Are you looking to start literacy centers but have lingering questions you want answered? Take a look at these frequently asked questions regarding starting, organizing, and managing literacy centers to give you confidence in implementing literacy centers in your classroom this school year.
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Reading Workshop Rotation Board
Organize your reading groups and easily rotate students through literacy centers with this colorful bulletin board display! Includes planning templates for centers and differentiates instruction.
What are literacy centers?
Literacy centers are areas or stations within your classroom where students work independently on reading, writing, listening, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension tasks. Student groups rotate through these centers and have the opportunity to complete several tasks during a specified time within your literacy block.
During literacy centers, students complete hands-on, engaging tasks that review skills you’ve already taught and ELA standards that you are currency teaching. As students complete these activities with their groups, teachers are able to work with their own teacher-led groups to offer additional support, reteach specific skills, or provide accommodations to students who need them.
What are the benefits of literacy centers?
One of the main benefits of literacy centers is that activities target multiple learning styles and are differentiated to meet students’ individual needs. Here are some other benefits of implementing literacy centers (or reading workshop) in your classroom:
Students gain additional practice with literacy standards.
Student learning occurs independently of the teacher.
Students feel more comfortable participating.
Students have the ability to work with a partner or small group of 4-5 students.
Students are engaged in the learning since activities are hands-on and collaborative.
Teachers can more easily modify work and group students together to best meet their needs.
Teachers can work with individual or small groups of students during literacy center time without disruption.
Students are receiving individualized attention during teacher-led center and the teacher is able to work on specific areas for growth.
How does working in groups help learning?
When students learn in groups, they are able to work together and help each other make meaning of the content. If a student is confused or unsure, another student can provide clarity. Working in groups also gives students opportunities to interact and practice every day language skills in a setting where they feel comfortable. During these interactions, students are also likely to practice using content-rich vocabulary as they discuss the task at hand.
How do you keep students accountable during centers?
In my classroom, students bring a special “Center Notebook” with them to literacy centers. When students get to their center, they write the day of the week and the name of the center they’re at on the top of their paper. While students are at the literacy center, they must show their work. I briefly check over their notebooks after centers to be sure that everyone was working. This is an easy way for me to hold students accountable for their work during centers.
Another way that I keep students accountable is by assigning a Center Captain. Center Captains are in charge of monitoring voice levels and ensuring that everyone is working. They take this role seriously and enjoy having the opportunity to be Center Captain. A new student fills this role each quarter.
How do students know what to do at each center?
We want to be sure that students are sent into centers knowing exactly what to do and what is expected of them. Explaining and modeling what students will do at each center before starting any rotations is crucial!
I also post the activity under each section on the board along with a rotation chart. If we are using task cards or a game for a specific center, I will put the directions at the actual center so that students can reference at any time.
Center Captains are also available to support students who may need additional help on how to complete the activity.
How do you introduce literacy centers at the beginning of the year?
I introduce literacy centers during the second week of school. Those first few weeks are focused on introducing and modeling center expectations. During this time, students are working on understanding basic procedures such as rotating between centers, knowing which supplies to bring, and what kind of behaviors are expected while they are at their center.
How do you manage behaviors during centers?
At the beginning of the school year, we create center expectations by making a class contract. We discuss as a class what some of the important procedures and rules to have in place so everyone is learning and getting the most out of center time.
I also lean into Class Dojo. I create team points, and as I see a group working nicely and collaborating, I tell the team captain to go up to the board and give their team a point. This always motivates other groups and gets any groups who may have been off track to get back on track! There are several classroom management strategies out there, you just have to find the one that works best for your class!
Do you grade student center activities?
No, I usually don’t grade center activities. However, sometimes if there’s a specific activity that I want students to work on and could be used for a grade, then I will grade it.
An instance in which I might grade an assignment would be if we had been working on cause and effect for the week and one of the center activities was cause and effect task cards. I would have students record their answers on a recording sheet and then collect it for a grade. This obviously would not quality as a test grade since students worked with their partner or group to complete the activity.
How do you avoid students interrupting your teacher-led center?
Expectations are everything when it comes to literacy centers. We set expectations at the beginning of the year and we review them weekly. Whenever we are about to start centers, we quickly run through our procedures to keep them fresh in students’ minds.
I also don’t allow students to interrupt teacher-led centers unless it is a severe emergency. (We discuss the list of what qualifies as a severe emergency at the beginning of the year.) I do allow students to go to the restroom on their own during center time as long as no one else is out of the room (my students are usually very good about this), but it’s up to your discretion.
Another way to ensure your teacher-led instruction is not interrupted is to use a prop such as a light or special hat. When the light is on or you’re wearing the hat at your teacher-led center, it means NO INTERRUPTIONS (unless it’s one of our emergencies, of course).
What activities do students do in literacy centers?
It’s important to note that the activities students practice in literacy centers are either current ELA standards we are working on or a review of skills we have previously learned. This is not the time to introduce students to brand new content and have them fumble their way through it without support.
