I have had many questions about how I run literacy centers in my classroom. I thought it was about time I did a post on them.
Let me start by saying that I love creating literacy centers and my students love going to them! The following is taken from a packet I created for a course I taught on Literacy Centers. I revamped the packet and if you would like to check it out, click here. I have created links to my previous related posts and products within this post, just click on the blue words.
What are Literacy Learning Centers?
Literacy centers are independent literacy based activities designed for students working in small groups. These activities should take the students about 20-30 minutes to complete. The activities include centers such as Book Nook, Listening Center, Story Unscramble, SpellingCenter, and many more. The students complete a rotation of centers in one week. The centers are designed for the practice and reinforcement of a specific theme and/or phonic element of the week.
Why Use Literacy Centers?
Literacy based centers enable the classroom teacher to focus on his/her guided reading group, while the rest of the class is actively engaged in meaningful literacy activities. Center based learning fosters team-work, confidence, and a love of learning. Literacy Learning Centers are designed to take the place of workbooks and “busy work.” Do you remember when you were a student and the teacher left an overwhelming list of workbook pages on the board for you to complete while he/she met with his/her reading groups? Well, centers are a fun and efficient alternative to workbook pages. The same skills can be addressed in centers as workbooks.
Creating a Productive Learning Environment
Before your even think about beginning centers, you must have your rules and routines in place. A great book on setting up routines is Harry Wong’s The First Days of School. Classroom routines help students become better citizens, learners, and friends. Students need to be taught the following:
1. How to leave and enter the room
2. Where to locate classroom materials
3. Where to store and organize belongings
4. How to respond to an emergency signal
5. How to sharpen a pencil
6. How to use the bathroom facilities
7. How to respond to your cues (i.e. lights out means quiet)
8. How to ask the teacher a question
There are many more routines that need to be discussed, modeled, and practiced on the first few days of school. With time and positive reinforcement, your classroom will become a smooth running, productive, learning environment.
Assigning classroom jobs to students will help to ameliorate student interruptions during guided reading. Below, I have listed the jobs that help keep center time running smoothly.
Center Helper: The classroom center helper takes out the center baskets before centers starts and places them on the appropriate table.
Classroom Greeter: The classroom greeter greets all visitors who come knocking at your classroom door. If the visitors have come to share birthday treats, the greeter knows where to get them birthday stickers and you can stay at your guided reading group. The greeter can be trained by you to handle a number of different situations.
Pencil Technician: Sharpens the pencils at the beginning or the end of the day so that there are always sharpened pencils on hand for centers.
Rules and Consequences
There must be a reward and consequence system in your classroom. Unfortunately, students are not innately willing to follow the rules. The discipline plan that I follow in my classroom is from Lee Canter's Assertive Discipline. You can read more about my classroom behavior system here.
When your rules and routines are in place, then you are ready to begin centers. I start by modeling one center with the whole class, such as spelling center. As a class we will rotate through the centers until 4 or 5 centers have been modeled. This may take one or more days to do. Once, I feel the class is ready for independent centers, I set up the centers for them to rotate through independently. Instead of pulling a guided reading group, I walk around to monitor and assist the students at the centers. This is a good time to take mental notes of which students work well together and who should be separated. You may need to observe the students for one day’s rotation or the whole week. I prefer to observe for an entire week. I make sure to applaud exemplarily center work and use much positive reinforcement during this time. The goal of modeling and teaching centers is to get the students to work independently, responsibly, and productively. After, the rules and routines are established for both your classroom and centers, adding new centers will become easier.
Where to set up and house your centers:
Centers may be housed at designated center tables or the centers may be mobile and housed in baskets. I do a combination of both. Book Nook and Computer Center would obviously need to stay stationary. I also keep the Spelling, Listening, and Art Centers at the same tables, while the other centers are taken to the students’ desks. The students’ desks are arranged in clusters of 6-7 desks to create a table. The supplies for these centers are always stored in a basket.
You may also want to keep a small garbage pail at each center for easy clean up. The center group will be responsible for emptying the garbage pail when they clean up the center. I like everything to be away when center time is over. Clearly label the center baskets and supplies. Make sure the students know where to get the center baskets and where to return them. This is an important routine you should go over before you begin centers. Wherever you set up your centers, make sure you can see all of the centers from your guided reading table.
