A Minute-By-Minute Walkthrough of Literacy Centers in My K-2 Classroom

Isn’t it fun to get a “peek” into another teacher’s classroom? I love learning new ideas by watching other teachers!

Although I’d love to invite you into my own classroom, this blog post will have to suffice for now. 🙂 In this post, I’m going to do a simple, step-by-step walkthrough of what literacy centers looks like, minute-to-minute, in my classroom.

Keep reading to get the complete picture!In this post, I walk you through, minute-by-minute, my literacy centers block! This example is from Kindergarten, but it would apply to first or second grade also.

Photo Credits: Arlem Shadrin, Shutterstock

For the purpose of this post, I’ve picked 9:20-10:30 as the sample times for my centers block (my kinder centers block really was this long). Technically, the kids are only working in centers for 45 minutes – but you’ll see where those “extra” minutes come into play as you read along.

Sometimes I have to shorten the rotations to 12 minutes, or stick to 2 rotations. Personally, I prefer quality over quantity! (You might be able to get your kids to clean up quicker too, depending upon what age group you teach and how many materials they have out.)

Okay, here we go!

9:20 – 

It’s centers time! I have the kids grab their individual book bags and independent work folders.

They then come back to the rug.

9:23

I introduce/review an activity that will be added to centers. It’s always an activity that they have practiced before, either in whole group or small group!

I only introduce ONE thing per day, for ONE center. Read more about that HERE.

9:30

I pull up the centers rotation chart so kids see where they’re going (you can make your own if you have my literacy centers bundles):

I announce which kids are coming to me (I’m not a center—I pull kids from different groups, usually 2-3 different groups). Read more about my grouping strategy HERE.

I dismiss the kids, group by group, to their centers. I go to the guided reading table.

9:32 

I set my timer for 15 minutes. I teach a guided reading group, and the kids are in their centers.

Even though they haven’t chosen which center they will visit, they DO get to choose what they do in that center. Read more about that HERE.

9:47 

The timer goes off. Round 1 is over! As I’m finishing up with my guided reading group, the other kids start cleaning up.

I set the timer again for 3 minutes.

9:50 

The kids (in an ideal situation ;-)) are all cleaned up. They are sitting in their centers, one finger over their lips, another finger pointing to where their group will go next.

I announce who will be coming to me.

When I give the signal, they rotate!

I set my timer again for 15 minutes.

10:05 

Timer goes off. Round 2 is over! I set the timer again for a 3-minute cleanup.

10:08 

Timer goes off again! We rotate! I set the timer for 15 minutes.

10:23 

Centers are over! My kids clean up and bring 1 item to share during sharing time.

10:26 

We have sharing time. The kids get to share with a partner (something they made, wrote, or read during centers). I have 1-2 kids share out with the whole class.

10:30 

Centers are done! Time to move onto something new.

Conclusions

If you’ve ever seen one of my sample daily schedules, you’ll notice that my literacy centers block isn’t usually THIS long (9:20-10:30).

This particular schedule is an ideal situation, but I know that you might not have as much time. Some years I just don’t have that long!

If you have less time, I would recommend eliminating one of your rounds, or keeping the rounds to 12 minutes, with 3 minutes for clean-up time.

You also might be able to get your kids to clean up faster than 3 minutes—this example was from my kindergarten classroom, and we were a liiiiitle slow to clean up. 🙂

I’m sure you’ll have to tweak this to meet your own needs, but I hope it was still helpful!

Two final things:

  1. My literacy center bundles are ready and can be found HERE!
  2. If you’re looking for an in-depth description of each of the centers my kids visit, click HERE!

Happy teaching!




3 Reasons to Add a “Reading Response” Center to Your Literacy Independent Work Activities in K-2

For a long time, I didn’t have a literacy center devoted entirely to reading response.

I wanted to have my kids write about the books they read on their own AND the books that I read to them. But I wasn’t quite sure where it could fit into our day.

Should it be part of the independent reading center? Well, not really, because that takes away from actual READING time.

Should it part of the writing center? Maybe, but I want the kids to work on other types of writing too.

Should it be a whole class activity, following a readaloud or shared reading? If I have time, absolutely. But sometimes I don’t. And if I give the kids all the same reading response task to work on, they usually finish at different times.

Finally, I ended up making reading response its own center.

It seemed like the best solution — it makes reading response a priority, but it fits conveniently into the literacy centers block that I already have scheduled in our day.

(By the way, I still do set aside time to model responses based on readalouds/shared reading. The reading response center ensures, though, that kids have an extra chance to practice since we don’t have a dedicated reading response time EVERY day.)

Have you thought about adding a reading response center to your literacy rotations? If not, here are 3 reasons why you might want to!Get reading response activity ideas in this blog post for kindergarten, first grade, or second grade! Perfect for literacy centers!

Photo Credits:  milanzeremski, Shutterstock

1. Reading response incorporates comprehension AND writing — a double whammy!

You really do get “a lot of bang for your buck” with reading response activities.

The very act of thinking about a text in order to write about it helps develop kids’ comprehension skills.

You also get to see how kids are doing with their reading/listening comprehension AND their writing skills!

(This is true even if kids can’t write yet, but it’s definitely helpful to have a parent volunteer or aide write what kids say about their drawings when you want to assess students’ comprehension!)

2. Reading response activities can be super fun and motivate kids to read MORE!

Do you know how EXCITING it is for a 5, 6, 7, or 8-year-old to get a personal letter from a friend that recommends a book?

Well, spoiler alert — it is SO fun for them!

Having kids recommend books to each other creates this amazing buzz and energy for reading in your classroom.

Try a project like:

  • A book recommendation letter

This post has ideas for a reading response center in kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!

  • A book review

This post has ideas for a reading response center in kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!

  • A book recommendation flip book

This post has ideas for a reading response center in kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!

3. If you lump reading response in with independent reading, it’s really hard to get kids to find a true balance between reading and responding.

I work with K-2 kids, and they take a loooooong time to write.

Sometimes it can be tempting to have kids respond to books that they’re reading. It seems like a good way to hold them accountable for independent reading, right?

