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Reading: Age 5–6 (Year 1)

In Year 1, your child will have a growing knowledge of phonics and will be building up a range of reading skills. The focus is now on developing their phonics and comprehension skills as they become confident and fluent readers.

In June, your child will take the phonics screening check to make sure they are reading at the expected level. For information about the check, see our Phonics screening check page. If you want to learn more about what phonics is, and how to say the phonics sounds, see our Learn to read with phonics page.

Read on to find out how your child will learn to read at school and how you can help at home.

What your child will learn

Find out how your child will be learning to read in Year 1 (age 5–6):

Use phonics skills to decode words

In Year 1, your child will be taught to read the words on the page using phonics.

Phonics focuses on building words from sounds. A sound might be represented by a letter (such as ‘s’ or ‘m’) or a group of letters (like ‘ch’ or ‘igh’). Your child will learn the letters (known as graphemes) and the sounds they make (known as phonemes), and how to put them together to read simple words. For example, once they know the individual sounds for ‘s’, ‘a’ and ‘t’ they can blend them together to form the word sat.

For more information on phonics, take a look at our Learn to read with phonics page.

Blend sounds in words

In Year 1, your child will continue to learn which sounds the different letters represent. They can then read the separate letters in a word and put them together to read the whole word. This is called blending. So, if your child knows ‘f’, ‘r’ ‘o’ and ‘g’, they can blend them together to read frog.

Read common exception words (tricky words)

Some words are trickier to sound out than others. This is usually because the sounds and letters do not match with what has been taught so far, or they are not spelt in a way that can be figured out using phonics. In other words, they are not decodable. The National Curriculum calls these ‘common exception words’, but they are often called tricky words in schools.

Your child is likely to meet words like these (for example, ‘said’ and ‘the’) in the books they read. Children are often taught to recognise these words by sight. Some schools send home lists of tricky words so that children can learn them off by heart.

Practise reading the Year 1 tricky words with our free Year 1 common exception words list. 

Read words that have different endings

In Year 1, your child will be taught to read words that they can decode already but with an ending (called a suffix) added on.

The ending might make the word a plural (more than one) or change the word to show it happened in the past. The endings your child will learn at this age are: –s, –es, –ing, –ed, –er, and –est. Some examples of words with these endings include: ‘cats’, ‘sleeping’, and ‘quicker’.

Read words with contractions

In Year 1, your child will be taught to read words with contractions, where one or more letter is left out of the word and replaced by an apostrophe. For example:

I’m instead of I am

I’ll instead of I will

we’d instead of we had

Read books at the right level out loud

In Year 1, your child will build a good knowledge of how phonics works. They should also recognise common exception words (or tricky words). These skills will help them to read books that match their current reading level independently.

Re-read books to build up fluency and confidence in word reading

Re-reading books is one of the best ways for children to become fluent readers. The National Curriculum encourages children to re-read books, helping them to become more confident with each reading.

In the summer term of Year 1, children in English schools sit the phonics screening check to ensure they are making good progress with their basic phonic skills. They will be assessed on their fluency and confidence in word reading. To find out more, visit our Phonics screening check page.

Listen to and talk about a range of stories and texts

Children in Year 1 can often understand more complicated texts than those that they can actually read themselves. Your child will explore stories and texts by taking part in activities such as:

  • linking what they read or hear read to their own experiences 
  • recognising and joining in with predictable phrases (‘Run, run as fast as you can…’)
  • learning about rhymes and poems, and learning some by heart (such as nursery rhymes) 
  • discussing the meaning of words.

Learn well-known stories, fairy stories, and traditional tales

Fairy stories and traditional tales are often used with children in Year 1 to help build comprehension.

For many children, these stories are already familiar and they feature characters that children know from other books and television. Often, fairy stories and traditional stories are simple and easy to follow.