Center Rotation and Grouping
I have a bulletin board set up as a center rotation board to show the students what center they are at. This is also called a “Center Management Board.” See my photo for an example. I velcro the students’ photos to different colored squares to represent groups. For literacy centers, I have 4-5 heterogeneously grouped children in a center group and usually have 6 groups. I try to place only one child from each guided reading group in a center. That way, when a guided reading group is called, there are still other students left in the center group. This is important for centers like BINGO, Buddy Reading, and Memory. Above the group photos are the center cards. I rotate these cards to the right when we rotate centers. The center cards are just clipped on for easy movement. Velcro also works well for rotating the cards. Under each center group is a center reward chart, where the students can earn “Center Stars.” Center rotation may also be set up using a pocket chart with students’ names on index cards. Or you may use library pockets with popsicle sticks to represent the students.
Manage Center Behavior and Productivity:Introduce centers slowly. Teaching procedures for material use and housekeeping will lead to successful independent center time. You can introduce the centers in a whole class setting and brainstorm with your students what the center should look like and sound like.
- Keep your students accountable for their independent center work by periodically walking around while centers are going on. I like to have my centers run for 30 minutes and have my guided reading group for only 20-25 minutes. This gives me enough time to observe the students in their center groups.
- Announce when there is only five minutes left until clean-up.
- Reward center groups that have worked well together. I staple a rewards chart under each center group on the center board. After every rotation, I decided if the group earned a “Center Star.” This is simply a star sticker on the reward chart. To earn a center star, a group must work well together, clean up nicely, and work productively. When a group earns five center stars, the group is allowed to pick a prize from the prize box.
- Reward individual students for trying their best. At the end of center rotations, I have the students sit down at their desks with all of their center work they have done that day. Students may stand up to share their work with the class. The other students are encouraged to give positive comments on the center work. Not all students have to share. I walk around during the sharing and look at the students center work. I give students one ticket if they have used their center time productively. The students store their tickets in snack size zip-lock bags and can earn them throughout the day for other positive behaviors. At the end of the day, the students can cash in their tickets. Five tickets equal one prize from the prize box. If I feel a student has done an exemplary job on his/her center work, it gets hung up on the “Exemplary Center Work” clothes line. Students strive to get their work on this line.
- Minimize interruptions by designating "Center Captains." Select a student to be the "Center Captain for the other students. You can even make a cute little "Center Captain" necklace or place a star next to/on his/her photo. Make a stop sign to hold up to students who come up to you during guided reading. (Interruptions are allowed for emergency situations.)
I have a poster hanging in my room to remind students of the things they can do when they finish their centers early. It is an easy reminder for the students and I can just point to the poster if they come up to me. A great thing to have in students’ “Stay in School Folder” is a "Bonus Packet." These are coloring sheets, word searches, and other fun activities that relate to the month. Basically, it is all the extra worksheets from my monthly files that I don’t do with the students but are easy enough for them to do independently. *I have had a few requests to create "Bonus Packets" to sell. That is one of the projects on my "To Do List" for this summer.
For literacy centers, I focus on the phonic element and story theme of the week. So if the phonic element is short e and the story is about fish, I will have the students read and write the room for short e words. The Writing Center will focus on fish and fish books will be on display in the book nook. The Listening Center will either have a book that follows the phonic element or the theme. The same holds true for my choice of guided reading books. If there is no reading story for the week, I will focus on the holiday for the month or a thematic unit.
You may choose your own center rotation time limit. I prefer center rotations to last for half an hour each. This gives the students ample time to settle into their centers before I pull a guided reading group.
Unfinished Center Work
Students who are pulled from their group for guided reading are not responsible for their center work. I find that most of my students finish at least part of their work when they are pulled for guided reading. If students do not finish their work and have been working productively they are not penalized. If this happens to students all the time in a certain center you may want to revaluate the center task. If students choose not to do any center work, I send it home with a form (see form) and it has to be returned to school the next day.
I hope this post helped you. I created a Literacy Center Packet from this post. The images shared in this post can be found in the packet. Click here to check it out on TpT. I plan on adding more to the packet. Right now the packet is only $2.50. As I add more, I will raise the price. So, if you want to purchase now and download again when the updates come, you will be saving yourself some money. I am also open to suggestions for what you would like added to the packet.
Thanks for reading!