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Teaching 1st grade tips: "Practice CVC words with paint chips" and "Create a calm down toolbox"

65 Tips, Tricks & Ideas

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First grade is a year full of adventure! First grade learners begin to see themselves as readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and more. To help make it the best year ever, we’ve scoured our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook and the web for some of the best tips and ideas for teaching first grade. While it by no means covers every possible topic, we hope this list of gems will inspire you whether you are a brand-new teacher or a veteran. And we’ve organized the list by topic to make it easy to cruise for ideas!

Getting Your Classroom Ready

1. Create an inviting classroom

Need ideas? We’ve gathered real-life first grade classrooms for you to browse!

2. Gather all the supplies

Not sure what exactly you need for the first grade classroom? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with this list of essential first grade classroom supplies.

3. Welcome your students with a big, colorful bulletin board

Gumball name bulletin board for teaching 1st grade

Image source: Doodlebugs Teaching

Seeing their names up on the wall will help students instantly feel at home, and the bright colors will create a festive mood in the classroom. Check out these bulletin board ideas.

4. Get a jump start on lessons

In first grade, teacher planning and prep time are precious! It makes life a lot easier when you can purchase existing lessons, bundles, books, and pages. And why not support other teachers while you do it? Check out our favorite Teachers Pay Teachers sellers for first grade.

5. Put together an irresistible classroom reading nook

Reading Nook with pillows, books, and rug for teaching first grade

Image source: Polka Dot Teacher

Your first graders are well on their way to becoming readers, so make this time extra special for them by setting up one of these awesome reading nooks.

6. Fill your classroom library with these classic first grade books

“The Camping Trip,” “Our Friend Hedgehog,” “When Grandpa Gives You A Toolbox,” “The Buddy Bench” and “Julian at the Wedding.”

Here are 50 of our favorite first grade books.

7. Set up sensory tables

Early childhood teachers know that hands-on learning is essential. Sensory play encourages open-ended thinking, language development, and collaboration, and builds fine motor skills. Sensory materials are magically both engaging and calming. Here are our favorites!

The First Days of School

8. Introduce yourself creatively

If you’re teaching 1st grade, you have the honor of being one of the first teachers a child will meet! Make day one memorable by introducing yourself in a creative way, such as sending postcards over the summer! For creative ideas, check out 30 Unique Ways To Introduce Yourself to Students This Year.

9. Get to know one another with icebreakers

Get the kids mixing and moving as they get to know one another. Click here for lots of great ideas.

Create a Classroom Community

10. Start the day with Morning Meeting

Morning Meeting is an engaging way to connect with your students at the beginning of each day. An objectives and agenda board, along with a morning message, will help your students start off on the right track. For more morning meeting ideas, check out Responsive Classroom.

11. Establish a culture of kindness

Print these free downloadable posters to remind your students that kindness matters most of all.

12. Teach citizenship

Discussing classroom rules for teaching first grade

Image source: First Grade Wow

Read the story of Johnny Appleseed with your students, then analyze the qualities that make Johnny a good citizen. Help students brainstorm ideas about how they might show these characteristics in the classroom and at home.

13. Teach the difference between reporting and tattling

Discussing classroom rules for teaching first grade

Image source: Mrs. Warner’s Learning Community

Save yourself a lot of headaches by teaching your students the difference. Read the Child Mind Institute’s Is It Tattling or Telling?

14. Assign jobs

Classroom job chart with hands clipped on clothes line for teaching 1st grade

Give your students ownership of the classroom and teach responsibility by assigning jobs. Remember the saying: Many hands make light work! Here are 38 Ideas for Flexible, Fun Classroom Job Charts to choose from.

15. Read stories that build your students’ social-emotional skills

SEL picture books

Learning how to be in school and be a good friend are a huge part of being a first grader. Share these stories that will not only teach lessons but start conversations.

Ideas for Language Arts

16. Incorporate daily writing prompts

We’ve gathered 25 writing prompts that you can download and use to get your first graders practicing their writing skills.

17. Stock up on fun tools to use for guided reading

Guided reading tools for teaching 1st grade

Image source: Miss Van Maren’s Fantastic First Grade

Learning to read is hard work! Make it as fun as you can with the great ideas found at the blog Guided Reading: A Little Novelty Goes a Long Way. For more information on guided reading, check out What Is Guided Reading?

18. Encourage critical thinking with writing prompts

First grade teacher Heather M. shares, “I give students questions that take more thought than our simple carpet discussions—questions that they had to apply what they know to answer. It helps them get away from answering without thinking just to be first.” Here are 37 suggestions from Journal Buddies to get you started.

19. Differentiate reading instruction

Read Works is an incredible resource for teaching reading!” says first grade teacher Kellie P. “At least once a week, I use a reading passage and question set in either ‘guided reading’ or ‘read to someone’ for small-group practice. I can easily differentiate because they provide the Lexile levels. I found this resource to be very helpful, especially with nonfiction, to integrate science and social studies concepts into Daily 5.”

