How to introduce new reading centers and keep kids accountable, on-task and working hard while you teach small groups of students!
Now that we have determined how to group students, choose literacy centers and organize classroom space and student materials, (see this post if you missed it) in this second post I’ll explain how I introduce new centers and share strategies I use to keep my students accountable for doing their best work while I am busy teaching small groups. Don’t forget to download the FREEBIE in this post!
Introducing New Literacy Centers
I cannot tell you the number of times a substitute teacher has remarked, “I really didn’t need to be here today, your students clearly knew what to do!”
I am a firm believer in investing the time at the beginning of the year (or anytime I launch new centers) to explicitly teach, model and practice expected behaviors I have for my students.
You might think that is crazy, but I promise you I always get that time back, having very minimal redirective issues the rest of the year!
If I expect my 6 and 7 year olds to work independently for 55-60 minutes a day, I must show them multiple times what it looks and sounds like in our classroom. We have to practice.
I start one center at a time, I think aloud and model what I expect them to do. After modeling, I ask my friends to recap what I did to be successful. Then we practice. ALTOGETHER. We all get a stencil and write our own stencil story. After we have practiced, we come together to discuss how we did and I give explicit examples of student’s positive behavior.
The next day we review what we learned about the first center and repeat with a new center. I cannot hand out enough specific praise at this time. Students need to be clear about the expectations to be successful learners.
In addition, when teaching students to independently read (read to self) or partner read (read to someone) I like to take a quick video of my kids reading and show it to them after they have practiced. They love to see themselves but more importantly it serves as a positive reflection of what behaviors are expected.
Here is a tip on how I keep my friends excited and anticipating the full launch of centers: I place all the literacy center cards in the pocket chart face down. As we learn each center, I flip the card over so my students can visually see how many more centers until they get to fly out on their own. It definitely serves as a positive way to keep them engaged while I am doing a lot of modeling and explaining of procedures!
Once we have launched centers I can manipulate things to best support my students. For example, I always start the week by having my high achieving students (red group) visit the “work on writing” center first. I give them the opportunity to share their writing the next day, right before I dismiss students to work in their centers. These students serve as yet another model for their peers regarding the quality of work I expect. By the time my most struggling writers visit this writing center, they have been exposed to multiple models of proficient writing!
If you haven’t yet read the book The Daily 5, I highly recommend it. The sisters go into great detail illustrating step-by-step how to train students to be independent learners, thus freeing you up to teach small groups.
Strategies for Keeping Students Accountable During Literacy Centers
My students are human. They need hourly support to help them make good choices. Some even need redirection every few minutes. I bet you have students like that in your class, too.
That being said, I have found a magical way to keep students accountable for their productivity and behavior while being independent for almost an hour each day.
We have four “rules” for centers called “Star Students”.
As we practice the centers, the expectations and reasoning for these rules are defined. Each day we chant our rules together right before I dismiss them to their centers as a positive way to encourage good behaviors.
As my students are working and I am teaching small groups, I can jot quick notes of my students who are exhibiting “Star Student” behaviors.
It is magical, I rarely have to stop teaching and redirect my students which frees me up from nuisances that interfere with the intensive work we are doing in our small group.
At the end of our center rotations we meet together and reflect on our session. I allow my students at that time to share major concerns they had if any during their independent time. I reveal my list of “Star Students” and share in detail exactly what positive behaviors I noticed while they were working. (I also give my friends a star cutout as a positive reward, they collect 10 to visit the treasure box).
It sounds something like this: “Hailey went straight to her center and got started right away. Jon was a problem solver, he couldn’t figure out how to log in on the computer so he got a smart friend to help him. Leo got his book box and found personal space during read to self”…
Here is the even more magical part, about halfway through the year my students start to notice star behaviors their friends are displaying and praise them, too. #happyteacherdance
Helping Students Be More Accountable for Time Management
Each day students rotate through 3 centers working for about 17-18 minutes at each center. At the beginning of the year I structure the time by ringing a bell between rotations to signal that it is time to clean up and transition to the next center.
As my students become more capable, I introduce them to my countdown clock. I explain that the clock is marked with pink tape to signal the end of a rotation but it is just an approximation to guide them. I give my friends examples like, “If you are writing a story and have just a few more sentences to write and your center time is up but you’d like to finish it up, you can! Take a few more minutes that you need and you will just have a little less time for your next center.” This offers them ownership over their time.
Click HERE for a link to countdown timer on Amazon
I know many teachers use a similar strategy projecting a countdown timer on their screens. There are many easy to use free timers on online-stopwatch.com you could use.
Self-Checking Activities to Foster Student Accountability
Most of the center activities that I use in my classroom have some sort of self-check component built-in.
Once students finish Writing the Room, they are taught to use the accuracy and fluency checklist at the bottom of their recording sheet. These write the room sentences are differentiated. My students know they will be accountable to read the sentences to a friend, which encourages them to choose the just right level of sentence.
Our poem building center and word builders are self-checking, puzzle-like literacy activities. Students only have the pieces allotted to complete the task. If there are extra pieces, they are taught that something went wrong and they have to be detectives to correct the mistake.
I also create accountability by having students share their writing and offering centers like Kristin from a Teeny Tiny Teacher’s Partner Plays. Students know at the end of our centers, they will be expected to show off their reading fluency by sharing the play they practiced with their partner. Of course, they are excited to share these engaging stories with us!
I hope that today’s post has shown you that after plenty of modeling, opportunities to practice, and support structures in place, your students can find independent success in literacy centers. When that happens you’ll be gifted with a nice, big chunk of time to work with your small groups! WIN-WIN!
In my next post I’ll get down to the nitty-gritty and share some specific centers that I use in my classroom! I hope you’ll read along!
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