First Grade Reading Curriculum Atlanta

If you’re looking for the right Atlanta, Georgia private school for your first grader, one of the first things you should ask about is the reading curriculum. Perhaps more than any other aspect of education, reading matters. And studies show that early, systematic reading instruction can have a tremendous influence on a child’s overall academic success.

Reading: A Gateway to Everything

One of the reasons reading is so critical is that it underlies so many other aspects of education. Let’s say your child is good at math but struggles with reading. Their math skills will carry them through addition and multiplication, but what about when story problems hit? Suddenly, their struggling reading grades could turn into struggling math grades.

Your child’s reading aptitude will affect their performance in everything from history to science since concepts are taught and mastery is measured through reading. This can continue into the workplace, impacting success on the job.

And beyond that, reading can affect a child’s overall well-being. Reading difficulties are associated with lower self-esteem, and studies have even shown that those with low literacy reported poor physical health at twice the rate of those with adequate literacy.

Don’t Most Kids Just Learn to Read Naturally?

Contrary to popular belief, reading is not a natural process. This is likely attributable to our evolution. Before everyone had access to paper and pens, humanity communicated through the spoken word. Unfortunately, those oral traditions don’t necessarily translate into the written word, which is a fairly new construct in many parts of the world. (For example, no indigenous people in North America had a written language when they were discovered by Europeans, and some surviving indigenous tribes still don’t have written languages.)

When we hear language, we hear it in chunks. The word “gap” is heard as a single entity. Our brains aren’t hard-wired to pull the word into separate sounds; it’s an unnecessary skill when processing spoken language.

But reading is different. If the spoken word is processed seamlessly, the written word must be pulled apart at the seams. For example, when you see “gap” on the page, you need to identify its individual sounds (guh-a-puh). Then, you need to connect those sounds to the letters on the page and sequence those letters together so that what you see on paper matches what you say. And you need to do so with enough fluency that you can gather meaning from these words.

To demonstrate just how “un-natural” this process is, consider that two-thirds of fourth graders score below proficiency in reading according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Report Card. While some kids can grasp reading naturally, most require early, strategic instruction to master it.

First Grade Reading Curriculum Atlanta - Kids read naturally

Signs of a Strong First Grade Reading Curriculum

So how do you find a reading program that will keep your child out of the bottom two-thirds? Don’t compromise on the following features. We’ve seen these reading interventions for first graders work wonders at The Academy of Scholars as we’ve helped countless students become capable and confident readers.

An Early Emphasis

Whether or not the reading process is a natural one, it can be taught, but early instruction makes all the difference. Researchers suggest that 95% of children can learn to read by the completion of first grade with the right type of reading instruction. Reading can be taught later, but according to Louisa Moats, former site director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Early Interventions Project, teaching children to master reading later involves significantly more “time, effort, and emotional strain” (for both the pupil and the teacher.)

First Grade Reading Curriculum Atlanta - early emphasis
First Grade Reading Curriculum Atlanta - Systematic Instructions

Systematic Instruction

Ever heard that more reading produces better readers? Perhaps in some cases, but in general, there’s much more to it than that. There’s overwhelming evidence that students need systematic instruction on phonemic awareness (the separate sounds within words), the sound symbol connection (phoneme to grapheme), finding patterns in letter sequences, and recognizing meaningful word components like prefixes, suffixes, and roots (morphemes).

Research-based Instruction

For a long time, many educators embraced an approach to reading known as “whole language.” This approach flies in the face of phonics, encouraging students to make sense of words “holistically” by assessing them in context. It pushed back against the idea that students must systematically decode words by seeing their smaller parts and sequencing them together. Some people still embrace whole language instruction, even though research has discredited it.

Research matters, and the preponderance of research shows that phonemic awareness/phonics-based reading instruction at the earliest ages opens the greatest opportunity for reading success. Schools that operate on “tradition” or “assumptions” rather than scientific research will likely miss the mark. At The Academy of Scholars, we rely exclusively on research-based reading instruction methodologies.

First Grade Reading Curriculum Atlanta - research based institution
First Grade Reading Curriculum Atlanta - Attention to all aspects of reading

Attention to All Aspects of Reading

Some programs drill phonemic awareness so that students can identify sounds in isolation. This is a crucial first step, but just because a student can recognize the different sounds within a word doesn’t mean they can sequence them together properly. There must be an emphasis on sound sequencing, recognition of common letter patterns, direct instruction on recurring units of language (like prefixes and suffixes), and sight word practice for fluency.

Beyond that, students need to be reading enough to become fluent. They also need to build vocabulary, learn sentence structure, and deepen their subject matter knowledge. Without these reading comprehension strategies for first graders, students will lag in deriving meaning from text.

Reading is a whole package, and if you neglect part of it, reading skills will suffer. Look for a comprehensive first grade reading curriculum here in Decatur, Georgia that hits all the bases.

Teacher Training

One of the challenges of university-level instruction for teachers is that they are often taught concepts, not methods—especially when it comes to reading instruction. This means teachers are taking over classrooms without the specific knowledge to help kids read. This can be remedied by elementary schools that invest in excellent reading instruction programs and the teacher training to go along with them.

