Lower School

Grade 1

Students in grade 1 continue to develop their foundation skills for literacy and numeracy. They are becoming fluent literature readers and writers. They are working on developing comprehension skills. They begin to read longer, more detailed books and their stories have a more developed beginning, middle, and end. They are curious learners, and inquiry and exploration continue to be forces in their learning. Girls begin to demonstrate some independence, to work effectively in groups, to problem-solve, and to develop persistence in their work.

There are many changes girls experience in grade 1. Students are each assigned a desk for the first time. Homework is assigned for each day of the week. First grade students go to the Science lab twice a week. For the first time, students change into a Physical Education uniform for PE classes. Each week, student learn new spelling words and are assessed on them. All of these are indicators that students are ready for an environment that encourages them to work both collaboratively and independently, to think, ask questions, and continue to explore.

the curriculum

List of 10 items.

  • Art

    First grade Art combines the students’ emotions, intellect, and physical skill development as our artists gain confidence, self-understanding, and a sense of global awareness through their art experiences. Activities continue to focus on large and small motor skills through such techniques as learning about proportion using clay figures. Analysis of the works of Georgia O’Keeffe, Marc Chagall, and Piet Mondrian form three major units of study. Art occasionally joins the Classroom curriculum for special cross-disciplinary projects during the school year, allowing first graders to benefit from the enrichment and depth of an art-infused curriculum.

    Curriculum Units for Grade 1
    • Shape/Form: stitched burlap pillows
    • Size/Scale: Terra cotta clay figures
    • Color: watercolors inspired by Chagall
    • Line: Mondrian drawings
    • Surface/Texture: batik silk hoops
    • Value: Gouache painting inspired by O’Keeffe
    • Design: Pencil self-portraits
  • Computer Education

    The goal of the Lower School computer program is to empower girls to make informed use of technology, manipulating computers and other digital resources as responsive tools to meet their specific needs. Confidence and independent thinking grow as Lower School students learn to manipulate hardware and software, preparing them for the use of computers as learning resources as they approach the academic challenges of Middle and Upper School.

    The girls use software and the Internet for computer projects and as reinforcement of the topics covered in their math and reading classes. Classroom computers allow teachers to fully integrate technology with their curricula. We also have twenty iPads for use in the classroom.

    At this level, students continue to develop a comfortable relationship with the computer and iPads as tools for learning. Confident use of the computer as a workstation is stressed. First graders are encouraged to be more independent and responsible through active involvement with the computer. A positive attitude toward computers is emphasized as the students learn basic concepts and computer terminology. Proper use and care of the computer continue to play a role at this level.

    Sample Units
    Basic Internet navigation and safety, mouse and keyboard input, and academic reinforcement​.
  • Language Arts/Literacy

    For students to become lifelong readers and writers, it is essential that they learn early reading and language skills through a strong, integrated instructional process. Becoming a fluent and skillful reader requires extensive engagement with the English language, including understanding the sounds and symbols that make up language, hearing and talking about stories and events, and connecting words with ideas to express in writing and speaking. First-grade students extend their knowledge of language arts by learning skills that enable them to read and write more independently.  The first grade reading curriculum is literature based. The students read a variety of age-appropriate literature books to build sight vocabulary and recognize reading strategies. Students learn what readers do in order to gain meaning from print. First-grade students recognize the relationship between the words they hear and the phonemic structure of language. Students become not only phonemically aware but also phonemically proficient in identifying, producing, and manipulating sounds. Students learn that every syllable must have a vowel sound to determine the number of syllables in a printed word. Students decode two-syllable words by breaking the words into syllables. Students also apply phonics and word-analysis skills to decode words both in isolation and in grade-level text. At each fundamental stage of letter-sound correspondences, blending, and reading whole words, students practice skills that have been modeled for them. Students will be able to compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of story characters. An early introduction to literary analysis provides a strong foundation in critical thinking. Initially, students read controlled decodable text, which serves as an intermediary step until they are able to read grade-level literature and informational text.
    Students begin to understand that writing is a process and learn to apply it appropriately through a Writer’s Workshop structure. They are learning to write brief narratives and descriptions of objects, persons, places, or events. Writing activities for students use good models as examples and encourage talking and writing about books and events. Students write informative/explanatory texts and opinion pieces in addition to narrative writing pieces.  Students also provide supporting reasons and facts and a sense of closure. Students write narratives that recount two or more sequenced events and use words to show the order of events. They work collaboratively with peers and work with an adult to edit and publish their work. Speaking and writing in complete sentences are a focus. Writing occurs in all disciplines and is a whole school priority.
    Word study focuses on vocabulary, phonic-word recognition, and spelling.  The first grade students learn through hands-on ways in order to develop word awareness.  Students investigate pattern, meaning and sound relationships of words using word sorts.  This helps them to discover how to categorize words and notice patterns in the English language.  Word study supports and enhances students’ reading, writing, and spelling.

