Literacy Centers – ABCs & 123s for Active Learners & Busy Bees…
Literacy centers are a vital part of the success of my Guided Reading program. While I’m teaching students in a Guided Reading group, the other kiddos in the class are actively involved in learning! Want some tips on how to effectively use literacy centers to provide meaningful learning opportunities for the kiddos in your classroom? Read on to learn more.
First, get the old misconception out of your head right from the start. Literacy centers (also known as literacy stations) are not just for busywork. They’re not designed to simply keep kids occupied while you’re busy helping the students in your Guided Reading group.
Do they keep kids busy? Yes! Literacy centers do keep students busy during your Guided Reading block. The key is to keep them busy with meaningful, interactive learning experiences that support what you’re teaching! Effective literacy stations allow students to review and practice new words and skills you’ve taught during Guided Reading and whole class instruction. And that’s way more meaningful than just busy work.
Use Literacy Centers to Support These Four Areas of Literacy Learning:
Be Realistic: You Can’t Do All the Literacy Centers…!
Well, you technically could try; but keep in mind: there are a huge number of literacy center options out there, and you don’t need to implement them all! Too many stations can result in chaos and confusion during your Guided Reading block. (Trust me–I made that mistake early-on in my teaching career. You do not want to go there.)
So, what’s my recommendation for successfully implementing key literacy centers in your classroom? First, evaluate the literacy goals you have for your students and identify the time and resources you have available. Then decide on a few key centers to implement. Finally, tackle those centers with passion and creativity, and get them up-and-running in your classroom. (BTW, I’m here to help; so I’ll include some useful links at the end of this post to help get you started!)
Know Your ABC’s…
The Benefits of Literacy Centers
What do literacy centers do best? They help support your efforts to provide a balanced literacy approach to literacy instruction. If you’re going to invest your time and efforts into building a successful Guided Reading framework within your classroom, effective and engaging literacy centers are a must. There a ton of great benefits you’ll gain from having students rotate regularly through these stations, but here’s a list of what I believe are the most important:
- A -Active Learning- Literacy centers promote active learning through meaningful, interactive learning experiences. Activities should review and reinforce the sight words, phonics and decoding strategies and literacy concepts you’re teaching in Guided Reading and whole class instruction.
- B – Building Skills – Literacy centers help students build reading and decoding skills through practice and repetition. “Must Do” activities allow you to optimize the time students spend at literacy stations, since they reinforce prior learning and provide valuable practice opportunities.
- C – Choice and Flexibility – Literacy centers offer choice and flexibility through a range of options for interactive learning. “Can Do” activities give students options and encourage them to take ownership of their learning experience. In addition, the opportunity to select books at an independent reading center and choose where they will sit to read reinforces this message of ownership of literacy goals. Give your kiddos a little taste of freedom by offering them choices and flexibility!
A note about “Must Dos” and “Can Dos” in literacy centers…
Assign “Must Do” activities that must be completed first, to give your students valuable practice with new sight words and decoding skills they’ve just learned. These activities are “a must” to reinforce what you are teaching in Guided Reading small group.
Although “Must Dos” are vital for reviewing the skills students learn during Guided Reading, the “Can Do” activities you offer are important, too. The choices a child makes between various activities allow him or her to take ownership of their literacy learning. The opportunity to select books at the independent “Read to Myself” center” reinforces this message of ownership of literacy goals. Give your kiddos a little taste of freedom by offering them a choice of “Can Do” activities!
With those thoughts in mind, let’s take a look at how literacy centers can help you keep students actively involved with learning in the four main areas of literacy.
Guided Reading Small Groups…
“Read with Mrs. DiGilio” was the title I gave my Guided Reading small group instruction. Guided Reading small groups are the foundational element of a Guided Reading framework for literacy. Your reading groups should be held consistently at the same time every day. While you’re teaching these students and providing well-planned reading lessons, differentiated instruction and coaching, the other students in your classroom are rotating through literacy stations and gaining valuable reading and word work practice time.
Independent Reading Center…
The Independent Reading center in my classroom was labeled, “Read to Myself.” At this station, students had the option of choosing their own book to read independently. Although at the beginning of the year I always taught the children how to choose a “Just Right Book,” I allowed them to choose any book from our library during this station. I firmly believe students should have access to all types of literature on varying reading levels. The independent reading station provides the opportunity for students to choose books that spark their curiosity and imagination while reading. That’s what makes children fall in love with reading!
Word Work Station…
A “Word Work” station is a vital element of your literacy block that provides valuable practice and review of decoding skills, phonics sounds and new spelling words. Again, a great way to ensure your literacy centers help students build on what they’ve learned is to include “Must Do” activities. This station’s “Must Do” activity should include writing the week’s spelling words as well as an activity to practice new phonics or decoding skills they’ve learned. After these required activities are completed, the optional “Can Do” activities in Word Work should incorporate word building through stamping, letter blocks, magnetic letters and other fun stuff!
Partner Reading Center…
“Read with a Buddy” allows students the opportunity for peer-to-peer reading. Through modeling done early in the year, students learn how to sit elbow-to-elbow, knee-to-knee and read with another child. Whether they choose to read two separate books or share a book for partner reading, encourage students to discuss what they read. A love of reading is contagious, and reading with a buddy is a great way to pass it on!