And it can be. BUT there’s really no good way to ensure that the responding doesn’t eat up too much independent reading time — unless you separate the two activities and dedicate time to each one.

I set up my centers rotations so that kids typically visit the reading response center right after they visit the independent reading center. This ensures that they have time to read AND respond!

Reading Response Activities

How do you incorporate reading response into YOUR classroom?

If you’re looking for some reading response activities for kindergarten, first grade, or second grade, check out my reading response packs below!

 

Happy teaching!




5 Ideas for a Successful Writing Center in K-2

Do you have a writing center in your kindergarten, first, or second grade classroom?

In my classroom, the writing center is part of our daily literacy centers rotations. Additionally, I have a separate writing block (writing workshop) at a different time of the day.

The work students do in the writing center reflects what they’ve been working on during writing workshop — with a few fun twists and more variety in activities.

If you have (or are thinking about adding) a writing center OR independent writing activities to your independent work time, this post is for you!

In this post, I’ll share 5 strategies that have increased student engagement AND work quality in my writing center!This post has ideas for your writing center! Perfect for kindergarten, first grade, or second grade.

Photo Credits: spass, Shutterstock

1. Create an example binder.

Kids need to see examples of writing projects!

I always model each writing activity before I introduce it to my writing center. But it’s also helpful for kids to be able to refer back to an example!

I started the example binder so that students would a) quickly and easily see what writing activities they could do at the center, and b) to provide them the support they needed to be successful with those activities.

My example binder is small, because only 3-4 page protectors need to fit in it at any given time. I don’t want to overwhelm the kids with options!

I have one page protector for each project option.

On one side of the page protector, I place a photo or actual example of the writing project.

I put an example binder in my writing center to show students what their options are for writing activities!

On the other side, I place a sheet with ideas to get students started AND a list of “tips” (basically, a checklist for their work).

I put an example binder in my writing center to show students what their options are for writing activities!

It’s pretty simple to put together, but makes a BIG difference in how students do with their writing projects!

If you have lots of students using the writing center at once, consider making two example binders.

If you’re interested in done-for-you example binder materials, check out my kindergarten, first grade, and second grade writing center packs. Every activity comes with the finished example binder sheets, so all you have to do is print!

2. Think outside the box for writing activities.

If you find yourself (or your students) getting a little sick of the same old, same old, bring in writing activities that you might not have tried before.

For example, students might make:

  • Pamphlets / informational brochures
  • Posters for the classroom or school
  • Newsletters
  • Comic strips
  • Props for dramatic play or other play activities (restaurant menus, ad circulars, signs for a pretend store, street signs for the blocks center)
  • Photo stories (kids take photos of each other or small toys and then create a story from the photos — BookCreator is great for this)

3. Provide a range of supports.

We all have students who can sit down at the writing center and draw/write for days on end! We also have kids who need a little more help in order to be successful.

Supports like spelling charts, editing checklists, and word lists can go a long way in supporting students who need it!

When it comes to supports, I want to:

  • Provide a range
  • Present them in a way that’s organized and not overwhelming
  • Easily change them out as the year goes on and students’ needs change

After doing some online searches, I saw that other teachers used a trifold board to display writing center supports. Cool, I thought, but what about when I want to change the supports?

Having the supports stay the same throughout the year didn’t seem like the best option for my students. So I got a trifold board, but instead of gluing down papers, I glued down page protector sheets to the board!

This is the board I use in my writing center — there are page protectors glued to it so I can easily switch out writing supports!

Now I can easily replace the pages throughout the year!

This is the board I use in my writing center — there are page protectors glued to it so I can easily switch out writing supports!

4. Have students plan their work with a partner before they begin.

During writing workshop time, my students always talk to a partner about what they plan to write. This helps them plan out their ideas and get started.

Eventually, I realized that this needed to happen in the writing center too!

So before my students begin working, they tell a partner what they plan to write about.

In the writing center, my students talk to a partner before they begin writing!

These speech bubbles, like everything else shown in this post, come from the writing center resources in my literacy centers bundles.

5. Help students find real audiences for their work.

In “real adult life,” sometimes we write just for ourselves and our own enjoyment.

But more often than not, we are writing for someone else! Knowing that someone else (i.e., a parent, a teammate) will be reading our writing motivates us to make sure it’s coherent.

Similarly, having a real audience is SO motivating to kids, and it improves the quality of their work!

I include a “sharing time” following centers each day. Kids can bring one item to share with a partner (whether it’s a piece of writing, a book they read, or something else).

Additionally, students can:

  • Bring home writing to share with their families
  • Place select pieces in the classroom library
  • Hang up posters in the classroom or school

Having students share their work with an audience doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming!

Conclusions

If you try out any of these ideas, let me know how it goes! And here are those links again for writing center activities in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade:

Happy teaching!




How to Get Organized for Literacy Centers in K-2

Having your literacy center materials organized can save a LOT of time!

As it is, we spend tons of time finding and prepping activities. Keeping those materials organized is a must; otherwise, literacy centers prep turns into a time-consuming scavenger hunt around your classroom! And personally, that’s not my favorite way to spend an afternoon. 😉

So in today’s post, I’m sharing literacy centers organization ideas for your own (teacher) stuff and the kids’ stuff!

In this blog post, I share my organization tips for literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

Organizing Your Own Stuff

In the past, my own biggest problem has been that I forget what materials and options I have for literacy centers.

I might come up with a great idea one year…and then entirely forget it the next. Oops! (Hey, we all have a lot on our minds, right?!)

My solution to this was to create a running list of materials and ideas for each center.

That way, when it’s time to plan centers, I can look at the list, determine what would best match what we’re working on, and choose centers quickly.

Here are two examples from my K-2 literacy centers resources. These examples list the lesson plans I have for introducing the centers (top), as well as the different centers activities I have (bottom):

So I don’t forget what center activities I’ve used in the past, I keep a master list!

My centers resources include an editable version too. You can just keep it on the computer and add to it whenever you purchase or think of a new idea for a center. In my opinion, the editable list is the best way to go, because you can always add onto it:

So I don’t forget what center activities I’ve used in the past, I keep a master list!