    We are continuing to practice manuscript handwriting using the Zaner-Bloser method. We encourage the girls to use upper case and lower case letters appropriately. Each week we will introduce six to eight new Word Wall words. We will practice writing and memorizing these words each morning through creative activities. Daily Word Wall activities feature chanting, poetry, games, rhyming, writing, and exercises. Parents are encouraged to help their daughters prepare for weekly spelling tests by practicing the lists at home.

  • Library

    Helping students develop literacy skills through read-alouds continues in first grade.  Most library classes feature a story and discussion, and every effort is made to expose students to a variety of literature. Library instruction covers such topics as the difference between fiction and nonfiction and basic library organization. Students begin to understand that libraries are places for excitement and learning as well as places for quiet reading and listening.

    • To encourage a love of reading
    • To look critically at literature
    • To introduce students to different genres
    • To develop a student’s understanding of library structure

    Organizing information
    Literature appreciation

    Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Awards
    The Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Awards Program is an annual program for students through grade 8 to read and vote for their favorite book from a selected list. Every year there’s a new list of titles. The list is divided into four sections based on grade level.   

    During the opening weeks of school, the books are presented to the students and they sign up for the titles they’re interested in reading. Participation is voluntary, and no additional work is required—it’s just a chance to borrow additional books.   The purpose of the program is simply to promote reading.

    Any student who reads (or listens to) at least three books on the list is eligible to vote. Voting takes place during the first two weeks of March. Once the votes are sent to Harrisburg and tallied, the book with the most votes is named the Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award winner. The author of the winning book is notified. Authors love to win state awards because the award is chosen by children—the intended audience—rather than by adults.

    Students who participate in the program will receive a certificate at year’s end.

    You may view the list of Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Awards books on The Ellis School Library page or on the library portion of the first grade Haiku page.
  • Mathematics

    The first grade math program uses Math In Focus as the primary resource, actively involving students in discovering math concepts through problem solving which is considered central to all mathematics study.  Providing opportunities for students to interact with materials, the environment, and each other fosters the learning of concrete and abstract concepts. Gender-specific research shows an environment that allows girls to articulate thought processes verbally as well as in writing enhances their learning. A strong emphasis is placed on developing mathematical thinking and reasoning skills and the ability to communicate those skills. This program uses a concrete-to pictorial-to abstract development of concepts by using model drawings to connect visual representation to problem solving and algebra. Topics are developed in depth to mastery following the Singapore Mathematics Problem Solving Framework. Students learn the “why” and the “how” through instruction, hands-on activities, and problem solving. The program capitalizes on students’ natural mathematical curiosity in order to develop motivation, a firm foundation of basic skills, and an enjoyment of the subject of mathematics. The supportive classroom environment is intended to instill mathematical confidence in all students. Instruction is differentiated to appropriately meet the needs of each girl.

