Literacy Centers in the Classroom April 22 2009

Literacy Center Essentials

Task-based activities like the Literacy Task Cards help make literacy centers more effective.

Faced with diminishing resources and larger class sizes, teachers in today’s demanding K-6 classroom environment are coming up with new and innovative learning center ideas to meet the increasingly diverse needs of their young learners.

Perhaps no curriculum area is better served by the effective implementation of elementary centers than literacy, in which so many diverse skills must be mastered, with students in a single classroom so often being at very different reading and writing levels.

And while group instruction is an essential element in helping their young students learn to read and write, teachers are also challenged to keep students at various levels engaged while working with smaller groups on activities specific to each student’s level. Well -implemented literacy centers help teachers balance their time and vary activities throughout the school day, week and year, providing meaningful, confidence-building activities geared to help students at all literacy levels.

This research-based article is intended to provide kindergarten and early-grade-level educators with innovative concepts and practical ideas to plan and manage effective literacy centers in the classroom.

What are Literacy Centers?

A literacy center is typically defined as a physical area in the classroom designed for specific learning activities. Literacy centers are distinguished from other classroom learning centers by the fact that they focus primarily on reading, writing, and spelling. Effective centers encourage open-ended inquiry and promote active, task-based learning.

Each center should be planned and organized with appropriate learning materials designed for students to work in self-directed learning activities, either individually, with partners or small groups.
Successful centers allow students to choose between multiple activities, providing ongoing routines with enough variation to alleviate rote repetition or boredom. Centers should also be designed to integrate with the overall classroom literacy program.

Benefits of Literacy Centers

Center-based instruction benefits students and teachers alike. Students learn to work independently and in small groups, helping to develop social interaction and collaboration skills and building self-confidence and esteem. Teachers are able to better manage class time and gear literacy activities to the diverse needs of their pupils.

Key benefits of classroom literacy centers include:

  • Students learn the value of independent and collaborative study while engaging in active, task-based learning and self-discovery
  • Students learn to take responsibility in and choose their own learning activities
  • Teachers have more time to focus on the individual needs of students at various literacy levels and structure class time more efficiently
  • The inherit flexibility of literacy centers motivate kids to learn at their own level and to have some choice in their activities. This lets advanced students move forward without having to spend so much time on activities below their reading and writing level without leaving behind those students who still need to focus on basics such as ABC centers, word study, etc.
  • For teachers, literacy centers promote an effective classroom structure and allow time to focus on small group instruction and assess individual students while the entire class remains engaged in meaningful, purposeful, self-directed literacy activities.

With center-based instruction, teachers are able to have some students working independently or in small groups while spending time on small group instruction. This allows teachers to multi-task more efficiently, gear activities to students’ specific learning needs and make best use of parent helpers and teacher’s assistants in the classroom. For example, a teacher might be working with more advanced readers on reading and understanding storylines in chapter books while students at other levels are working on self-directed centers such as learning sight words, short and long vowels, etc.

Getting Your Literacy Centers Started

Routine is an important element of your literacy centers. Use a Centers Pocket Chart or other visual guide to inform students what they have available and to help schedule time for the various centers.
Be sure to set expectations on how students should conduct the centers individually, with partners and in groups. Effective classroom management will help you keep noise levels to a minimum, handle conflicts and encourage appropriate classroom behavior during assigned times for centers-based activities.

Literacy centers succeed best when students know the specific tasks that are expected in the center for any given period of time (day, week, on-going). When planning the physical environment, classrooms should have an organized system for storing folders, journals, and any other materials that children will use regularly.

Planning Your Literacy Centers

There are literally an endless number of literacy center ideas; visit other teachers’ classrooms and collaborate on as many ideas as possible when planning your classroom literacy centers.
You might even want to organize formal sessions with other teachers at the same grade level in your school or district to share ideas, conduct demonstrations and collaborate on literacy center planning and management.

Ask your peers to visit your classroom and evaluate your centers; they may have valuable insight into improvements or ideas on new centers to implement. As with all classroom endeavors, your centers will evolve and change as you try new ideas and learn from both successes and failures!

Do you have additional ideas or suggestions on setting up and managing effective literacy centers? Please leave your comments below to share your experience with others!

» Continue to Implementing Literacy Centers in the Early Childhood Classroom

» Continue to Implementing Literacy Centers in the Primary Classroom