I’ve also found that it’s helpful to keep a binder for each center:

 I keep a binder with master copies for each literacy center.

The very first page of the binder is that materials list for the center.

So I don’t forget what center activities I’ve used in the past, I keep a master list!

Then, I include a yearlong schedule for introducing the materials. If I want to make changes to the schedule, I can easily draw arrows or move things around, but it’s nice to have something to start with.

I have a yearlong plan for what centers activities I will introduce and when.

Next, I include the lessons I use to introduce the center at the beginning of the school year.

It’s nice to keep these lessons handy throughout the school year, because when things go awry (aka kids aren’t using the center correctly!) I can refer back to the initial lessons and do some re-teaching.

I keep the introductory lesson plans for all of my literacy centers in my binders.

Following these introductory pages, I include the actual printable materials students will need for the different activities.

I have 1-2 plastic sleeves per activity. The plastic sleeve(s) include:

  • Overview of the center (on top, for quick reference)
  • Lesson(s) to introduce the center
  • The printable masters for materials kids need for the center
  • Kid-friendly directions cards

For any literacy center activity, this is all the “stuff” I keep in my master binder.

All of that stuff above goes in 1-2 plastic sleeves:

For any literacy center activity, this is all the “stuff” I keep in my master literacy centers binder.

Then, when I assemble materials the kids will eventually use, I put them in a simple manila envelope. And I keep the envelopes in these plastic storage tubs, labeled by center:

This is how I store prepared literacy center materials when students are not using them.

You can find those tubs on Amazon HERE.

Organizing the Kids’ Stuff

Now let’s move on to the kids’ stuff—the actual materials they will need to do the centers activities!

First, I have my students bring their own individual book bags to centers. They use them in the independent reading center, reading response center, partner reading center, and sometimes even the writing center.

I also give each student a sturdy independent work folder to use. ALL of the student’s paper-and-pencil work for centers goes in the folder.

The side with the red sticker is for finished work (aka work that I can review) and the side with the green sticker is for work in progress.

I have students keep an independent work folder for centers. The green sticker side is for work in progress and the red sticker side is for finished work that I can review!

Then there’s all the other centers “stuff.” What to do about that?

My personal preference is to keep everything students will need for a center in one or two plastic storage tubs.

And I’ve been using the same type of tub that I store the prepared materials in:

I keep literacy centers materials for students to use in these tubs.

I don’t keep a tub for every single separate center activity, because I typically use the materials for other purposes throughout the year. My binder and own tub(s) for the center serves as my “bank” of activities, and then I gather other materials from other classroom storage areas.

Your Thoughts?

Do you have any great storage ideas for centers? Please leave a comment below!

If you’re looking for the materials lists, lesson plans, and activities featured in this post, you can check out my kindergarten, first grade, or second grade centers bundles HERE .

Happy organizing!




Literacy Centers That Work

There are a LOT of different ways to run literacy centers.

For example, you can have students work in pairs. Or they can work in larger groups.

You might have students work with their guided reading groupmates. Or mix groups up so that students work with peers at different levels.

You can let students choose centers. You can give them partial choice. Or you can determine the centers that students visit.

The options seem endless!

So is there one “right” way to implement literacy centers? I really don’t think so. Ultimately, you have to do what works best for you and your kids.

But in this post, I’ll share the framework that makes the most sense to me! I’ll cover topics like grouping, differentiating, and holding students accountable. AND I have a free gift for you at the end of the post!!Wondering how to structure literacy centers in your classroom? Or need some tips to make them more meaningful + productive? Read this blog post written for kindergarten, first grade, and second grade teachers!

Photo Credits:  Tirachard Kumtanom, Shutterstock

What is the “Literacy Centers That Work” framework?

My “Literacy Centers That Work” model is structured around 6-7 work centers that students visit while the teacher meets with guided reading or other literacy small groups.

Reading, writing, speaking, and listening are the foundations of the centers activities in this framework. Think of it as an ice cream sundae. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening are the ice cream (necessary for the sundae!). The different variations and activities are the toppings (fun and make the sundae taste even better).

 

Reading, writing, speaking, and listening are the “ice cream” of literacy centers (the foundation). Activities, games, and the way we make these activities fun for students are the “toppings!” Both are important to the sundae, but without the ice cream, there is no sundae!

Photo Credits:  Unal Ozmen

This framework also reflects the principle that students need meaningful, authentic practice to grow as readers and writers. Centers activities are derived from and tied closely to whole and small group literacy instruction.

What are the different centers?

We need to select literacy centers that will help students reach the goals we have for them. As readers and writers, we want our students to:

  • Read with comprehension
  • Decode new words successfully
  • Read fluently
  • Talk and write about what they read
  • Expand their vocabularies
  • Share meaningful ideas through writing
  • Write with correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation

With all that in mind, I chose the following centers to incorporate different, meaningful ways that students can practice literacy skills:

  1. Independent Reading
  2. Reading Response
  3. Word Work
  4. Listening
  5. Writing
  6. Partner Reading
  7. Drama, Music, or Art Literacy Play (for kindergarten—optional, but recommended)

I suggest that you tell students which centers they will go to, and when. Students have choice within each center—but more about that later.

I also recommend that you use this same order of centers (1-6, or 1-7) in the rotation. For example, Group A visits centers 1-3 on Monday and 4-6 on Tuesday. The order of these centers was carefully selected so that students usually have a balance of writing and reading activities each day.

Here are some in-depth descriptions of the different centers:

1. Independent Reading Center

This center is all about reading, plain and simple! It’s a quiet center—but not necessarily silent, since many students in K-2 may be whisper reading.

In the independent reading center, students may jot down thoughts, reactions, and questions on sticky notes, half-sheets, or on interactive bookmarks (pictured below). They write quick notes or ideas to share with their peers.

Want to get your students responding during independent reading time? Use interactive bookmarks for a quick, simple response activity! Read the whole blog post for ideas about implementing literacy centers in K-2.

However, at this center, students don’t spend time on lengthy written responses (or drawings). That takes place at the “Reading Response” center.

