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We are quickly approaching “back to school” time. I have already begun setting up my classroom and preparing materials for my sweet new first graders. Getting myself organized in advance is extremely beneficial as the first few work days are packed with meetings and professional development. Take time now to think about and design your literacy centers for this coming year.

Once I have had an opportunity to thoroughly teach basic classroom rules and procedures, I introduce my literacy centers. This usually occurs the second week of school. I spend a great deal of time during this week helping students understand how to stay in their literacy centers, what to do if you need the teacher, when students think they are done in their center, or any other issue that may arise. Each year is different and there are always questions that come up or a potential issue I foresee occurring.

First, what are literacy centers? Students vary in their literacy needs and ability levels. We need to provide opportunities for students to read, write, and collaborate with others to develop their ability to read and comprehend texts. A literacy center is an area designated for specific learning purposes. Each center is designed with appropriate materials to help students work independently or collaboratively.

My literacy centers have portable materials but students must stay with their group members to complete independent work. I use literacy centers to support my guided reading instruction. I work with one group of students for guided reading, while other groups rotate through the literacy centers in the classroom. I keep literacy center materials in bins and folders. During guided reading, I gather the bins and simply set out literacy activities in the designated areas. The groups have between 4 and 6 students, depending on students needs.

Some center ideas include: writing center, listening center, memory card games, word family center, word-making center, poetry center, journal center, technology center,  and word work center. I make center materials on cardstock and laminate for durability. I differentiate the center materials based on students abilities. I want all my students to be able to complete center activities independently.  

To implement literacy centers in your classroom, first think about your students. What knowledge do students have as readers and writers? Think of the materials and the students’ reading and writing levels. Once you have an idea of where your students are academically, think about the purpose of each literacy center. Decide how you will organize the center materials and how your students will be involved with the setup and cleanup of materials. I keep my materials in bins which are stored on a bookshelf. The group leaders are in charge of gathering the materials, setting up, and cleaning up. You will also need to include a list of directions explaining how students should use the center.  Each day students will work in two different centers. My guided reading time is two-20 minutes sessions to allow me to see two guided reading groups each day. Students are rewarded daily with a ticket for correct participation during center time. This helps me manage and encourage students to stay on task.

Depending on which grade level you teach, you can design your centers around concepts being taught in class and tailoring it to your students literacy needs. Work smarter, not harder and prepare your materials now. Using online texts with e readers and audible books makes for an easy resource. Designate a place to store materials and student supplies for literacy centers. Organization and teaching students how to correctly participate during center time is crucial for success. 

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