For me, literacy centers is my favorite part of the day, and I want my students to feel that way too! That’s why I try to make all of my centers hands-on, fun, and engaging. I include activities such as task cards, roll-the-die, game boards, etc. I want students to collaborate and learn together in a fun way.
What are examples of literacy centers?
In my classroom, our literacy centers focus on:
Word Work Center (spelling, vocabulary, and grammar)
When choosing the activities for these centers, I use different types of resources such as task cards, writing prompts, dice and spinner activities, and board games. Any kind of interactive activity that gives students additional practice with grade level content and skills that we’ve been working on is exactly what I aim for. Here are a few activities that are a hit for my third graders in literacy centers: Vocabulary Task Cards, Prefix & Suffix Task Cards, Four Types of Sentences Activities.
Favorite Literacy Center Resources:
How do you plan for literacy centers?
When planning your set up for literacy centers, here are 5 things to keep in mind:
Group students for differentiated instruction. You can group students either by recent assessment scores, overall performance, specific skills that group of students might be struggling with, or just use your teacher judgment to create groups with specific needs and areas for growth. (See more below on how to differentiate activities at your centers.)
Determine how long your center rotations will be and how many rotations you will have per day. I usually do 2-3 rotations per day, but this can change from day to day.
Search for resources and activities to meet the needs of your students at each literacy center. Plan out your week by drafting what each group will do at each center. (This free differentiated instruction planning template is helpful)
Set up a literacy centers rotation chart and update it each morning to match the first rotation your students will be doing.
Organize your center caddies with the materials and activities your students will need for each center.
FREE Center Planning Template
A weekly center rotations planning template to keep track of which centers you have planned and what centers each group will rotate to.
What materials do you need for centers?
While materials needed for centers may occasionally change, these are the main materials we use day to day.
Supply caddies – I have supply caddies ready to go for each center. All materials needed for that specific center are inside which saves me from having to pass out individual materials. Center captains know it’s part of their job to grab their group caddy at the start of centers.
Activity – Inside of the supply caddies, I place Ziplock bags containing the activity, any small pieces, task cards, and instructions.
Recording sheet if needed – If students complete something like task cards, they’ll use a recording sheet to write down their answers. I usually make a class set of copies and place them inside the ziplock bags.
Headphones – Since students will visit the technology center, they need to bring headphones with them. If you have a headphone storage section in your classroom, then you might not need students to travel with them!
Center Notebook – This Center Notebook travels with students so that they can show their work for each center.
How do you store literacy center activities?
I store individual center activities inside of Ziplock bags. This keeps them separated and organized and allows students to take their own individual bag that already has everything they need inside. This eliminates confusion and missing pieces. I’ve learned this is just the easiest way. These storage bags from Amazon are also great for storing puzzles and board games.
When students are finished with activities or if I have activities I need to store, I put the Ziplock bags in bins. I label the bins to help me know what activities are inside. This keeps me organized and saves me from digging through multiple bins trying to find what I’m looking for! You can grab the center organization labels here.
What are some fun materials to use for centers?
Centers are a time for high engagement and hands-on learning. Adding in fun materials is an easy way to do that. Here are some of my favorites:
Dice – Students love using dice to play games. Foam dice specifically are a hit in my classroom. Plus, they’re a great way to have your younger students practice counting as they determine what number they rolled.
Spinners – An alternative to dice, spinners are a fun way to have students interact with the activity. The spinners linked are dry erase, so you can customize the options as you see fit.
Dry erase sheets – Dry erase sheets means less copies and that students are able to use a dry erase marker, which is always a win for you and for them!
Dry erase markers – Perfect to use with dry erase sheets, dry erase markers also allow students to easily erase and make changes to their work as needed.
Large paper pads – Large paper pads are great for having students create a collaborative poster or display their work in a unique way.
Scented markers – Scented markers are even better than regular markers. With so many scents to choose from, students will love this fun alternative.
Dry erase sentence strips – Use these to have students practice writing sentences or vocabulary words
Board games – You can pair any task card set with a board game. Students answer the question on the card, roll the die, and move down the board.
How do you differentiate a literacy center?
Thinking about planning literacy centers to meet the needs of all your students can sound a little overwhelming. However, you can easily differentiate a center by providing different response style activities to target high achieving and struggling students.
For example, if you want students to work on a cause and effect activity, you might set up your literacy center to include different styles of task cards such as multiple choice response, fill-in-the-blank, and open-ended questions. Your higher achieving students might benefit from open-ended questions, while you’re struggling students might perform better with the multiple choice option.
When planning for your teacher-led center, you can use leveled readers or passages to target the individual needs of the groups you are working with.
How long should literacy centers last?
The amount of time for literacy centers varies classroom to classroom, but I’ve found that about 45-50 minutes total is the perfect amount of time. I either do two 25 minutes rotations or three 15 minute rotations. This depends on how much time we have that day, what activities are planned, and the amount of support students may need from me during teacher-led time.
I hope this literacy centers FAQ answered some of your burning questions. I hope that you’re able to dive in head-first with your literacy centers this year. Have additional questions? Drop them below in the comments!