Why? Because kids need plenty of time to just read. If we ask them to create lengthy responses during their reading time, it can a) reduce the amount of time they have to practice reading, and b) send confusing messages about whether they need to be reading or writing.

Also, students bring their own book bags or book boxes to this center. They usually read only from their own book bags or boxes.

Kindergarten and early first grade students should have 10-12 books in their bags/boxes. Late first grade and second grade students might have between 6 and 8 books, depending on the length of texts that they are reading.

I also think it’s important to ensure that students have at least some books in their bags that you know are at their independent level.

I typically create a book shopping rule like, “Select 5 books from anywhere in the classroom library, and 5 books from your group’s bin.” Inside the group bin, I can put a) books that students have already read during guided reading and b) other books that I know will be at their independent level.

This combination strategy allows students choice. But it also helps ensure that they’re not always reading books that are way too hard or way too easy.

And speaking of book shopping, the independent reading center is not an opportunity to shop for books. This time is exclusively dedicated to reading. They can shop for books during other “down times” in the day. I like to assign each guided reading group a book shopping day (or days), and students get new books as soon as they arrive at school on that specified day or days.

That said, kindergarten and early first grade students tend to go through books quickly—and if your centers last 15 minutes, that can be a long time for them to read independently! For these students, place a 5-minute sand timer in the center. When students arrive, they turn the timer over and have 5 minutes to “shop” for new books in the classroom library. When the timer runs out, they must settle down and begin reading immediately.

In addition to “regular” books, students can also read poetry, song lyrics, magazines, books written by other classmates, ebooks, etc.

One final note: In addition to the independent reading center, I also dedicate another time of the day for students to read independently (even if it’s just an additional 5-10 minutes). Not all students will visit the independent reading center each day, but we want to ensure that all students have an opportunity to read independently every day.

This separate independent reading time gives me a chance to meet with a few students for individual reading conferences and make sure that they are picking appropriate books for their bags.

Also, I’ve found that some students focus better when everyone is reading at the same time, and the class is quieter.

2. Reading Response Center

This center provides opportunities for students to respond to what they read in Center #1 (independent reading).

Students bring their book bags or boxes to this center. They spend a few minutes:

  • Selecting a book or books to respond to
  • Quickly reviewing parts of the book and/or their sticky notes
  • Choosing a method for responding to the book (more about that below)
  • Chatting with their peers about the book they plan to respond to

A sand timer may be helpful with teaching students to limit the amount of time they spend planning and talking.

A group leader might turn over a 3 or 5 minute sand timer as soon as students enter the center. When the timer runs out, planning and talking stops and students begin working on their responses.

Typically, students will have 2-3 different options for how they respond to text. The options may vary, but can include: drawing or writing about a favorite part, drawing or writing to show an interesting fact, designing a new cover for the book, writing an alternative ending to the story, creating a new nonfiction book that combines information from several texts, answering a reader response question, writing a book recommendation for a friend, writing a letter to the author, etc.

A response may not necessarily be finished in one day. Students may be finishing up a response from a previous day (I recommend that students spend no more than 2 days on any one response).

Students store their unfinished or finished responses in their independent work folders, which they bring with them to all centers.

3. Word Work Center

In the word work center, students practice reading, making, and writing words they are learning. These can include sight words, words with a particular pattern, and/or vocabulary words (depending upon students’ levels).

There are many different ways that you can organize this center. My personal preference is to have students work independently or in similar-ability partnerings. They practice their own words, which are kept on cards or in lists in their independent work folders. Words are selected for students based on their developmental needs, and they may be part of a word study program like Words Their Way (my personal favorite).

In kindergarten (or even early first grade), the word work center can start out with name work, alphabet letter/sound work, and phonological awareness work. You may also want to include 2 word study centers in your classroom at the beginning of the year so that students have many opportunities to practice these foundational skills.

In late first grade or second grade, the word work center may include grammar and vocabulary work.

There are many, many possibilities for word work activities! Students can play games, stamp words, make words out of Wikki Stix or playdough, use iPad apps, work with magnetic letters, complete word or picture sorts, and the list goes on.

I recommend limiting students to 2-3 choices at any given time. I also recommend teaching students a core group of games and having them play these games throughout the year (using different words each week or 2-week period). This cuts down on the amount of time you have to spend preparing and teaching games.

4. Listening Center

In this center, students listen to pre-recorded stories or texts read aloud. They may also respond to the texts by writing, drawing, or talking to a partner.

When I first started teaching, I had cassette tapes for the listening center. 🙂 But now there are so many different options!

You might use a CD player (with a headphone splitter so multiple students can listen).

You could also use desktop computers, laptops, or tablets to have students listen to books online or in apps.

Students might also write a sentence or two about the text, like in this “passport” activity:

In this activity, students each get a passport and track the texts they listen to throughout the year. Read the blog post for listening center and other literacy center ideas!

Students place finished work in their independent work folders, or leave it at the center if the audience of the work was their classmates.

5. Writing

In the writing center, students choose from a variety of writing tools and can work on different writing products.

There are many possibilities, but here are just a few suggestions:

  • Write an article for the class newsletter
  • Write a letter to a friend or relative
  • Create a how-to book to be placed in the classroom library
  • Create a travel brochure about their town (or another place they have visited)
  • Interview a friend and write a biography about them
  • Work on a piece from writing workshop

Students store their writing in their independent work folders so that they can easily return to it later. However, if they choose to work on a piece from writing workshop, they put that piece back in their separate folder for writing time.

6. Partner Reading Center

In the partner reading center, students work together to read and discuss texts in a variety of ways.

Again, there are tons of possibilities, but here are a few suggestions:

  • Do an echo read (one partner reads one page and the other partner echoes it)
  • Do a choral read (partners read the whole book at the same time)
  • Take turns reading pages of a book
  • One partner reads an entire book and the other partner then rereads it
  • Reread a big book with a pointer (and search for certain words, punctuation marks, etc. after finishing)
  • Partners take turns video recording each other reading texts
  • Act out a familiar story

Students often don’t have a tangible product after working in this center. But as I’ll discuss later, this is just fine. And you can pretty easily glance over and see if a pair of students is goofing off or actually reading. 🙂

7. Drama, Music, or Art Literacy Play (optional)

I know that not all of us work in a school where the arts, drama, and play are prioritized. But if you are able to create a center like this, I think it’s a great idea to do so!