    • Number and Operations – Developing number sense
    • Algebra – Patterns, properties and functional relationships
    • Geometry – Two and three dimensional shapes
    • Measurement – Length and distance, weight and mass, time
    • Data Analysis – Classifying and sorting, interpreting data
    • Problem Solving – Apply and explain problem solving strategies
    • Reasoning and Proof - Identify, demonstrate and explain mathematical proof
    • Communication – Communicate with peers, teachers and others, use mathematical vocabulary to communicate ideas.
    • Connections – Recognize connections in Mathematical ideas
    • Representation – Using representations to model, organize and record
    • Parents are asked to practice addition and subtraction math facts from 0-20 regularly at home with flash cards.
  • Music

    First graders will focus on the development of musical skills through singing, listening, moving, and playing instruments. Each unit of study provides the student with an opportunity to explore rhythm, melody, harmony, texture, expression, and form. Analysis of their performances provides the students with an opportunity to use musical vocabulary and to make suggestions for further improvement.
    • Folk Music Around the World
    • Vocal Preparation for Class Play
    • Vocal Technique / Performance, Lower School Musical, Closing Exercises Concert
    • Opera, an Introduction
    • Classroom Instruments: Xylophones, percussion
    • Preparation for Lower School Closing Exercises
  • Physical Education

    The Physical Education program at The Ellis School is dedicated to the principle of a “sound body, sound mind.” Through team and individual sports, fitness activities and movement experiences, students will be encouraged to develop leadership, character, teamwork, motor skills, personal fitness, and graceful movement. All students are strongly encouraged to make physical fitness and wellness an integral part of their lives and hopefully the lives of others around them.

    • To help every student become aware of the importance of physical fitness in acquiring and maintaining total wellness.
    • To help students achieve and improve basic motor skills in order to lead active lifestyles and increase fitness levels.
    • To encourage attitudes of teamwork, leadership, and good sportsmanship.
    • To understand that physical activity provides opportunities for enjoyment, challenge, and social interaction.
    • To learn new activities and movements that can be done outside of the classroom to maintain physical fitness.

    • Balloons: striking skills
    • Locomotor movements: hopping, skipping, jumping, and galloping
    • Beanbag/Koosh: throwing and catching
    • Hopscotch: following rules and procedures, using balance and locomotor skills
    • Soccer: 3 on 3 game with introductory soccer skills and strategy  
    • Jump rope: a continuation of individual and group jumping
    • Gymnastics: stretches, floor exercise, balance beam, an introduction to routine making
    • Basketball: age-appropriate activities using basketball skills
    • Fitness: understanding what it means to be “fit”, how do we keep our muscles strong and our hearts healthy, fitness stations with different focuses on balance, flexibility, strength
    • Tag, novelty games, and team building activities throughout the year
    • Cup Speed Stacking: improves ambidexterity, concentration, and hand-eye coordination
    • Football: throwing, catching, and small-sided flag football games

    As part of the health curriculum, “Stranger Danger” will be included in PE using role play scenarios and strategies for staying safe. Ms. Cook teaches an 8-lesson unit on health. The month of January is "Health Month", when students will spend the first half of PE class in the computer lab researching health topics. The second half of class will be spent in the gym.
  • Science

    The first grade science curriculum fosters the student’s natural curiosity about science through inquiry-based learning. Through asking questions, exploring ideas, designing and conducting experiments, and seeking creative solutions to science challenges, first grade scientists expand upon their ability to understand and impact the world. This approach helps the girls acquire skills and knowledge and develop a deeper understanding of concepts. It allows them to make connections in their learning year-to-year in science, and across the curriculum. Each unit of study has a core of essential questions that drive the learning in the topic. Additionally, the girls formulate questions to investigate as they work on specific science topics. The students investigate topics from the Life Sciences, Earth Sciences, and Physical Sciences.

    First graders engage in a special partnership with Frick Environmental Center and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. This partnership, initiated in 2010, includes connecting classroom and campus learning about habitats and the relationship of living things with exploration of habitats in the park. In fall, winter, and spring, students explore park habitats in a series of field trips. Each season the girls will take a field trip to explore and steward a different habitat.

