I’m one of those people that like to have all the information before I take action which usually results in me A) putting things off because they sound so confusing and exhaustive or B) getting bent out of shape because I tried to do All The Things which didn’t work so well. I’m hoping this blog post breaks things down for you in an easy to implement way.
I have always been a primary teacher (except for one year when I taught a 4th and 5th). When my literacy centers are up and running smoothly I am in my element. Not to brag (too much) I usually have other teachers from the school come and check out my literacy centers to figure out how they can do them in their room. I have given professional development on centers as well.
I love, love, love literacy centers.
1. Think of your literacy center goals as levels in a game.
The basis to a successfully run center time is to get started with a plan. Carefully think through how you want your literacy centers to look once they are running like a dream. This will be your highest level you want students to “unlock.” No matter what grade you teach whether it’s first or fourth, your highest level is most likely that students will be on task, independent, and quiet enough for you to hold groups or individual conferences.
Next, think of all the things they need to know to get to this point.
This is all of those mini lessons to get them working and thinking independently. They will need to learn things like working with a partner, choosing who gets to go first (especially if your literacy centers include board games), when you can and can’t be bothered during your small group teaching, what small groups look like and so much more. Spend some decent time brainstorming all the procedures they will need in place. Check out the Daily 5 book for a really good overview of all of these mini lessons you will need.
Depending on the age you teach you may need to revisit some, take a couple days to practice the same ones, or double up on some others. You will need to gauge your class for how much time you need.
This is where you cannot plan ahead too much. Of course you can jot down what you think you will be doing but you always need to keep in mind that you should be flexible. What is written in your plans may not be working that week or day. Your lessons for rolling out literacy centers is a guide. It’s okay to go off course for a day or two.
2. Unlock your literacy center levels slowly.
If we stick with the game analogy, your students are trying to unlock those levels to be winners. What do most gamers need to get there?
I hope you said practice. Lots and lots and lots of practice. My nephew is a gamer and he sits at the computer all hours of the day and just plays the same game. Then he analyzes his game moves in order to improve. He talks to other players to get advice.
You are going to do the same thing in your classroom. It’s important to introduce each of your literacy centers or stations slowly. No matter what grade level you teach, introduce only one new center each day. Explain the rules, practice that center, watch the students practicing that center. Then, gather the class and ask them what they noticed. What went well? What could be improved for next time?
Depending on the time you have available, you will either practice another day or hold another practice right away, reconvening again when finished to revisit how it went and room for improvement. Don’t forget to start the next practice day by reviewing these notes.
3. Consider your literacy center logistics.
To win the center game, you need to consider your room and setup logistics. Before you can start rolling out literacy centers, you need to know how many centers you need.
How many people will be at each center and how many times a week do you want students to visit the same center? Will you be changing centers often? I like to have my center rotations last 2 weeks with each center having only 2 students. This means there are a lot of centers going on in the room at one time or I am doubling the materials for the same center in order to have enough stations.
You will also need to know how much time you have for literacy centers. Once you know the time you have, you can plan how many centers and how many rotations you will do. I would suggest starting off small if this is your first time attempting centers. You can always add on once things are running smoothly.
4. Consider the enjoyment of your players.
When choosing your literacy center activities you should keep in mind alignment to your standards but also student engagement. Think again of video games. When someone finds a game they really enjoy playing, they will play it for hours.
This should be your ultimate goal when you find centers that meet your students’ needs. You want to hear a chorus of “noooooo” when you tell students time is up for the day. Make them enjoy your center time so much they don’t want to stop. Even better they don’t feel like they are learning!
5. Reward and track your players.
Gamers love to be rewarded by points or new lives they can collect as they move through the game levels. Use this same idea for your students. Reward them with praise after they’ve had a really good literacy center session. Randomly pass out a certificate or sticker for a job well done. Find something that is easy for you to do and works with your teaching style.
Since we have used a game analogy throughout this post, let’s keep it going with this last point.
Players know they are winning the game because they can track how many points they are earning and what level they are on. While you probably don’t want to take this too literally for your center set up, it is important to keep a teacher log of what standards students are practicing in their daily centers especially if you are differentiating. This can become helpful information as you decide when to change out your literacy centers.