20. Have your students create personal word walls

Personalized word wall template

Image source: Cara Carroll

Instead of having one massive class word wall, have students create and post their own personal word walls in your classroom. Your first graders will love showcasing their skills! Check out the Just Cara Carroll for a free personal word wall template.

21. Have fun with literacy centers

Big List of Literacy Centers

We love this big list of ideas for grades K-2.

22. Make things interesting with foldables

"Sh" foldables for teaching in the 1st grade classroom

Image source: Mrs. T’s First Grade Class

Foldables are a great and easy way to make any literacy activity more fun. The one above helps students group words with the same blend.

23. Teach them how to retell a story

How to do retellings

Use these reading comprehension anchor charts to review stories with your first graders and strengthen their recall skills after reading.

24. Use paint strips to work on CVC words

Image source: Serving Pink Lemonade

Practice making new words by adding word parts to different beginning letters and letter sounds. And check out these other fun ways to use paint strips!

25. Teach sight words

Sight words

Image source: Make, Take, and Teach

Check out these 43 sight word activities for the classroom!

26. Make phonics fun

Phonics is the foundation for reading success. Breaking words into their constituent sounds helps kids understand and build their literacy skills, bit by bit. Check out these 20 phonics activities.

27. Use games to teach blends

Blends games

Image source: The Measured Mom

Check out these six free, low-prep games for teaching blends.

28. Introduce interactive notebooks

Interactive notebook

Image source: Teaching With Love & Laughter

First grade teacher Lori shares, “Using interactive notebooks is a great way for children to learn and interact with new information, as well as review and practice skills already introduced. They really took pride in their notebooks and were very proud to share their work with others. Unlike completing worksheets or other printables, which go home right away, these books are always available to the children.”

Ideas for Math

29. Keep your math manipulatives organized and easy to access

Check out these creative ways to use math manipulatives.

Plus, here are some additional ideas from first grade teachers:

  • “Use labels with words and pictures on bins. We take actual pictures of the materials.” Amy L.
  • “I give my kids the things they use the most, like counters and linking cubes, in a ziplock baggie to keep in their desks. When we need them, I just tell them to take out their math tools. It saves a lot of time passing them out every time they are needed.” Diane D.
  • “I put my manipulatives into clear shoe boxes and label them with words and pictures. I have a set of shelves in my back room where the kids can access them.” Kelly H.
  • “Save baby wipe tubs and give each student their own set of place value books to keep in the desk.” —Ann M.

30. Keep math journals

Math journal

Image source: Miss Van Maren’s Fantastic First Grade

Making a chart that connects the numeral, word, and picture for each number will help reinforce number concepts with your little ones. Check out this article for more great examples of how to use math journals!

31. Differentiate math work by using online resources

There are tons of online resources for differentiating math work. For a huge list of suggestions, check out our best math websites for teaching and learning math.

32. Play math games

First Grade Math Games

Here’s a big list of math games that are just right for first grade.

33. Watch math videos

Making math more engaging for kids can be difficult. But teaching math will be anything but boring when you introduce students to some of our favorite subtraction and addition videos on YouTube.

34. Teach shapes

Learning shapes is one of the earliest concepts we teach kids. Shapes ready them for geometry in the years ahead, but it’s also an important skill for learning how to write and draw. Get started with these activities.

35. Count the days of school and celebrate when you reach 100!

There are so many different fun ways to celebrate the 100th day of school. We’ve got a whole collection of activities for you.

36. Have “Number Talks”

You can build mental math and computation skills with Number Talks.

First grade teacher Stephanie W. shares, “Our students need to be able to explain their thinking on math assessments, so this is a perfect way to get them comfortable with reasoning aloud. They learn to explain clearly and logically. It also helps them to see their errors since you write down the problem exactly the way they explain it. If they can’t see the errors, other students can help clarify. It also gives value to working problems in different ways. As children develop a deeper number sense, they decompose and manipulate numbers in more complex ways.”

37. Get to know the hundreds chart with number puzzles

Numbers puzzles

Image source: Mrs. T’s First Grade Class

These easy-to-make games will help students see what one more, ten more, one less, and ten less look like.

38. Share math word problems daily

First Grade math word problem on a classroom flatlay.

We’ve got 50 free math word problems for your first grade class! Use them for math word problems of the day or a warm-up whenever you need it.

Ideas for Science

39. Create “apple eruptions”

Apple volcano

Image source: Growing a Jeweled Rose

Conduct an apple-volcano science experiment. Fun and yum! Click here for step-by-step instructions. Plus, check out these apple science activities.

40. Get hands-on with science

Science is the perfect subject for kids to get down and dirty in. Try these 35 first grade science projects for inspiration.

41. Try daily STEM challenges

These STEM challenges are designed with your first graders in mind. Try one each day or each week to get their minds thinking outside the box.

42. Use a science journal to teach the seasons

Science journal

Image source: Today … in First Grade

Students will draw trees in each season, describe what they wear during the different seasons, and journal about what makes winter, spring, summer, and fall different as they fill in this science journal.

43. Look for resources from an old friend

Check out these awesome lesson plans for teaching first grade science in the kitchen, on the playground, and throughout the day from PBS Kids.

