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The 5 Most Important Skills for the Beginning of 1st Grade

Back to School, Fall, Seasonal

Written by: Katie Palmer

The saying “Go slow to go fast” was MADE for the beginning of first grade. If you take your time and narrow your focus down from ALL the beginning of year things to just the essentials from day one, you'll set the stage for building more independent – and more successful – learners. Let's talk through the most important skills to cover in the beginning of 1st grade, from basic classroom procedures to just four main skills to focus on.

1-Basic Classroom Procedures

When your first graders enter your classroom in the fall, they are basically still Kindergarteners. Think of them this way as they struggle to grasp some common classroom procedures. They will get the hang of things!

Morning Routine

Having the same morning routine all year can help students feel comfortable and calms the chaos. Here are some ideas to implement: morning work, take home folders, morning meeting slides.

Beginning of 1st Grade Morning Work

Having work for students to complete when they enter the classroom eliminates the wandering around the classroom epidemic. This work can either be placed on their desks before they arrive, or in a common spot each morning. The work can get progressively more challenging as your students settle back into the school routine. Here is an easy to implement beginning of year morning work idea: Draw & Write.

story writing as morning work in first grade

At the beginning of 1st grade, students are still learning how to properly get their thoughts into words. Illustrating their thoughts first, then adding a sentence or two (or perhaps a string of words at this point) can make them feel successful. Download the writing prompts below for a great morning start.

Blank Writing Page

Laying this out for morning work allows some student choice. They can just write whatever is on their heart or mind. Or, perhaps you have built up a picture file and students can pull out a picture to write about. A picture file is a folio full of magazine pictures to start stories. My students LOVE using these! The only rule I implement: you can only switch pictures one time! (This alleviates a line forming.)

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Handwriting

When students are ready, they can begin each morning with a joke or fact of the day, while also practicing their handwriting skills.

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Organization

Keeping 1st grade students organized is a task. However, teaching some simple morning procedures will up their organization game.

Take Home Folders

Take home folders are an easy way to keep papers organized, maintain strong school to home communication and give students responsibility. Teach your students a your take home folder routine starting the first day of school.

  • Where will they keep it all day?
  • What goes in it? (I always print off left and right hand prints. They are labeled, “To be LEFT at home” and “Bring RIGHT back”. We staple these right into the binder or folder pockets.
  • Will you check it during the day?

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Desks

Student desks can sometimes become bottomless pits without a spot check now and then. Begin the year by explicitly teaching them what clean desks look like. Take a picture of the clean and organized desks and tape this to their desktop, or just inside their desk. This photo reminds them what their desk should look like and helps develop executive functioning skills.

clean desk brag tags as incentives for first grade students to learn about organization

Celebrate your clean desks with brag tags!

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Bonus idea: Label student desks with a multipurpose name tag! AND, there is an editable version to make labeling your desk tags a breeze!

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Transitions

Transitions can be tricky. Students may see it as a time to chat, move about the room or give themselves free time unless they learn the transition routine right starting day one. Ideas to keep transitions smooth:

  • Use a sound to signal it is time to transition: wind chime, clapping patterns, call backs or a wireless doorbell are often used.
  • Practice keeping transitions short. Students like to be timed transitioning to compete against their best time. Make sure to remind them that even if they are being timed, they need to transition calmly and quietly. No running!

Grab a fall callbacks poster below to get you started!

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As mentioned in the 2nd grade beginning of year post, there are several transitions throughout the day:

  • Coming into the classroom in the morning
  • Leaving the classroom to head somewhere else in the school
  • Switching between subject areas
  • Transitioning from snack/break time to learning time
  • Coming up to the rug
  • Heading to desks for independent work
  • Starting small group

Getting a solid routine down for these transitions day one (spend the time on it, trust me) will help your days run smoothly all school year! Practice these routines repeatedly the first few weeks

2-Consonant Review

Reviewing all consonants is a great idea for the beginning of 1st grade. Think about it, these fresh from Kindergarten kids have just had all summer not reviewing what they learned. Reviewing consonants doesn't have to be boring! Here are a couple of ideas to make consonants a part of the day kids look forward to!

