The 5 Best Differentiated Literacy Centers

In this post, I’m sharing 5 naturally differentiated literacy center activities that will keep students kindergarten, first and second-grade students on-task and working independently during literacy centers. These centers are all LOW PREP and aligned to the science of reading. Be sure to download the FREE emergent picture writing prompts!

In my years of talking with teachers about literacy centers, there are certain concerns that always come up. Disruptions and off-task behavior are two of them.  One of the main benefits of literacy centers is that it allows you to work with a small group. But we know that only works if the rest of the class can successfully work on their own.  So how do you get students to work independently during centers?  

One solution is to rely on literacy centers that are naturally differentiated.  In any classroom, you’re going to have a wide range of abilities among students.  In order for centers to be successful, you need activities that adequately support and challenge ALL students. If an activity is too difficult students will become frustrated and lose interest.  An activity that is too hard will lead to boredom and off-task behavior.  

I know you don’t have time to differentiate all of your centers yourself. It is exhausting and simply not sustainable. There is a better way – find resources that are naturally differentiated.  Today I’m excited to share 5 naturally differentiated literacy centers.

These centers have checklists, vocabulary banks, and/or pictures that support students and help build their independence. Others offer multiple versions of activities to appropriately challenge and support all students.  Finally, these differentiated literacy centers are LOW-PREP and aligned to the science of reading!     

So let’s take a closer look…

Differentiated Literacy Centers

1. Yearlong Phonics Activities Bundle

One of the main benefits of centers is that it gives students the practice and review they need to master the skills you teach.  But because your students are at different levels and have different needs, the practice shouldn’t look the same for everyone.  

You’ll love my Yearlong Phonics Activities Bundle because it is a year-long, NO PREP, science-based resource that has tasks of varying levels. Print out the appropriate level task for each student and you are set to go!  

For example, some of the word sort activities provide students with a list of the words to choose from, while others require them to identify the missing target phoneme.

In this phonics review writing task students can write their own sentence using the missing skill word OR there is the option to trace the sentence and only write the missing skill word.

Take a closer look at all that is included in this Yearlong Phonics Bundle and download a free sample here.

2. Differentiated Phonics Word Sorts

Word sorts are phonics activities that require students to think about how words work by drawing their attention to common spelling patterns.  Students receive a set of words that all have something in common, identify the feature and sort them accordingly.

This Phonics Word Sort resource is aligned to the science of reading. It is a LOW PREP, highly engaging, differentiated literacy center to compliment your word study routine.  

There are two levels of word sorts included in this resource: whole words and words with the missing target spelling pattern to assign to your students. Students look for common spelling patterns, sort, then communicate what they notice and have learned about the words they’ve sorted.

All activities in the resource are all based on Wiley Blevins’ recommended scope and sequence for K-2 students.  You can be confident that they are developmentally appropriate and provide the scaffolding students need for mastery.  

Take a closer look at these phonics word sorts and download a free sample here.

3. Decodable Sentence Builders

These differentiated decodable sentence-building activities give your students practice reading and writing words that contain targeted phonics skills you have taught.  

Each sentence is a phonics-based controlled text sentence. It 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 students 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. I created two versions of each printable sheet to ensure all students are properly supported and challenged.  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.

Take a closer look at these decodable sentence builders and download a free sample here.

4. Writing Picture Prompts

Writing is a place where I see big differences in the levels of my students. There are students who feel they have nothing to write about, and those who hesitate for fear of making a mistake.  Many find it hard to write multiple details about their topic. Then there are those whose limited vocabulary makes it difficult to expand on their thoughts and ideas. Finally, there are students who have so much to say they can’t put their pencil down, but don’t always take the time to check over their work! 

For these reasons, it can be difficult to get students to work independently on writing in centers if you are not using resources that offer students the proper support.  That’s why I love these Writing Picture Prompts.  They are a single, LOW PREP, writing activity that provides the proper support to ALL levels of students. 

Each picture prompt comes with a story-specific vocabulary word bank to support writers who have difficulty getting started. The words help them brainstorm topics and also assist in spelling. More proficient writers will use the picture as a springboard for their pieces. You can challenge them to find ways to incorporate the vocabulary words into their work.

Each printable also includes a personal editing checklist at the bottom of the page to serve as a reminder for students to check over their work!

Students can use the printables for different types of writing. The pictures lend themselves to narrative, informative, and opinion writing! With 25 different pictures for EACH SEASON, it’s a single resource that can keep your students writing all year long!

5. Emergent Picture Writing Prompts

Do your students need more support in writing?  Looking for a naturally differentiated writing activity for beginning writers? These Emergent Picture Writing Prompts are just what you need.  

Each prompt in this resource comes in three differentiated versions: drawing only, traceable sentence stem, and writing. 

Like the writing picture prompts, these emergent prompts have a picture-supported vocabulary word bank to assist students with spelling and brainstorming.  The provided picture is simple so that students can use their creativity to add to the picture while they complete their narrative, informative, or opinion writing.  

The drawing-only version includes talking points to help students explain their drawing. The sentence stem and writing versions include a self-check at the bottom of the page.  Students will self-edit for spacing, capital letters, and punctuation.

Eager to give these Emergent Picture Writing Prompts a try in your classroom?  Download a free sample here

I hope the information and differentiated activities I’ve shared today will help your students work more independently during literacy centers and allow you to focus your full attention on your small group instruction!


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