Does the thought of planning literacy centers overwhelm you?
Do you wonder how you’ll manage your students or prep and organize all the materials?
Are you unsure of how to best group your students?
These are all very common concerns that many teachers have when they think about starting to implement centers. Yes, establishing literacy centers can be a lot of work, but once you get them up and rolling I promise you they can become one of best parts of your day!
This post is the first in a series on literacy centers. Today I’ll share with you some of my tried and true tips for grouping and assigning students, optimizing classroom space, and organizing materials in easy and effective ways. I hope after reading you’ll see that the process of launching literacy centers doesn’t have to be an overwhelming one!
Grouping Students for Literacy Centers
After reviewing initial literacy assessments, you will need to group your students. The groups will determine two things: 1.) the collaborative team that will work together at a literacy station and 2.) the students who will work with you in a small guided reading group.
There are multiple ways to group children into collaborative teams for centers. I have tried both heterogenous and homogenous groupings and have found that my students tend to do better when grouped homogeneously into teams of four.
The homogeneous groups travel from center to center together. When I need to meet with them the whole group comes together. If students were in heterogeneous groups I’d have to pull individual students from different groups and that could leave someone without a partner for a center activity. For this reason, I prefer homogenous groups.
Of course, keep in mind that student groupings should be flexible as children will acquire skills or need more practice than others in their group. I use formal and informal assessment data to move kids in and out of groups, often using my Literacy Centers Chart resource. It’s an easy way to edit names and print the new groups of kids!
Quick note… I do not assign students to meet with me on our center rotation chart. I like having the flexibility to meet with students on an as-needed basis, so it’s best if it is not posted on the chart.
I meet with some groups everyday, while others I only see 1-2 times a week. There are also times when I need to meet with individual students to help them catch up on something or work through an intervention.
Assigning Students for Literacy Centers
Once students are grouped, I assign them to different centers using literacy centers cards in a pocket chart. It is important that the chart is always displayed in an accessible location where my students can independently check it.
My emergent readers like the literacy center cards because they can rely on picture clues for an independent reminder as to which centers they are visiting that day. I like the center cards because they allow me to quickly reorder or change the center activities with which my students will engage.
Since I have 24 students in my classroom grouped into teams of 4, it takes my students 6 days to rotate through the entire chart.
To begin, I place the colored student groups in rainbow order. My highest achieving students are in the red group and the ability levels decrease to my least proficient students in the purple group. This is an intentional decision as the red group will unknowingly serve as models for their peers.
At the end of each day I move each group down a row. Once the “red group” gets to the bottom row, I know my literacy center activities may need to be switched up.
Choosing Center Activities
I mainly use the Daily 5 framework to plan my centers. Each activity follows one of the following structures:
· Read to Self
· Read to Someone
· Listen to Reading
· Work on Writing
· Work on Words
As my students grow and change throughout the year, so do our core centers but I am not creating and teaching students how to work in 18 new centers a week! As much as I love a cute holiday or seasonal themed activity, I’m really not sure who has time to create and recreate word sorts on Halloween pumpkins, winter snowflakes and Valentine hearts! Certainly not me!
I aim to rely on resources that can be used over time. I keep my students practicing their reading and writing skills with resources like Write the Room Sentences, Sequence Stories and Differentiated Sentence Builders. These prepared resources can be used for a few months rather than just one week.
Organizing Center Materials
It is essential that the materials students will need during centers be accessible and well-organized. This preserves instructional minutes and allows for maximum learning time. A student can’t afford to waste time wandering around the room in search of a whiteboard marker needed to find hidden sight words! In my classroom, all supplies needed are stored in a tub which is labeled with the matching center card for students to easily identify.
Optimizing Classroom Space for Centers
When I set up my classroom I am intentional about the space needed for literacy centers to run smoothly. I like the stations closest to my guided reading table to be the quietest. To the left of my teaching table is our listening center, and to the right I have a computer center. My students wear headphones at both centers so it’s almost silent. In addition, when students encounter an unsolvable glitch in technology, I can redirect or pop in and quickly from my teaching table to help them get back to their task. Being close to the computer station also lends me the ability to keep an eye on my students choice in appropriate websites.
A few years ago I pushed my writing center table against the wall and will always continue to do so. The wall has become a great place to hang anchor charts for my students to refer to while composing. Additionally, I’ve noticed the students are better focused on their writing masterpieces when facing the wall because they are less distracted by what other students are doing at their centers.
The rest of my centers are spaced around the classroom. Labeled baskets with materials are housed on shelves or even on the floor. We keep the materials in the same location throughout the year as another support to help students maximize their time learning.
Although I have “designated areas” for centers my students know that they are free to move to any area of the classroom that helps them be productive in their work. On any given day, you will see my learners standing, sitting on the floor or at their tables, but all absorbed in their tasks.
I hope the information on setting up student groups, choosing your centers, and effectively organizing materials and classroom space has been useful to you!
Head to my next post I’ll share my favorite tips for how I introduce new centers and keep kids accountable, on-task and working hard while I meet with small groups of friends!
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