Alliteration Posters

Poetry is engaging for students. Silly alliteration poetry is something they will love and look forward to each day. Use our brand new set of alliteration posters to review each consonant sound at the beginning of the year. After reviewing each consonant, hang the poster so students can reread the alliteration and keep working those sounds. Students may even be motivated to write their own alliterations!

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Final Consonant Spinners

Have students spin for consonants with these hands on and engaging spinners.

Ideas for spinners:

  • Center: Students spin and have to list at least three words that begin with that consonant on their whiteboard.
  • Partner project: Students each spin for their partner. Then, they set a timer (or use a sand timer) to see who can come up with three words beginning with their consonant first.
  • Independent work: Students spin and create lists of consonant sound words on a white board or in a notebook.
  • Whole class: Teacher or students spin and the whole class tries to list at least 10 (or more) words that begin with that consonant.

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If you are looking for an initial consonant spinner, check out this one from WordWall.net!

3-Beginning of 1st Grade Writing Skills

First grade is a time to perfect those foundational writing skills. Start with a handwriting review of each letter. Our team has put together posters perfect for teaching how to properly form each letter of the alphabet. Use them to model the correct way to write each letter, then display them around the classroom.

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If some students need extra practice, stick a poster of the entire alphabet in a page cover (or laminate it) and use it as an independent work center! Lucky Little Learners has a poster perfect for this center. Grab it below.

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4- Number Sense

Tapping into number sense skills is a good idea, right from day one of the school year. There are many ways to incorporate number sense skills during the school day:

classroom calendar to teach essential beginning of the year math skills in first grade
  • Calendar time: count days in the month, patterns, place value, money…possibilities are endless here!
  • Number of the day: This number talk routine is perfect for building up number sense/place value skills. Having students each have their own copy of a “Number of the Day” graphic organizer allows them to practice right along with you. Here is a sample Number Talk Routine.
  • Have a subitizing routine.
  • Whole group & small group math: Teach your daily lesson whole group, then break off into flexible small groups to tackle number sense skills. You can provide extension activities for the high flyers, and differentiate for the kids still needing review. Spiral Math is perfect for differentiating your math instruction! Available in three levels and for 40 weeks, students can be practicing at their own level! Check it out below.

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AND…exciting news for all 1st grade teachers! This school year, our engaging Lucky to Learn Math curriculum has been rolling out for 1st grade! The 2nd grade version launched this year and has been met with stellar reviews from both teachers and students.

Try a sample Lucky to Learn Math Lesson: LUCKY TO LEARN MATH

Or, download the Lucky to Learn Math 1st Grade curriculum!

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5- Independent Working Stamina

Students being able to work independently is vital if you wish to work with small groups. However, it is not good practice to throw a worksheet or center at your students and start a timer. Students need to build up their stamina, starting day one. Honestly, it can take up to six weeks (depending on the class) to get them ready to work independently for 10-15 minutes. Help motivate your students to build their stamina by graphing it on the whiteboard. Or, you can use an online chart maker, like LiveGap. With LiveGap, you can create an animated line plot and students can watch their progress climb each day!

Make sure to set clear expectations for independent work stamina. Mini lesson ideas to to teach before launching independent work time:

  • What students should do if they have a question.
  • Taking out and putting away materials.
  • Working and reading independently silently.
  • How to know when station time is done.

Starting these foundational lessons from day one will get students ready to work. They will build up their skills while you can focus on small group needs. It is a win-win!


1st Grade Teacher Help

If you found this post helpful, you must check out our growing 1st grade teaching posts!

Are you a 2nd grade teacher?

If you are headed to 2nd grade, check out this VIP (very important post): The 5 Most Important Skills for the beginning of 2nd Grade.

Happy teaching!

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