Depending upon how you structure the center, students might:

  • Respond to texts through art (paint, markers, collage, etc.)
  • Create something (i.e. a clay/playdough sculpture) and write about it
  • Use puppets or props to act out a familiar story
  • Engage in dramatic play (i.e. a doctor’s office scenario, in which students read and write for various pretend purposes)

There are so many possibilities for this center! When I taught kindergarten, I always created a space for dramatic play in my classroom. If you’re interested in resources to help you create a dramatic play center based around literacy, look for my dramatic play resource (coming soon!).

Other Options for Centers:

I like using these 6-7 essential centers for simplicity and ease of planning.

However, if you prefer to have a greater number of centers, you can “break up” the different activities in these centers to make more centers.

For example, instead of having students read big books during partner reading, you can have them read “regular books” during partner reading and establish a separate big book station.

Or, instead of having students work with technology in the word work and writing centers, you might have a separate computer or iPad center.

You could also add separate poetry centers, pocket chart centers, or fluency centers.

And you may need to break up these centers if you have a large number of students—but more about group sizes in a minute.

How long do centers last?

This depends upon a lot of things—where you are in your school year, what grade level you teach, how long your literacy block is, and how many small groups or guided reading groups you want to see.

Generally speaking, you probably want to have students spend 30-45 minutes TOTAL in centers each day. Each center can last about 15 minutes for K-1. In 2nd grade and up, you might use 15-20 minutes for each center.

How do students rotate between centers?

In my model, the teacher assigns students to centers. Each student visits 2-3 centers per day (fewer if he/she is seen by the teacher for guided reading).

Each center lasts as long as one small group lesson, so all students rotate at the same time.

When it’s time to clean up, the teacher gives some kind of signal. When students are finished cleaning up, they sit back down and point to the center where they will go next. When everyone is ready, the teacher gives another signal, and students rotate.

So that students are aware of how long they have to work in each center, it’s helpful to use some kind of visual timer (on the interactive white board, a sand timer, a timer with a large display, etc.).

Also, teachers need to create some kind of display so that students know which centers they will be visiting that day. The display can be created on a pocket chart, bulletin board, or interactive white board. The teacher (or a student helper) changes the parts of the display each day to reflect students’ center assignments for that day.

How are students grouped?

Ideally, 4 students work in a center at one time. However, in many centers, students actually complete the activity with one partner or independently. So although 4 students may be in the center at the same time, all 4 children are not usually working together (this helps reduce the noise level).

Each group of 4 students consists of 2 students from one guided reading group and 2 students from a different guided reading group. This way, the teacher can specify that students work with a same-ability partner OR a different-ability partner, depending upon the activity.

This set-up is also helpful because when a teacher meets with one guided reading group, there are still 2 children left in the center who can work together.

Of course, the math doesn’t always work out perfectly due to class size and absences. Here are some tweaks you can make, if necessary:

  • Have a group of 5 or a couple of groups of 5, with 2 kids from one guided reading group and 3 from another
  • Teach students modifications for partner activities (so they can complete them individually or in a group of 3)
  • Temporarily rearrange groups if absences or other changes require it
  • Break up one of the 6-7 centers to create an additional center

You can read more about this strategy (and see some videos) in this post.

How are centers activities differentiated?

Many of the activities are accessible to all learners because students are reading and writing at their own levels.

However, here are some ways to ensure that students are working on appropriate tasks:

  • Require that half of the books in students’ book bags come from a specific bin, with books at their independent level (read more about this under the independent reading center description)
  • Give students differentiated word cards or lists that they keep in their folders (students then complete the word work activities with their specific words)
  • Use different colored folders in a center (each folder includes different activities, and students are assigned to work from a specific colored folder)
  • Pair students up strategically (as described in the section above, with same-ability and mixed-ability pairing options)

How are students held accountable for their work?

First, I want to say that although I think it’s very important that students are on-task and learning during centers, I am not a huge fan of assigning students tons of worksheets. I don’t think that kids have to produce something in every center that they visit.

That said, kids still need to know that they will be held accountable for their work. We can do this by:

  • Making center goals very clear to students
  • Checking students’ independent work folders on a weekly basis (or a daily basis, if students are really struggling with staying on-task)
  • Choosing 2-3 students to observe each day
  • Making time for daily 1 minute check-ins (i.e. getting up from your small group to take a peek at what students are doing in centers)
  • Keeping quick checklists available for those check-ins
  • Having students take photos of non-written work for you to review (check out the awesome app Seesaw for this!!)
  • Having a sharing time at the end of centers where students can talk about their learning, share materials they created, and self-assess their productivity

How is choice incorporated into centers?

Choice is a powerful motivator! Although I assign groups and the centers where students work, I like to provide different options to students within each center.

At any given center, there are always 2-3 different options for activities. These are represented on instructions cards:Although I tell students which centers to visit, I use these choice rings to show them the different activity options they have in the center!

I only provide a few choices at a time so that students don’t get overwhelmed (and to make centers easier to clean up!).

How are materials organized and rotated?

Each center has a designated location in the classroom. You can store materials and have students work in that same space.

If you have a small classroom or other space challenges, you may have to have students work at desks or tables for some centers. You can still designate one location in the classroom where materials for that center will consistently be stored.

In the past, I changed out all of my centers on Mondays. But I found that this created “information overload” for my students when I had to teach them (or at least review) tons of new centers each week.

Instead, I recommend changing out only 1 activity option for 1-2 centers per day.

So on Monday you might introduce a new activity for the listening center (and the other 2 options in that center stay the same). And on Tuesday, you introduce a new activity for the partner reading center (again, the other 2 options in that center stay the same). And on Wednesday, you might introduce new activities for the independent reading and word work centers. (And so on.) This way, you’re only spending a few minutes teaching 1-2 things before students start centers each day.

