Implementing Literacy Centers in the Primary Classroom April 22 2009

Helping Kids Master Language!

Ideas and tools to implement effective literacy centers in your primary grade classroom!

With a solid early childhood literacy foundation, kids can begin to master language very quickly as they enter the first grade and progress through the second and third grades. As their attention spans increase, they are able to work more independently, making self-directed literacy centers extremely valuable to early primary grade teachers.

From alphabet letters and word studies to phonics, spelling, vocabulary development and so many other disciplines to master, primary grade students benefit significantly from task-based, self-directed learning centers, which allow them to focus on activities that suit their own level and interests!

Expanding Literacy Centers for Grades 1-3

In grades 1-3, teachers can really expand the number and type of literacy centers available to students. Primary grade literacy centers focus on reading, word work, writing and grammar, speaking and listening. By planning and implementing a variety of literacy centers, primary grade teachers can help students progress throughout the school year by providing centers that meet all levels of reading and writing. This also gives pupils plenty of variety and the ability to progress at an appropriate pace.

Select grade 1-3 literacy activities that encourage your students to practice reading, writing, and spelling daily; open-ended tasks can be repeated with different poems, books and writing activities. Keep your centers simple and meaningful, focusing on activities that are self-directed and easy to complete relatively quickly; remember that young learners’ attention spans are short!

Typical primary grade literacy centers can include:

  • Alphabet Center - especially for first graders, a continued focus on learning upper and lower-case letters is an important part of your literacy centers. Use the Beginning Sound Materials and Beginning Blend and Digraph Materials to help grade level 1-3 students master the use of alphabet letters in building words, learning blends and digraphs.
  • Word Study Center - you can implement the Teaching Resource Center Task Cards for Comprehensive Literacy Model to implement word building and vocabulary development activities for students at all levels (emergent, early and transitional).
  • Listening Center - task-based learning activities that emphasize listening and retention help students’ oral language skills and translate to reading and writing fundamentals as well.
  • Art Center - drawing, painting and crafts activities make literacy centers fun for kids; brainstorm with your peers on art center projects that emphasize picture/word sorting and association to combine art and language-specific activities effectively.
  • Writing Center and Handwriting Centers - as primary grade students begin to master word studies you’ll want to introduce progressive writing centers that give them a chance to put their skills to work. Try activities like weekend reports, creative writing exercises and grammar writing activities to give your writing centers more variety.
  • Independent/Buddy Reading - have students read passages to each other or let them spend time reading alone.
  • Drama - dramatic play and drama-based learning centers can inspire kids’ imagination and get their creative juices flowing!
  • Poetry - the importance of rhyme and meter play an important part in literacy skills development; start with poetry reading and then have kids try their own hand in creating short poems. The Poem of the Week series offers hundreds of poems for kids at all primary grade levels. The My Very Own Poetry Collection also offers you poetry collections for all grade levels.
  • Computer and Overhead Projector - with many schools making LCD projectors available, the range and depth of interactive/technology-based activities is really making a difference in today’s learning centers, especially for teachers lucky enough to have several computer workstations available in the classroom or school computing center where kids can work in small groups or individually on a PC!
  • Literacy Games - games and puzzles are always a great way to make literacy centers more fun and give students plenty of variety.
  • Reading/Writing Journals - tools such as the Words Writing Books and My Very Own ABC Book give kids a chance to write stories about pictures, record their thoughts about stories, etc.
  • Literature Circle/Book Club - teaching kids to really love reading can be a challenge; a book club center is one way to help them learn to enjoy reading and sharing with friends!
  • Pocket Charts - use your pocket charts and cards to organize your literacy centers.
  • Music Center - as with poetry, music-based centers are fun and translate well to language skills development.
  • Felt Boards and Displays - from word walls to classroom posters, pocket charts and more, you can use your classroom displays to implement specific literacy learning centers.
  • Author Study Activities - focus on specific authors in your literacy centers to help students learn to associate books and stories with their creators.

Implementation at the Later Elementary Level (Grades 3-5)

Obviously your literacy center activities can have longer durations as kids enter the later grade levels. One example would be to introduce the steps of creating working drafts, edits, proofreading and publishing into your writing centers, giving students a chance to learn the complete authoring process!

Literacy centers for grade level 3-5 students also typically involve more self-direction and independent study activities such as book club and drama centers. The emphasis shifts from reading and writing fundamentals toward creativity and self-expression, allowing kids to stretch their reading and writing skills in preparation for middle school.

Implementing Literacy Centers with Impact!

Since literacy centers offer a dynamic, positive physical and social context for learning, integrating your centers into your overall classroom literacy program supports skills development and improvement in a host of related areas including reading comprehension, language, and writing development. Literacy centers encourage kids to participate in group learning activities as well as to work independently, building self confidence and esteem, while growing to appreciate reading and writing at the same time.

Your literacy centers should also give you more opportunity to observe and monitor students’ progress in specific areas, helping you more effectively perform student assessments. Try to build performance indicators and measures into your literacy centers as part of your overall assessment system. And, most of all, remember that learning centers for reading and writing give you the chance to work with students in small groups while also feeling confident that all the kids in your class are learning at their own level and on activities that interest them most!

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

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