    Learning objectives
    • Use the scientific method to observe, hypothesize, gather data, and draw conclusions
    • Learn to use a variety of lab equipment
    • Gain the skills of inquiry in relation to course studies and the natural world
    • Use a variety of tools for measurement
    • Classify objects into like groups
    • Apply learned concepts to real-world situations
    • Develop curiosity for exploring and understanding their world
    • Demonstrate problem identification and problem solving through scientific inquiry
    First grade science curriculum includes the following units of study: habitats and the relationship of living things, geology, sound, magnetism, construction and structures, systems of the human body

    Field Trips
    First graders will take three field trips to Frick Environmental Center and one field trip to the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.
  • Social Studies

    First graders are introduced to concepts focused on communities, both local and beyond. Using primary and secondary sources they learn how to access information about the history of a place or group of people. They learn about how communities change and explore the agents of change. Using an inquiry-based approach, the girls learn to understand how history (what happened long ago) informs today (how people live and work today). Girls also learn the effects of environment and geography on how people live, what they believe, and how they survive.

    • The Classroom Community-Together the girls create their own First Grade Promise and practice the rules that stress how they, as a community, must work together to create an environment that fosters safety, support, a strong work environment and friendships.
    • The Ellis School Community-The girls study The History of The Ellis School. They learn about traditions that have survived the last 98 years as well as changes that have occurred and how they will leave their mark on the school.
    • Extended Communities-The girls study the cultures of Alaska and Hawaii, two states that differ from where they live and each other in dramatic ways. The girls discover how a people’s food, music, clothing, lively hood and shelter are impacted by their environment.
    • School and Holiday Traditions
    • Current Events
    • Overarching Understandings
    • People live in families and communities
    • Learning about history shows us how things change
    • Where people live can tell us about how they live
    • We are part of history
    • What we do to help our community can make a difference
  • Spanish

    FLES is an acronym that stands for Foreign Language in the Elementary School. It is an approach to language learning that allows students to develop basic communicative skills in a language while reinforcing and enriching content in other disciplines. The FLES model at Ellis provides kindergarten through grade three students with Spanish and grade four students with French language learning opportunities. Studies have shown that the early study of a second language results in cognitive benefits, gains in academic achievement, and increases in self-esteem, creativity, and positive attitudes toward diversity. Our experience has shown that students are not only able to learn but are also highly engaged in learning content through the target language.

    The FLES program is based on thematic units linked to all content area subjects taught in the regular classroom, i.e., health, science, math and social studies. In addition, the culture of the target language is integrated into instruction through music, art and dance.

    The girls are provided from 20-40 minutes of instruction two times per week. The focus of the proficiency-oriented instruction is on meaningful and purposeful communication. Students are encouraged first to understand and then to produce in the language, with emphasis given to developing near-native pronunciation. In the early grades, there is little focus on written language.

    The theme of grade one Spanish is My Insular World. This theme integrates the necessary vocabulary and grammar for the student to perform the following skills:
    • Describe one's family members in terms of physical features, personality, age, likes and dislikes
    • describe one's home
    • describe one's friends and one's school

Co-curricular Highlights

List of 4 items.

  • Author Day

    Each year Ellis invites a special author to visit students in Lower and Middle Schools. Students enjoy a special assembly, and then spend time with the author in smaller groups. Past authors have included Lisa Yee, Sarah Pennypacker, and Kathi Appelt. 
  • Candlelight Recital

    Two recitals are given every year in the Lower School, one in February and one in May. February’s Candlelight Recital has participants from grades two through four who study instrumental music, voice, or dance outside of the regular school day. May’s Candlelight Mini has participants from Pre-Kindergarten through grade one who study instrumental music or dance. Parents, grandparents, and special friends are invited to attend the Candlelight Recital.
  • Habitat Explorers Program

    In grade 1 students are introduced to three Western Pennsylvania habitats through exploration and stewardship lessons in each habitat—woodland, meadow, and stream. Students attend six sessions of hands-on learning and inquiry at Frick Park.
  • Heritage Day

    Students in all divisions honor the cultures and heritages of their classmates on Heritage Day. Family traditions are shared and their histories discussed, and costumes and dress of each child’s heritage is worn. It is a day to look beyond the American culture to other countries around the world.