Today I’m sharing 12 of the best literacy centers for kindergarten, first, and second-grade elementary students. You’ll also get TONS of FREE sample center activities to try in your classroom!
Implementing literacy centers is no easy task. There is lots to plan, organize and manage. To help you find succcess with centers I have created a 3-part blog series all about literacy centers. In the first post, I shared ideas on how to group students, and organize classroom space and student materials for effective learning. The second post, focused on how to introduce new centers to students and strategies to keep them on task while you work with small groups.
In this final post in the series, I’m excited to share some of my favorite literacy center activities! My students and I both agree that literacy centers are the best part of our day. I believe it is because I carefully choose consistent, differentiated, rigorous activities that keep them engaged meaningful work. Today I’m excited to share those centers with you!
Keep it Simple
When it comes to choosing center activities, my advice is to KEEP IT SIMPLE.
In my classroom “simple” means my students are familiar with the activity and procedures necessary to be successful. It means the center activities are consistent, rigorous, naturally differentiated and easy to prep. Students are engaged in simple reading, writing, and listening activities. #TeamNoFluff
Today I’m happy to share 12 “simple” literacy center activities that are perfect for kindergarten, first and second grade students. Each of these activities offer natural extensions and support for ALL levels of learners.
The science of reading shows us that the connection between what our students learn in phonics and what they read is imperative for building a strong foundation in early reading. Children progress at a much faster rate in phonics when the majority of the time is spent applying the skills to authentic reading and writing experiences. Decodable texts give students practice applying the skills that you have taught to real reading experiences and for this reason they should be used for independent reading. (Take a look at this blog post for more why decodables books should replace leveled readers.)
If you don’t have access to decodable texts at your school, take a look at my decodable passages with comprehension questions. They are a great resource for an independent reading center. Each passage is a phonics-based controlled text that contains target phonics skill words, previously taught phonics skill words and irregular high frequency words.
After students have received explicit instruction and guided practice using the decodables, they can be stored in their indepedent reading book bins. Then students can reread the passages and blending lines on their own in the independent reading center.
Take a look at this post for more about the importance of independent reading and tips for keeping students accountable during this time.
Writing Center Activities
For my writing center, I seek activities that offer students choice in what they want to write about. Choice increases engagement and motivation. It helps even for my most reluctant writers to get words onto the page. Students also feel excited when they can write on topics that really matter to them. There are a number of different writing center activities that offer students choice.
These prompts are easy to prep! Just select, print and then place them at our writing station. The vocabulary word bank on each page serves as a great scaffold of support for generating story ideas and spelling words. Students are free to create stories without having to feel stressed or limited because they do not know how to spell words. The self-editing checklist at the bottom of the page is also a great reminder for them to go back over their work to ensure it’s their best.
Get the discounted bundle of Writing Picture Prompts Prompts
Students love this hands-on writing activity! First, they choose a prompt. Next, they use the 4 sequence picture cards to order events. Finally, they use the transition words and specific story vocabulary words to tell their story. There are seasonal prompts and the animal/plant life cycle prompts that you can use throughout the year. Grab this FREE sequence story to try in your class!
Get the discounted bundle of Sequence Writing Prompts
Our word study center is an essential for students to deepen their knowledge of phonics rules and spelling patterns I have taught in whole group lessons. The Science of Reading tells us that Phoneme-Grapheme Mapping is one effective way to help students build their word recognition and become stronger readers.
Word mapping is a physical way to represent the relationship between the phonemes and graphemes. It allows students to physically connect or match the letters with the sounds they represent and helps to encourage the process of orthographic mapping. Ultimately it helps build word recognition and decoding skills that improve fluency in both reading and writing.
This resource has EVERYTHING you need to get students mapping words in your classroom. It includes interactive digital slides for over 485 words!
First, students see a picture of the word to build meaning and hear an audio recording of the word. Then, they map the phonemes (sounds) they hear. Finally, they spell the word using graphemes. This resource also comes with mapping boards and word image cards for your small group instruction and independent practice.
The phoneme tapping and mapping worksheets provide practice with short vowels, blends, digraphs, long vowels, CVCe, R-controlled, and diphthong words. You’ll get 42 printables with self-checking answer keys that are perfect for independent student practice, literary centers, homework, or left as a meaningful activity for a substitute.
Want to give Word Mapping a try in your classroom? To get you started I’m sharing FREE CVC Word Mapping activities!
Listening to reading allows my students exposure to more complex themes, higher-level story vocabulary, as well as the chance to hear models of fluent reading.
I have an old school cassette player with headphones listening station like this one. Throughout the years, I have used Scholastic Book Club points to order a collection of individual books and tapes.
On the computer, students can listen to reading on free websites such as Vooks, Epic, Storyline Online, Storytime from Space, Starfall, The Indianapolis Public Library, as well as paid subscription sites such as TumbleBooks, Pebble Go, and Raz-Kids.
Here students partner up, sit side-by-side, read and discuss the texts from their book bins. Partner reading is a student favorite because they are able to choose texts and share their thinking and learning with a buddy. It’s a meaningful center that requires very little prep!