Also, before you ever introduce a center, you should model it repeatedly in whole group or small group. For example, have students play a word work game during guided reading before you place it in the center.

Because your centers activities should be closely tied to your classroom instruction, model them during different times of the day. When it’s time for centers, you might have to briefly review or explain a few things, but then it’s just a matter of placing the familiar materials in the center for students to use.

In addition to the centers materials you set up, students also have their own independent work folders.

You can have students keep differentiated tasks, word lists, or word cards in their folders for use during centers. Students also keep their writing, drawing, and other center-related tasks inside the folders. If a product is “in progress,” it goes in the pocket with the green sticker. If it is finished, it goes in the red pocket.

You can review students’ independent work folders on a weekly basis. After you’ve reviewed some of a child’s finished work, you can a) paperclip finished work to indicate that the child can take it home or b) place it in the child’s mailbox / other location for take-home papers.

How do centers fit into the literacy block or school day as a whole?

That’s a whole other ball of wax 🙂 so I’m going to refer to you to these other posts that I’ve written:

Fitting It All In: How to Schedule a Balanced Literacy Block for Kindergarten

Fitting It All In: How to Schedule a Balanced Literacy Block for First Grade

Fitting It All In: How to Schedule a Balanced Literacy Block for Second Grade

What To Do When You Can’t Fit All Of The Balanced Literacy Components Into Your Literacy Block

What if I need resources for my literacy centers?

I’ve got you covered! If creating engaging, meaningful centers for your K-2 students is important to you – and you don’t want to stay after school for hours and hours preparing materials, check out my Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade literacy center bundles.

You can also view the individual centers packs by scrolling down to the bottom of each bundle description.

Let me know if you have any questions, and happy teaching!




How to Group Students for Literacy Centers (K-2)

Grouping students for literacy centers is like trying to solve a wacky math problem on a standardized test:

Sally can’t be in the same group as Johnny. Johnny can’t be with Juan. Juan needs to be with Sally. Matt and Christina should be in the same groups. What group should Riley be in?

Ha. But seriously, I’ve tried quite a few different strategies for grouping. I’ve tried:

  • Same-ability groups
  • Mixed-ability groups
  • Student-selected groups
  • Teacher-selected groups
  • Smaller groups
  • Larger groups

You name it, I’ve probably tried it.

All of that experimentation did lead somewhere, fortunately. I eventually came up with a way to group students for literacy centers so that:

  • Students can learn from each other in mixed-ability pairings
  • Students also have opportunities to work on the same skills with their same-ability peers
  • I can pull students from different groups (for guided reading with me) without messing up a centers activity

In this post, I’ll share how I do it!This is my FAVORITE way for grouping students!! When I use this strategy, kids have opportunities to work in same-ability and mixed-ability groups for literacy centers. Love it!!My Goals

After some experimentation, I decided that I wanted students to sometimes work with their same-ability peers but sometimes work with different-ability peers.

To play a word work game, for example, it’s easiest if students are working on similar words.

For partner reading, however, it can be beneficial to have a slightly stronger reader working with a slightly lower reader.

I also wanted to be able to pull students for guided reading without it affecting students’ centers activities.

How I Worked It All Out

Here’s what I came up with:

  • 6 classroom centers (more about that in next week’s post)
  • Activities that require students to work independently or with one other person (to keep noise levels low)
  • Groups of 4 or 6 students per center (this is the total number of students in the center—but students typically work in partnerships or alone)
  • Center groups that combined pairs of students from different guided reading groups (i.e. 2 students from guided reading group A and 2 from guided reading group C)

Let’s look at an example. In this example, I’ll use ideal, “pretty” numbers, but then I’ll get into some suggestions for making this work with odd numbers or different group numbers.

In your class, you have 24 students. You have 4 different reading groups. They are color coded from lowest to highest, red to green:This post explains how to effectively group students for literacy centers!

You want to make groups of 4 children for your 6 different centers (4×6=24). So you form your groups by pulling together pairs of children from different guided reading groups. You pair together students from groups with different ability levels, but not TOO wide of a gap:This post explains how to effectively group students for literacy centers!

Kids rotate through centers in these groups. In some centers, you tell kids that they should work with a person who is in a different reading group. In other centers, you tell kids to work with a partner from their same reading group.

Whenever you call a guided reading group to come to your table, two kids leave the group. The remaining two children can still work together if they are working in a partner-driven center. They can join another group or choose an independent activity if someone is absent.

Here’s a video of me explaining all this:

Like I said, the “ideal” numbers in this situation make the strategy easy to use. But you can STILL use it even if your numbers are different!

Here are some suggestions to make this strategy work in a variety of situations:

  • Use some group(s) of 6 if you have an odd number of students (or a different number of centers)
  • If you have an odd number of guided reading groups, divide a larger group into two subgroups
  • Teach students “one person” modifications to each center activity in the case of absences or an odd number of students

Here’s a video of me explaining how I would use this strategy with an odd number of guided reading groups:

You’ll have to think through how it would work in your specific situation—you might want to use sticky notes so you can move kids around as you consider different options.

If you try out this strategy, let me know how it goes!




What to Do When Students Aren’t Engaged During Literacy Centers

Do you struggle with keeping students engaged during literacy centers? Are your kids off-task, even though you spend TONS of time finding fun activities for them?

Keeping students engaged during centers can be SO challenging. 

Part of the issue is just that…well, they’re kids. They’re still learning to be independent, and that takes time!

BUT there absolutely ARE things we can do to improve student engagement. After a lot of trial and error, I’ve found some strategies that really work!

In this post, I’ll share the questions I ask myself + the “fixes” I try when my students aren’t engaged with their centers work. I’ll also share tips for getting your kids back on track!Do you struggle with off-task or disengaged students during center time? This post has some tips to help! These ideas are great for Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade literacy centers.

Photo Credit: Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley, Shutterstock

3 Questions To Ask Yourself

First, I observe my students closely so that I can pinpoint what the problem REALLY is.

I cancel one small group and allow ALL my kids to work in centers for about 10-15 minutes. While they work, I stand back and observe quietly.