At The Academy of Scholars, our teachers receive intensive training in the most cutting-edge methods for providing daily, explicit, evidence-based reading instruction. The methodology includes phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, comprehension building, grammar, fluency practice, and more.

First Grade Reading Curriculum Atlanta - teacher reading for kids
First Grade Reading Curriculum Atlanta - Focus on autonomy

A Focus on Autonomy

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “see one, do one, teach one” method, where students are taught a principle, encouraged to practice it on their own, and then turned loose to teach it to someone else. While this is a great principle, it has to be enacted properly through a technique known as the “gradual release of responsibility.” This means that a principle is taught clearly and in a way that connects to something the student already knows so it will stick in their brain.

Once this happens, the student should be given enough time to practice and internalize this new principle. At first, they might work in a small group with a teacher nearby. Then, as they master the principle, they can begin to practice it independently, still with teacher supervision. If you rush any of these steps, the student will likely miss important concepts.

Good reading instruction curriculums must master this balance. You can’t rush through concepts and then turn students loose. There must be a “gradual release” so students can connect new reading concepts to prior learning and practice them with increasing autonomy. It’s one of the secrets to producing independent readers.

Key Concepts for a Successful First Grade Reading Curriculum

Here are the skills we focus on during the first grade year to foster accurate and fluent reading:

Phonemic Awareness

These are the sounds within words that students need to identify and, ultimately, sequence together. We focus on vowel sounds and initial/final consonant blends (like “st” in “stay” and “stick,” “ng” in “thing” and “sang.”)

First Grade Reading Curriculum Atlanta - phonemics awareness
First Grade Reading Curriculum Atlanta

Letter Recognition And Phonics

This is where we tie sounds to corresponding letters. We teach consonant patterns and blends and common vowel + consonant combinations and begin to explore contractions.

Sight Words

Students must be able to sound out words but to read fluently, they must also commit the most common words to memory. (Picture how slowly reading would go if a student had to sound out “and” or “because” every time they encountered these words.) We help students memorize dozens of high-frequency words for rapid recall.

First Grade Reading Curriculum Atlanta - Sight Words
First Grade Reading Curriculum Atlanta - Comprehension and fluency


Above all, students need to be able to draw meaning from reading, and we make that happen through our first grade reading comprehension program. To boost comprehension, we teach skills like predicting outcomes, sequencing events, summarizing, connecting cause and effect, prioritizing the most relevant information, drawing conclusions, inferring, and discerning the author’s purpose.

We also help students develop their vocabulary. No matter how well you can sound out a word, if you don’t know the meaning, your understanding of the text will suffer. Strong reading comprehension begins in first grade.


If a student reads in a slow, labored way, the flow of understanding will be interrupted. That’s why fluency is so important for comprehension. Fluency development involves both reading familiar texts and being read to. Storytime helps students grasp the cadence and flow of fluent reading.

First Grade Reading Curriculum Atlanta - Fluency reading
First Grade Reading Curriculum Atlanta

Language Arts

This puts reading and writing skills in context. We teach parts of speech, sentence structure, listening (processing and restating instructions and questions), and speaking (sharing descriptions, announcements, etc.) We also teach writing conventions and put writing skills into practice as kids write correspondence and even an autobiography.

Library Science

Students will be more motivated to learn to read when they see what’s in it for them. Libraries are the perfect place for making that happen. From the youngest grades on up, our students are exposed to the magic of the library and immersed in books and publications that show how reading connects us to the outside world.

We help our students learn all the fundamentals of books and research publications, from tables of contents to charts to glossaries. We expose kids to all kinds of written communications, from emails to web pages to news articles to encyclopedias. It opens up a world of possibilities and incentivizes students on their journey to master reading.

First Grade Reading Curriculum Atlanta - Library science

Why Not Wait?

It’s common for students to do fine in reading until they hit third grade. What happens in third grade? Multi-syllable words! If a student struggles with reading and doesn’t get help cracking the code, they often fall back on their memory. It’s an easy workaround.

Unfortunately, you can only memorize so many words. When teachers introduce multiple syllables, there are endless words to master, and kids who seemed to sail through the early grades are suddenly struggling.

Early, systematic, research-based instruction is the answer. It ends the guessing game and gives students tools to make sense of even big, unfamiliar words. If you wait to teach reading the right way, damages can pile up. A student may learn bad habits that they will later struggle to break. Also, they will need to circle back to remedial instruction as their peers march forward with more advanced language concepts. And finally, students’ self-esteem could suffer as they fall behind on a skill that underlies everything.

The reality is that many students who struggle with reading are extremely intelligent. They just lack the skills to read efficiently. These students’ brains often work harder than those of students who read naturally and fluently–they just have not been given the building blocks of effective reading.

The stakes are high when it comes to teaching our children to read. First grade is not too early for strategic reading instruction—it’s the prime time.

Contact us today to learn more about our first grade reading curriculum at our Atlanta private school.

Where Great Education Happens!TM