Another great form of Partner Reading is Partner Plays. These plays written by Kristin (A Teeny Teacher) provide meaningful, purposeful, and engaging fluency practice. Kids love them because the story topics are so relevant to them. My students literally cheer (and beg to read them at recess) when I bring a new set out for partners to use. The plays do take a little prep work up front (perfect for a parent volunteer) but can be used year after year! You can take a closer look at all of the partner plays here.
Another engaging literacy activity is Write the Room Differentiated Sentences. My friends love to grab a clipboard and move around the room looking for sets of sentences that match the picture on their recording sheet. Students are accountable for picking the “good fit” sentence they are able read independently. Again, since this is a consistent station in our classroom, I don’t have to spend instructional minutes each week “teaching” the procedures and expectations for this task.
Get the Yearlong Write the Room discounted bundle here!
At our poetry center, students can choose to work alone or with a partner to build familiar nursery rhymes. Once they have built the poem, they work on fluency by reading the poem a few times before choosing a new one. They love the choice, collaboration, and hands-on learning. Students are always successful because it is a puzzle-like task with only the words needed for the poem. Grab a free poem in the resource preview file to give it a try in your classroom!
Get the discounted Poetry Center Bundle Here!
The science of reading tells us that the connection between what our students learn in phonics and what they read and write is imperative for building a strong foundation in early reading! My decodable sentence builders make it simple for you to provide your students with the cumulative practice and application we know they need for mastery of the phonics skills you teach.
This resource contains 210 phonics-based controlled sentences and is the perfect practice activity to go along with my Decodable Passages bundle. Each sentence contains target phonics skill words, previously taught phonics skill words and irregular high-frequency words. This ensures students get the cumulative review we know they need for mastery.
Systematically designed, the sentences build on phonics skills and in complexity. As you progress through the resource, the sentences get more complex. You’ll find compound sentences and a mix of punctuation. Later sentences even include quotations and commas. After building each sentence with word cards, students write the sentence on their printable. To help you differentiate I created two versions of each printable sheet. One version has a sentence stem that requires the student to only fill in the blank with a target phonics skill word. The other version requires the student to write the entire sentence.
21st-century learners can’t wait to get their hands on a device, am I right? Here is a list of our favorite free apps that practice literacy skills. They are very engaging to students and user-friendly.
Created by Preschool University ABC Spelling Magic, Spelling Magic 2, Spelling Magic 3, Spelling Magic 4 (these apps are perfect for a word work station. Every level has a spelling pattern focus including CVC words, consonant blends,multiple syllable words, and silent E words).
Texting Story pairs of students can “text” messages to each other within the app.
Epic unlimited free access to 25,000 high-quality ebooks, audiobooks, learning videos, and quizzes for kids 12 and under.
Sock Puppets Students can record creative stories using puppets, props, scenery, and backgrounds.
Kids A-Z Kids can choose from a library of free eBooks and eQuizzes
Starfall So many of the literacy activities from the desktop website can also also be accessed on the app.
If you have limited technology and don’t have enough devices, you may want to look at this post to see how I got 4 iPads and cases funded through DonorsChoose in only 5 days!
The science of reading has brought about a shift in the ways we teach our students their sight words. No longer are we relying on flashcards and rote memorization. Instead, we are listening to what science tells us about how students learn to read. We are integrating irregularly spelled, high-frequency words into our phonics lessons using the Heart Word Method.
The Heart Word Method requires students to use their phoneme knowledge to map the regular part of the words. They then only have to “learn by heart” the sounds that are irregular in the word, thus the name Heart Words.
In order for high-frequency word instruction to be fully effective, students must be given extensive opportunities for practice and cumulative review. My Heart Words Word Mapping Centers and Activities resource is a NO PREP bundle of activities that offer your students a variety of engaging ways to practice the heart words you teach them.
These activities were designed to be used after you have explicitly and systematically introduced heart words to your students. They offer students the repeated exposure they need to commit the words to memory. The activities in the bundle include:
Our classroom library is filled with various texts, big books, and magazines. We also keep our student published books in the library center, it is always a treat for them to read books written by their peers. My friends have the choice to read alone or with a partner in the classroom library.
After teaching students the parts of a friendly letter, they write simple messages to one another using these choices of FREE Letter Stationery.
In addition, students use their problem-solving skills to Write to Scruffy. Poor Scruffy has 20 relatable problems that need solutions from students. The empathy my friends have for Scruffy makes my heart melt.
This center is so easy to prepare for my students (print the problem task cards once) but is also one that kids LOVE and visit again and again! (Link to get your own Scruffy dog here).
Get the Friendly Letter Writing Unit (Write to Scruffy) Here!
Thanks for following along throughout this blog series on literacy centers. I hope that the information, tips and resources I’ve shared will help you to feel more confident and excited about implementing centers in your classroom!
AND if you could get new, low-prep Science of Reading-aligned centers every month…plus detailed, specific trainings…would you finally feel confident about doing centers in your classroom?
All of this awaits you inside my brand-new membership, Leaders of Literacy!
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