I look to see if a small number of students are off-task, OR if nearly all my kids are having trouble.

Once I see WHO is not on task, I ask myself:

  1. Do the kids understand the activity?
  2. Is the activity too difficult or too easy for them?
  3. Are the groups I’ve made not working well?

Based upon what I notice, I can do one or more of the following:

  • Change up my groups
  • Re-teach general expectations and procedures (whole group or small group, depending upon how many kids have been off-task)
  • Re-teach specific activity directions 
  • Figure out how to better differentiate the activity or activities so that ALL students can be successful and appropriately challenged
  • Change out materials MORE or LESS frequently
  • Do more modeling AND incorporate more practice into whole group/small group before releasing an activity into centers

Tips For Getting Your Kids Back On Track

After you’ve made your observations, it’s time to get your kids back on track!

In whole group and/or small group, teach any expectations that your students need to work on. Make changes to your groups, if necessary. Make changes to your OWN plans for introducing activities, if necessary.

Then, try a few of these strategies: 

  • Teach self-reflection. I want my students to know that their behavior during centers MATTERS! Once a week,  have your students fill out a quick self-reflection form like the sheet below (from my K-2 literacy center bundles). 

Get this FREE self-assessment form for literacy centers in the blog post! You'll also get ideas for getting students more engaged during literacy centers.

  • Make sure kids really know what to do in each center. Kid-friendly directions have made a big difference for my kids! Even if they can’t read the text, they see the pictures and are reminded about the directions for each activity! As I mentioned before, it might *SEEM* like your kids are disengaged, when in reality, they’ve just forgotten how to do the activities. Try making your own kid-friendly directions or using the ones in my K-2 literacy centers bundles.

  • Create a balance of consistency + variety. My students often forgot how to play the games I taught them. As a result – you guessed it – they got off-task! To solve this problem, I decided to a) teach my kids a small set of games and activities and b) just rotate out different themes for those SAME games. That way, if they know how to play Spell and Score, for example, they can enjoy it with a fall theme and later on in the year with a St. Patrick’s Day theme.

  • Try a whole-class incentive. When I feel like engagement has become a big problem, I cancel centers for a day. I re-teach procedures and expectations.  Then, going forward, I offer a whole class reward for x number of “good behavior” days during centers. Or I add marbles to a jar every time the class does a good job during centers (and then the class gets a reward when the jar is full). If you go this route, be sure to emphasize the importance of teamwork. If the class has a rough day, do not tolerate students blaming or calling out individual students.
  • Try an individual incentive. Some days, I announce that I will be choosing a “Model Student” during centers. I announce the winner at the end of centers time and discuss what that student did exceptionally well. The “Model Student” might get a small reward or the opportunity to be a centers leader the following day.
  • Consider tightening up your consequences. I’m all about positive reinforcement, trust me. But I also have super high expectations for behavior, especially during centers. If I’m concerned that kids will exhibit or have been exhibiting a certain behavior (i.e. throwing playdough instead of making words with it), I explain that if they do this during centers, they will immediately be removed from the center. They will have to work somewhere else (and potentially alone). And then —if I do observe a child exhibiting that behavior—I give no warnings. I immediately place them in another center. Once your kids know that there are clear and immediate consequences, they really will do a better job with following directions.

Conclusions

If you’re struggling with student engagement during centers, try one of these strategies. And let me know how it goes—I’d love to hear from you!

If you’re looking for the resources pictured in this blog post, check out my Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade literacy center bundles. Get your students excited about centers again with meaningful, engaging activities!




How to Use Independent Work Folders for Accountability During Literacy Centers

I’ve gotta be honest. I am NOT good about keeping track of (or grading…) papers in the classroom!

With the exception of assessments, papers tend to pile up in the “turn in” box. They often make their way into my take-home bag…and then they stay there. For days. Or weeks. OOPS!

However, my terrible habits improve when I have a more structured system for gathering and reviewing student work.

And that’s exactly what I want to share with you in this post—a simple, structured system for keeping track of students’ independent work during centers!

I’m not a huge fan of using tons of worksheets, but some centers activities do have paper products. These can be writing pieces, responses to texts, recording sheets for games, and so on.

In this post, I’ll share what I have students do with these paper products. I’ll explain how I hold students (and myself) accountable using a simple folder system!

How do you keep track of papers during literacy centers? In this post, I share a VERY simple folder strategy!

In the past, I’ve had students turn in all centers work to one “turn in” bin. This presented a few problems:

  • Because the papers weren’t dated (and sometimes they piled up), I didn’t have a good sense of how productive students were during centers on a given day (or in a given week).
  • If kids were in the middle of a piece of writing or other paper and centers time ended, they weren’t sure what to do with the unfinished work. I had them put it in a folder in their desk, but they would frequently forget about it, fail to finish it, or lose it. Not good!

I decided that I needed an alternative to that one-size-fits-all bin.

I wanted students to be able to store ongoing work in one place. I wanted to be able to easily see what they were doing during centers. And I needed a system to hold myself accountable for reviewing their centers work.

So I started using independent work folders!

How do you keep track of papers during literacy centers? In this post, I share a VERY simple folder strategy!

I labeled the folders with students’ names and had the kids carry them to each literacy center.

They kept finished work in the “red sticker” side and unfinished work in the “green sticker” side. That way, when I reviewed their folders, I could tell if they believed that something was finished and ready for me to look over.

I also decided to review students’ folders on a rotating basis, rather than all of their folders at the end of the week. You can create folder review groups that are the same as your guided reading group, do boys one day and girls another, etc.

When I review students’ independent work, I want them to know that I’ve looked it over and that they can take it home. I do this by paper-clipping together the papers that I’ve reviewed.

How do you keep track of papers during literacy centers? In this post, I share a VERY simple folder strategy!

If you don’t want to use so many paperclips, you can simply remove the work from students’ folders and place it on their desks, or in their mailboxes, etc. so that they can take it home.

So that’s it—that’s the whole system! Pretty basic and straightforward. But it’s helped me get a better sense of what kind of work students are producing during centers, as well as how often they are finishing tasks!

