1st Grade Reading Comprehension Books & Strategies

1st Grade Reading Comprehension Books & Strategies

As much as I talk about phonics and phonemic awareness, reading comprehension is a central component in reading... and it's what makes reading so fun! Below, I'm sharing some of the most important early reading strategies and my favourite comprehension books for 1st Grade. They are fantastic for read-alouds or mentor texts, and are creative and engaging enough to spark a lifelong love of reading!

Reading is about so much more than learning high-frequency words (aka 'sight words') and phonic skills. Those are absolutely essential and often underrepresented in the classroom, but they're just one component of reading. If you want to help your students develop lifelong reading skills, they need plenty of opportunities to develop their love of reading. 

That looks like reading fun and interesting books that pique their interest and pull them through page by page! These fascinating stories will model creative expression and help your students fall in love with reading books. The right books can help students understand themselves and the world around them in a new way! Reading is more than just a practical skill; it's a way of knowing the world.

Teaching Reading Comprehension in 1st Grade

If you're teaching comprehension, focus on actionable strategies that students can use independently. These Reading Comprehension Strategies Posters are a great way to make those reading strategies visual. 

In Grades 1-3, we generally focus on these close reading comprehension strategies and continue building on the strategies taught in kindergarten. Some of the strategies towards the bottom of the list may not be covered until second or third grade, but they may be introduced conversationally, even to first graders.

  • Creating images
  • Review Meaning
  • Predicting
  • Finding Information
  • Connecting
  • Inferring
  • Summarising

You can also use these strategies to set class or student Reading Goals to help your students understand what successful readers do when they read.

 

 

They are great for self-assessment, too!

Best Comprehension Books for 1st Grade

Most of the posts about this topic recommend buying a bunch of workbooks to practise comprehension. Since many young readers are still reading very brief passages, this can work. 

However, the goal of comprehension is to teach your students to be eager readers. This is the chance to teach your students to become lifelong readers who fall in love with literature. I'm just guessing, but I doubt that anyone says that they became a lifelong reader because of interesting worksheets or an early reader book in 1st Grade. 

Instead, I encourage you to look for authentic, engaging stories that pique your students' attention. They should be rich and wonderful, with interesting sentence structure, imagery, and more. Students should be exposed to stories across genres, including historical fiction, fantasy, etc. Plus, young children tend to be fascinated with the world around them, and nonfiction texts are a wonderful way for them to be drawn in by their natural curiosity. 

Ditch the 1st grade reading comprehension workbooks and make room for real kids' books! These are some of the very best books for teaching reading comprehension skills to 1st graders and beyond!

Creating Images

When students read or hear a story, they should see visuals in their minds, like a mental movie.

Choose any text with descriptive writing and read it out loud without showing the pictures. Have the students draw or describe what they saw in their heads as you read. Some students will latch on quickly, and others will interpret the text in vastly different ways.

Then, read the text again but reveal the pictures so they can compare their images. This is a surefire way to make story time extra exciting!

  • Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell - Molly's buck teeth and unique voice make this book perfect for the visualisation strategy above.
  • Southwest Sunrise by Nikki Grimes - I love the vivid descriptions! They really capture the Southwest wonderfully. 
  • Hot Dog by Jack Salati - This is such a fun story for kids. It's a little bit silly, which they love. There is very little text, but it's very visual, so it's ideal for young students.  

Review Meaning

This strategy is all about making sure the story makes sense. It's the most critical part of comprehension: do they understand what they are reading? 

All readers should be checking for meaning as they read. You'll need to prompt young learners with comprehension questions to check that they're processing the story. This can be as simple as asking for a brief summary, or you can ask students to think about how a character might be feeling, etc. 

You can also ask more probing questions, but be careful not to lose the flow of the story by pausing too much. The right questions can make a story more interesting, especially if they help students unlock an awareness of the story that they didn't perceive on their own. 

  • Corduroy by Don Freeman - This is a classic story that still warms hearts today! It's about a little teddy bear in a department store who must find his missing button to go home with a little girl. Young kids will really feel for Corduroy and want to follow along. 
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst - This is one of the most popular picture books for a reason! It's a very accessible (and engaging) story about Alexander. Students will naturally relate to Alexander and his "terrible day," but they may need to read between the lines to understand some of his frustrations. 
  • The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco - Polacco is a master storyteller. This unusual story is fascinating for little kids who will be listening eagerly to learn all about the mysterious bee tree!  

Predicting

Predicting is a skill we typically only teach with fiction, as it is about anticipating future events. It builds on all the other skills, like finding meaning and connecting, which help students make predictions based on their own real-world experiences. Based on what we know about the story and about the world, what do we think will happen next? 

