to read is challenging, and first grade is sometimes seen as a watershed, a year when students absolutely must learn the crucial skills that they will apply to language and literacy for the rest of their lives. A good way to ward off the stress that can come with this daunting task is by incorporating games. Games can be educational because they activate students' learning in a variety of contexts. For instance, games help students transfer skills from a rote learning context to a context of active engagement. At the same time, games are lighthearted and fun and allow children to learn by playing, something that comes naturally to them at this age. In this lesson, you will learn about games that you can use to work on decoding, sight words, and comprehension with first graders.

Decoding Games

Decoding is the aspect of reading that deals with sounding out words. In first grade, decoding is important because it is via the sounding out of words that students can turn printed language into language that makes sense orally or aurally. As students become adept decoders, the world of print opens to them. Examples of games to teach decoding skills include:

  • Decodable Towers

Take a few dozen paper cups. On the outside of each cup, use a sharpie to write a word that students should be able to decode. The words will be different depending on students' reading levels. Group students in teams of two or three children on similar reading levels. If a student reads a word on a cup, he can use that cup to start a tower. The partners take turns adding their cups. Let students keep building their decodable towers until the towers fall!

  • Memory

Give students sets of cards with decodable nouns. Each noun card should have an image to go with it. Students play in partners and line the cards up face down. Student A flips a card and reads the word on the card. If the flipped card is a picture, the student says the initial letter of the picture. Then, Student A flips a second card, looking for a match. Student B repeats the same steps. If the students find a match, they keep the cards. Otherwise, they flip them back over. Students begin to remember which words are where and play until all the cards are gone.

  • Decode the World

As first graders get better at decoding, they start to notice the print in the world all around them. In this game, students work in small groups to walk around their classroom, school or neighborhood, carrying pointers. Each time they come upon written language, they stop to read the words out loud.

Sight Word Games

English can be a tricky language, since we have so many words that do not follow the basic rules of phonics. First graders become stronger readers when they learn sight words, or words that cannot be sounded out traditionally but appear in text frequently. Examples of sight words range from simple ones like the to more complicated words like favorite and because. Because sight words need to be learned via memorization, any game that involves memory can be adapted to practice sight word reading. Examples of games to play with sight words include:

  • Sight word bingo

Give each child a bingo card covered with sight words. One by one, call out sight words. Students may use chips to cover the words on their card and call out bingo when they have covered five words in a row.

  • Sight word memory or concentration

Follow the steps from memory above but use sight words rather than decodable text.

  • Sight word go fish

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