Understand the books they read and listen to

In Year 1, your child will develop their comprehension by:

  • drawing on what they already know or using information provided by their teacher 
  • checking that they understand stories and texts as they read and correcting mistakes in their reading 
  • talking about events in stories and why stories have the titles they do 
  • making connections based on what is said and done in a story
  • predicting what might happen next in a story based on what has been read so far 
  • taking part in a discussion about what is read to them, taking turns and listening to others 
  • explaining their understanding of what is read to them.

Common reading issues

Lots of parents worry about their children’s reading. Fortunately, help is at hand!

Some children can read the words quite well – it’s just that they don’t want to. We call this group of children reluctant readersFor some other children, it is difficult to remember common words or the sounds of the letters from one day to the next. Reading is a slow and painful struggle, distressing for your child and for you. These children can be called struggling readers.

Read our expert advice on how to support your child with common reading issues:

If you are concerned about your child’s reading progress, then pop into school to talk to their teacher. Lots of people can help with reading issues, like teachers, librarians, and booksellers.

How to help at home

There are lots of ways you can help your child with reading in Year 1. Here are our top ideas.

1. Listen to your child read

Books that your child brings home from school should be at the right level for them. The words should be readable for your child – we say they are levelled reading scheme books. They are written to ensure steady progress and success. Many of these books include helpful notes for parents inside the front and back covers.

Bear in mind that reading or listening to the same book more than once is no bad thing – in fact, it is really important for children. Re-reading lets them see or hear words and phrases enough times to remember them, and also helps them to think again about the ideas in the book, perhaps noticing things they missed the first time.

2. Read to your child

Reading to your child will help them to enjoy reading and will build up vital comprehension skills.

Children benefit from listening to books that they can’t read themselves yet, as they will see and hear adventurous language and ideas that they might not have found in their independent reading. Non-fiction books about the things they’re interested in and longer stories are both great for expanding your child’s reading horizons.

3. Make regular time

Life is busy, but even ten minutes listening to your child read each day is one of the best ways you can support their education and help them to become a strong reader. Finding a time and place that fits with your routine can help make sure reading is a regular activity. Try straight after school while they have a snack or while the bath is running.

Our free eBook library has lots of books perfect for younger readers.

4. Sound it out

If your child gets stuck on a word, try phonics first. Get your child to say the letter sounds (e.g. ‘c’ ‘l’ ‘a’ ‘p’) and then blend them together to hear the whole word (clap); this is called blending. If they are really stuck then it’s best to tell them the word and move on. If the book is at the right level then this should not happen too much.

5. Get them involved!

When you’re reading with your child, try to keep them actively involved in the words and the story. Clap out syllables or chunks in words and names to help with reading longer words: pel-i-can! Sep-tem-ber! Or point out that some words are made up of two words (for example, wind and then mill makes windmill).

You can have lots of fun with reading by making it an interactive experience. Encourage your child to join in with phrases, sound effects, and actions to make story time a shared experience. It’s great for bonding, and talking, acting, and re-telling will all help to develop your child’s reading.

6. Choose a wide range of books

A mix of fiction and non-fiction, real stories and magical stories, familiar characters and new experiences help to broaden your child’s interests and keep story time fresh. Sometimes you might choose the book, sometimes they might choose the book, and sometimes you might read both!

You’ll find plenty of recommended book lists on the Oxford Owl blog.

7. Talk about books, stories, words and pictures

Asking your child questions can help them to think about their reading. Try to ask open questions that begin with ‘how’ and ‘why’. If you can, try to get your child to go back to the text and pictures to tell you how they know the answer.

Talking about what is happening in a picture, what the characters might be thinking, or what might happen next all help to develop early reading skills.

Video support

How to pronounce pure sounds

Learn how to pronounce all 44 phonics sounds, or phonemes, used in the English language with these helpful examples from Suzy Ditchburn and her daughter.

What is comprehension?

Find out how children build their understanding of a text using a combination of background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, and inference.

Copyright Oxford University Press 2020