The “Work on Writing” station was always a favorite with my students! Just as in “Word Work,” the Writing Center also should include “Must Do” activities. Students must complete these assignments (such as writing spelling words) before choosing other “Can Do” options. In addition to “Can Dos,” the “Must Do” activity ensures that students experience reinforcement and review as well as gain experience in various types of writing. Not only do these “Must Do” writing assignments provide writing practice; they also support learning in other subjects, such as science or social studies. As at all the centers, once the required activity is completed, students move on to other fun “Can Do” activities.
A Listening Center does not have to be complicated; it’s an easy way to give children the opportunity to encounter good literature and hear fluent reading modeled. The students in my class loved to visit our “Listen to Reading” station! Purchase inexpensive MP3 players and CD players. Label the “Stop” and “Start” buttons using red and green stickers, provide multiple earphones, get some good audiobooks your kiddos will love, and you’re good to go! Laptops, tablets or iPads can also be used to access reading apps. As to response activities, you can certainly ask students to complete a writing assignment in response to what they’ve heard, but that’s not necessary each time. Sometimes it’s good to just allow a child the pleasure of listening to a good story!
Let me just say that you probably do not need to incorporate a “Speaking Center.” (Although, how many of your most talkative kiddos would love that?) But rest at ease; with the stations we’ve discussed, you’ve got that fourth area of literacy learning covered. Book discussions and turn-and-talk activities during Guided Reading small group offer opportunities for learning good oral communication skills. In addition, partner reading at the “Read with a Buddy” station can provide opportunities for literacy discussion and collaborative conversations, while “Read to Myself” can build fluency.
Rotation, Rotation, Rotation…
Timing and Preparation
It’s about time.
OK, teacher peeps. let’s talk timing. The timing of center rotations is dependent upon a number of factors, including grade level, the number of Guided Reading groups you meet with, and the grade level you teach. But in general, each literacy center should last 15 to 20 minutes. Depending on class size, group size, and number of stations, each student may not have the ability to visit every station. However, you can stagger the rotation schedule or alternate the stations your students go to each month.
Prepare to Succeed.
With regard to preparation: just remember that it is not necessary to change out center activities each week. As a matter of fact, changing station activities too often can result in confusion for the students and loss of valuable learning time. Remember: consistency is key! You don’t have to change out the “Can Do” activities in your Word Work station every week, but you do have that flexibility. The main thing is to have a basic selection of fun word games and stimulating activities that students can use to practice weekly spelling words and strategies. Create open-ended literacy stations that allow your students to focus on the four main areas of literacy, and give them a choice of activities that promote learning.
Count Your 1, 2, 3s…
Three Important Notes About Literacy Centers
Sure, they take a bit of preparation and organization, but aren’t literacy stations fun? I hope the ABCs helped a little. Now let’s wrap it up with a few simple reminders that are as easy as 1, 2, 3…
1. One Book Can Open So Many Doors!
Don’t underestimate the importance of the independent reading center in your literacy rotation. One book can open so many doors for a child! Allowing students the freedom to select their own choice of books can go a long way toward literacy development. Giving them opportunities to read independently can result in a lifelong love of books!
2. It Takes Two to Share a Book and Discuss It.
Be sure to include a partner reading center in your literacy rotation. Whether you assign students to read with Guided Reading groupmates or mix it up and pair students of different ability levels, the practice of partner reading provides multiple benefits. Paired reading helps build listening, fluency and communication skills and fosters collaboration and cooperation.
3. Three Simple Steps Can Optimize Your Literacy Centers.
Last but not least, here’s a final tidbit of Teacher Wisdom: To optimize your time and keep your literacy rotations running smoothly and effectively, it’s important to ensure students are clear on what’s expected. Take the time to explain and model station rotation at the beginning of the year. It is so worth it! There are three essential steps you should take early in the year to avoid chaos and confusion during literacy rotation.
3 Steps to a Smooth-Running Literacy Rotation:
- Establish clear guidelines and expectations for your students.
- Model these expectations.
- Explicitly teach these guidelines and expectations as you implement literacy stations.
I can’t emphasize this enough: Invest the time at the beginning of the year to clearly teach your students how to transition between stations. Model both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, so the children can clearly see what is expected. Share with students the rotation signal and explain what to do next. Show them how to clean up their area, wait for your signal and move quietly to the next station. Allow them to actually practice the process of moving from station to station. The more clearly you teach and model rotation behaviors and demonstrate how to choose and complete center activities, the fewer interruptions you’ll experience and the smoother your literacy block will run.
Keep in mind that the need for modeling continues as the year progresses. As you add new activities or learning games to stations, it’s crucial to model and teach these before students encounter them in stations. (For example: before introducing a new word building game in Word Work, you might have students play it first in Guided Reading small groups.) Remember: A couple minutes of explanation can prevent multiple minutes of interruption!
The end, but only the beginning…
OK, my literacy-loving teacher friends, that’s it! Whether you’re new to literacy centers or you just need some fresh inspiration, I hope you’ve found something useful and encouraging here. Take what you’ve learned and run with it! Teach your heart out and use your creativity and teacher-smarts to make your literacy centers awesome!
For a much more on literacy centers, check out my professional development workshop, Guided Reading That Works. I’ve included in-depth lessons on how to organize and optimize your literacy stations as well as some practical tips on how to keep your independent learners consistently on-task!
‘Bye for now, teacher peeps. Keep being amazing!