44. Take a field trip

There’s something about the first grade field trip that’s so special. We’ve rounded up our favorite first grade field trips that students will remember forever.

Ideas for Classroom Organization

45. When it comes to decorating your classroom, less is more

Anyone teaching first grade is going to have the urge to decorate, but check out these HELPLINE readers’ thoughts on why simplicity rules:

  • “I have learned to start with a blank slate and let the students ‘decorate’ the classroom through the year with their work.” —Sarah H.
  • “I made the mistake of covering every wall with decor and then had nowhere for anchor charts!” —Ann M.
  • “You will see people go overboard with themes. Don’t bother! I saw the cutest classroom where the teacher had bought a pack of plain borders with various colors, and she just alternated the colors on the wall with alternating butcher paper. Go simple.” —Suzanne H.

Plus, check out our minimalist guide to classroom design.

46. Keep paperwork organized with labeled three-drawer bins

Three drawer bins for classroom

Image source: Learning to Teach

Hurray! No more messy piles everywhere when teaching first grade! For more organization tips, read Ten Teaching Hacks That Make You Go Duh!

47. Create classroom mailboxes for students

Classroom mailboxes

Image source: The Teaching Thief

Use mailboxes to return work and have students write and deliver letters to one another! Personalize them to match your classroom decor.

48. Craft milk-crate seats with built-in storage

Milk crate seats in blue and green for teaching 1st grade

Image source: The Apple Tree Room

These adorable seats can double as bins for easy materials storage. Check out other creative ways to use milk crates in your classroom.

49. Use “absent folders” to help students catch up when they return to school

Absent folders for teaching 1st grade

Image source: Teaching With Terhune

Partner students at the beginning of the year. When one student is absent, have their partner put work in the Absent Folder for them. When the student returns to school, send the folder home. Total time-saver!

Ideas for Classroom Management

50. There’s a chart for that

These classroom management anchor charts tackle every possible issue.

51. Use a snappy call-and-response to get their attention

For fun ideas for quieting a noisy class, check out these attention-getters.

52. Take a brain break

Check out these 25 brain-break videos, gathered just for your first graders.

53. Reduce stress during dismissal

Dismissal time doesn’t have to be chaotic. Check out these great tips on handling dismissal time.

54. Let students pick their own seats (carefully)

Teaching first grade is part of easing kids into the school experience. Let them practice their independence with these tips for letting students choose their seats.

55. Have students use colored sticky notes to communicate their understanding of a concept

Sticky notes for comprehension for teaching 1st grade

Image source: Love, Teach, Inspire

Students signal if they’re struggling, stuck, or solid on a concept they’re learning! You can use sticky notes or colored index cards.

56. Set up a “Calm Down Corner” and toolbox

First Grade Classroom Management Calm Down Corner and Toolbox for teaching 1st grade

Image source: Creatively Teaching First

The calm-down spot is a classroom space where students go to regulate their emotions and redirect their behavior. Stock these spaces with tools students can use to help them calm down and make better choices. Learn more about Why Safe Spaces Are Critical in Today’s Classrooms.

Need more inspiration? Here are 8 Types of Learning Spaces to Consider Including in Your Elementary Classroom.

Other Ideas

57. Use all the anchor charts

22 Awesome First Grade Anchor Charts That We Can't Wait to Use when teaching 1st grade

Here are 22 anchor charts for teaching first grade.

58. Build relationships with your students’ parents

Check out these 11 Teacher-Tested Ways to Make Your Classroom Parents Adore You.

59. Make art

Sample art projects for teaching first grade

Check out these 45 art projects are just right for first graders.

60. Set the tone for work time with background music

From Piano Guys to Afrobeat to the Jingle Punks Hipster Orchestra, you can find a Pandora station for every occasion.

61. Play with your kids

First graders are hilarious! Don’t forget to have fun with them. Here are a bunch of old-school recess games you can teach your students.

62. Use technology to organize classroom volunteers

Sites like SignUpGenius are free and user-friendly. You could also assign one of your classroom volunteers to manage the content and delegation of any project or extra hands needed using this service. If you are looking for more ways to use classroom volunteers, here are 6 Tricks to Get the Most Out of Classroom Volunteers.

63. Display student work from the ceiling

Worksheets hanging from ceiling in classroom

Image source: Kroger’s Kindergarten

This is the perfect solution for teaching in first grade classrooms with limited wall space, which is the case in most classrooms. Dangle student work from the ceiling! Check out more clever ways to display students work in the classroom and online.

64. Get acquainted with running records

What Are Running Records?

What are running records? When used meaningfully while teaching first grade, running records can really help you move the needle. Running records are a valuable reading-assessment tool used in many primary classrooms.

65. Grab inspired dry erasers

Facial scrubbers used as dry erase board erasers in classroom for teaching 1st grade

Image source: @kinder_charm

This is one of the best money-saving hacks I’ve seen in recent years! After all, inspiration can come from all sorts of places. They’re perfect for little hands and they really get the “erasing” job done. Bonus: They’re cute too! Check out more of our favorite money-saving classroom hacks.

What are your top tips for teaching first grade? Come share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, check out our guide to teaching in a first grade classroom.