  • Never Let a Dinosaur Scribble by Diane Alber - The book already includes questions that younger readers will naturally want to answer. It's an easy choice!
  • Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett - Follow a little girl who has more yarn than she might ever need and faces teasing for her colourful creations. Plus, it's the perfect opportunity for a rich class discussion about being truly yourself.
  • The Snowy Nap by Jan Brett - Follow young Hedgie around the farm as he finds a cozy place to nap during the winter. This text is especially great after your hibernation unit. There are also some great opportunities to make inferences about the best place to rest and to bring in text-to-world connections. 

Finding Information

In the upper grades, students are expected to know how to cite their sources or find evidence in texts. It's much easier to start this essential skill early on, and it can be a surprisingly rich way to make sense of literature. Sometimes, we don't fully understand how we learned something until we have to reverse engineer the process. 

In kindergarten and first grade, we mostly focus on finding information in nonfiction texts, as they’re more concrete and straightforward. With fiction texts, this is a natural chance to talk about story elements, like plot or events, as we can refer back to specific moments when someone says or does something. 

  • The Word Collector by Peter Reynolds - Every 1st grade teacher should have this special book! It's all about words, which is a great connection for teaching syllables later on. Plus, you can find "proof" of where he found each word on several of the pages. Great for teaching context clues!
  • Mo Willems by Abby Colich - Many first and second-grade students know all about the children's author Mo Willems. This biography is a great way to learn more about someone they already "know" and to practise finding specific information in a text. 

Connecting

Students can make three types of connections with any story:

  • Text to Self
  • Text to Text
  • Text to World

This is a great way to bring your students' life experiences, thoughts, and feelings into the conversation and really bring those stories to life! If you want a visual reference, my poster bundle includes several pages to reinforce this concept.

  • Moo Hoo by Audrey Perrott- Kids will be able to relate to Milton the cow, who has lots of feelings about everything! Great for building emotional self-awareness, too!
  • What if Everybody Did That? by Ellen Javernick - Since this book poses hypothetical questions, it's a great opportunity to ask your students for their thoughts and opinions.
  • The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires - This story follows a little girl who struggles again and again to make "the most magnificent thing." It's a wonderful story about persistence, and students will have so many personal connections about overcoming frustrations.

Inferring

Inferring is a much more abstract concept that can be confusing for first grade students to understand fully, but it's so important! It's also an incredibly fun skill to teach because it's about being a literary detective! 

Start with this free inference slideshow! There is a unique image on each slide with a prompt to guide students through the inference process.

You can even use this as a daily writing prompt to get students writing every morning.  

Another option is to share some wordless picture books. Since there are no words to guide their understanding, students must practise attending to the images and making sense of the clues in front of them. 

  • Flotsam by David Weisner - This is such a great book with the most enchanting illustrations! Your students will be watching in awe as you turn the page.  
  • Flashlight by Lizi Boyd - I love how the little boy's flashlight directs the reader's attention and that the pages reveal what is hidden in the dark.
  • Twenty Questions by Mac Barnett is one of my favourite books for teaching inferring! It consists of 20 questions, all of which require lots of creativity to explain the answer. It's a perfect fit for those clever first grade students! 

 

 

Summarising

At this age, we don't expect students to write paragraph-long summaries of their stories. It's more about pulling out the most important parts of a story, either orally, in writing, or with support.

This is one of those buildable skills that gets more and more complex as students get older, so it's important to start it early! Keep things simple and use a summarising protocol like: 

Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then 

Who, What, When, Where, Why (or How)

These summarising protocol posters are free downloads!

Alternatively, you could also use these sentence scaffolds:

  • Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes - I love reading this picture book for many reasons, but it's also great for summarising. It's easier for kids to pull out the main idea as it focuses on experiences they may have already experienced themselves. 
  • Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola - There are so many reasons to have this picture book on your bookshelf! It's a wordless story about an older lady as she tries to prepare her breakfast. She seems to run out of every ingredient before a little disaster strikes. Since this first-grade level book has no words, readers must pay close attention to the pictures to understand what's happening.

 

  • A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon - This is the perfect book for your SEL collection! A little girl wants to fit in so much that she starts to look how other people want her. She becomes covered in stripes, stars, and more...until she learns to love herself for who she is. There are so many great lessons for students to learn from this book, and it's a fantastic example for summarising the main ideas in a book.

 

Looking for more?

Don't forget to download your reading comprehension strategy posters, available in either rainbow or neutral!

 

 

They come in two designs - with cliparts (for younger students) or with icons (for older students).

 

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