If you’re looking for more resources to get organized for literacy centers, check out my Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade literacy center bundles!

Happy teaching!




10 Great Apps for Literacy Centers in K-2

Looking for some great apps for literacy centers? In this post, I’ll share 10 apps that I love!

These apps are great for kindergarten, first, or second grade, but they can probably be used at other grade levels too.

You’ll notice that I’ve chosen apps that are not specific to a certain skill or skill set. There are tons of great phonics, sight words, and handwriting apps out there, for sure. But I decided to focus on these 10 apps because you can use them for a variety of purposes!

Also, I want to mention that, at the time I’m writing this, I use iPads with my students. The apps listed here are available for iPads, but there may be other versions for different devices.

If you have questions about pricing, how an app works, or a problem you’re having with the app, please click on the links I’ve provided to learn more about them.

Now let’s dive in! 🙂 Love these apps for literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!!Photo Credits: patat, Shutterstock

1. Seesaw

I wrote all about Seesaw in last week’s post! There is SO much you can do with this app during literacy centers. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Assign students specific passages to read or activities to complete
  • Have students take photos of their work (i.e. word making with magnetic letters) for accountability
  • Have students “write” on digital documents or photos

Click HERE to read more about Seesaw.

Love these apps for literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!!

2. Book Creator

Book Creator is exactly what it sounds like — a digital book creator! But it has some cool features that make it very different from creating a paper book. You can have students:

  • Record their voices reading the books they create
  • Take or find photos and add them to their books
  • Listen to Siri read their book aloud

Click HERE to read more about Book Creator.

Love these apps for literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!!

3. Sock Puppets

Want to get your kids to love retelling practice? Sock Puppets is the app for you! This app allows students to record their voices and have digital sock puppets act out their stories. Such a fun independent or partner reading activity!

Click HERE to read more about Sock Puppets.

Love these apps for literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!!

4. PowerPoint or Keynote

PowerPoint and Keynote on the iPad are more kid-friendly than they are on a desktop or laptop computer (in my opinion). Kids can create presentations about topics they read about. Like Book Creator, they can insert photos and add other media. I love using these apps during a nonfiction unit as an option for kids to present their information to an audience!

Click HERE to read more about PowerPoint or HERE to read more about Keynote.

Love these apps for literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!!5. Epic

I’ve written about this app several times before — because I LOVE it!! A subscription is free for educators, and it gives you access to tons of great children’s books. Kids can read and/or listen to the books using the app. You can even assign them texts and track their progress!

Click HERE to read more about Epic.

6. Shadow Puppet Edu

This is a great, kid-friendly app that students can use to share their learning through videos. They can record their voices and add text and images.Love these apps for literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!!

Click HERE to read more about Shadow Puppet.

7. Children’s Countdown

This one is a little bit different from the others…it’s a visual timer!

Sure, many iPads come with timer apps, or you can easily find them in the app store. But I like this one because it slowly reveals a picture. Our little guys don’t always have a sense of how long five minutes is, even if they see the numbers counting down. This app makes it very clear!

You might use this app to show kids how long they will be in a center, how long they should do a particular activity in a center, or to have them “race against the clock” while reading a passage or words.

Love these apps for literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!!

Click HERE to read more about Children’s Countdown.

8. Felt Board – Mother Goose on the Loose

I started out my teaching career in Pre-K, so I am very familiar with storytelling and retelling using felt boards! The only problem is that it takes FOREVER to make felt pieces. Or if you buy them, they can be super expensive!

This app provides a great, low-cost alternative. Kids can move felt pieces to retell or listen to nursery rhymes and songs. It’s probably best for preschool, kindergarten, or first grade.

Love these apps for literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!!

Click HERE to read more about the Felt Board app.

9. Popplet – reading or writing

This app provides a simple, kid-friendly way for students to create webs and organizers. They can use Popplet to plan out a piece of writing, take notes while reading a text, brainstorm ideas, and more.

Love these apps for literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!!

Click HERE to read more about Popplet.

10. Explain Everything

Last but not least, we have Explain Everything! There is soooo much you can do with this app.

You can have kids read, highlight, and write on poems. You can have students explain concepts that they’ve learned through images and voice recordings. You can send students projects or templates and then have them add images, text, and voice recordings. It’s a super versatile app!

Love these apps for literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade!!

Click HERE to read more about Explain Everything.

Conclusions

I hope you found at least one new app to try! Do you have any other great apps to add to this list? Please leave a comment below!




How to Increase Engagement and Accountability During Literacy Centers with the Seesaw App

When it comes to literacy centers, have you ever wondered…

  • How can I motivate students to consistently create high-quality work?
  • How can I hold students accountable for tasks that don’t involve a recording sheet or paper-and-pencil work?
  • How can I cut down on the amount of prep work that I have to do?
  • How can I easily differentiate centers tasks?
  • How can I incorporate technology that’s easy for students to use?

If you’ve ever thought about or struggled with any of these issues…I have GREAT news for you!

There is an app that can help you solve all of these problems!

It’s called the Seesaw app, and I have my friend Janet to thank for getting me hooked on it. 🙂

The description of the Seesaw app explains that it’s “a student-driven digital portfolio that empowers students of any age to independently document what they are learning at school and share it with their teachers, parents, classmates, and even the world.”

Sounds awesome, right?

It is!

There are SO many different ways that you can use the Seesaw app. In today’s post, however, I’m going to focus on how we can use it during literacy centers.LOVE the Seesaw app for literacy centers! Read the post and watch the video to learn more!

Photo Credit:  Samuel Borges Photography, Shutterstock

During literacy centers, you can use Seesaw to:

  • Have students take photos of their work (accountability!)
  • Have students videorecord their reading, retelling, etc. (accountability + they can share it with the class, which is highly motivating!)
  • Replace certain paper-based tasks with digital forms that students can write on and add audio recordings to
  • Assign different students different tasks
  • Quickly and easily collect and review student work
  • And much more!

Want to learn more and see it in action? Watch the video below!

So, have I convinced you yet? This app is the best!

Click HERE to find out how you can download it.

Happy teaching!