How to Run Literacy Centers

Have you wondered how to run literacy centers in your 1st grade or 2nd grade classroom? How do teachers make them work fluently and be successful? I have always done Literacy Rotations in my classroom, some teachers call them Centers, Daily 5 and others call them rotations, but they are all the same idea.

The purpose for me is that it is a chance for me to meet with my leveled groups and to teach my students to work independently. 

This year I tried a new method for our center rotations and I am really liking the change. I feel like the time has been more effective. Of course, it took us about 3 weeks to get to this point though. 

This year I made some changes..

This year I am in 2nd grade and I started our centers off as I usually do. It was the beginning of the year, all my beginning of the year stuff was done, routines were down, my classroom management was falling into place and it was time for real learning to happen. I am always anxiously waiting for this time of the school year to get going. Well, it fell flat in front of me and was chaotic to some extent. The students didn’t know what to do, they were goofing off and absolutely no work was being accomplished. I wasn’t getting my small groups done as I was spending the entire time on classroom management and trying to get students to do their work. 

After two days of this I stood in the shower (that’s where I do my best thinking) and the thought of “Oh, this class has never done center rotations before” came to my head. They were kindergarteners when the pandemic hit and 1st grade was mostly online, they have zero experience with centers! No wonder it was such a hot mess!

The next day, I apologized to my students for assuming they knew what to do. I tried the best I could to explain what rotations were and how they work. They still stared at me with blank looks on their faces, about 70% of my students are ESL.  I searched online for a video that I could show what centers were for the students to see it come full circle, but I didn’t find anything. 

Meanwhile, my aide was taken from my classroom and given to a class that had higher needs. So now I needed an approach that I could do single-handedly!

That’s when I decided I needed a new approach.

I canceled centers for the next week or so as I re-configured a system that worked. Once I put that into place I still made several tweaks to it. Isn’t teaching so much that way, you try something, it’s not the best, so you change one thing, and then another each time it runs a little smoother? 

My rotations now take me about 15 minutes of prep each week! I go into more details on the prepping in this FREE Resource HERE.

A few important tips to start off:

  1. Keep things as consistent as possible. Any sort of change will throw them off. 
  2. Keep the names of your centers the same each week. 
  3. Keep the students in the same groups (I’ll go into this more in a bit down below)
  4. Keep the times consistent

So how does it work?

  • I made a Google Slide Deck with my rotation schedule on it. CLICK HERE to find more details. 
  • Each day is slightly different, but each Monday is the same, Tuesday is the same and so on. This allows for students to get a variety for their work. It also makes it easy for me to plan. 
  • On my same slide deck are my small group lesson plans. I meet with the lowest group 3 times a week, next two lowest 2 days a week and my higher 2 one day a week. 

Here is what a day looks like:

Prep: I put the group’s word work pages in their assigned colored folders and write up the “Writing Prompt” or Writing Assignment. 

Right before the groups start I put the Small Group Schedule on the board. 

Groups start

  • Students walk in from recess and the Small Group Schedule for the day is up on the board. I go over what each colored group is doing and explain word work to the groups that have word work and writing to the writing groups. (this takes just a few minutes)
  • Then the students are released to start their groups. I start the timer on the screen for 15 minutes. Check out Classroom Screen for a FREE program to list your groups and a timer. It also has a ton of other cool features. Having the timer posted shows the students how much time they have left. 
  • The group that is assigned to my table will come over to the teacher table. The rest of the students are doing independent work, their assigned station.
  • They go to their stations, there are posters on the wall with instructions. They grab their work and then return to their own seat to work. I will let some students pick where they work as long as work is getting done. You know who can handle it. 
  • Once the timer is up, I announce “Finish up what you are doing and prepare to move to Round 2”. Round 2 is already posted and students transition into it. My next group will move to my table. 

I don’t always keep my group the entire 15 minutes. If we are done early I send them back and either assign them to start on Round 2 early or have them do a center that they would have missed. Sometimes I send back just a few because I need to focus on a need with a few students. 

Keeping students accountable:

On an ideal day, I have an aide that comes in during our center rotation and her job is to answer questions of those students working independently. She also makes sure they stay on task. I have a high ESL population and she speaks the home language of a majority of these students and it is helpful for her to speak in their home language if they don’t understand. Like I said this is ideal. 

However, about 60% of the time I don’t have an aide, and my students and I are left on our own without notice. I have my teacher’s table positioned in the back of the room and I can clearly see the entire room. I am constantly scanning my eyes to watch for students off task. There are only a few reasons that they need to be out of their seat, so I watch for that. I also use a classroom management system where I add Xs to their name and if they get 3 Xs, they get listening lessons, so I will often announce, “I just gave out a few Xs, please make sure you are on task. 

Another accountability is that I check online to see if they have made progress on our online programs, I can tell what they did in that time they were online, I also check their word work. Anyone who hasn’t made sufficient progress will work on it on Friday. Friday is our catch-up time. Those students who got the work done will get to participate in a fun activity on Friday. I also use Fridays as a time I can catch up with groups. 

How the Stations are Broken Down

Word Work: All work is differentiated. The students are in a group by level. Each group is given a color name (it matches our reading curriculum), but you could make them any color you decide. 

Writing: It depends on the day. I always do journal entries as my backup plan. I assign them a journal entry and they write in their journal. Depending on the grade, but currently, my 2nd graders have to write 4 sentences and they can add a picture. If my students have a writing assignment or I need them to work on their rough draft from writer’s workshop or a final draft, I will assign that. Maybe we are in a poem unit and they need to work on a poem or make the final draft of it. Whatever it is, it must be something that they can do independently. 

Silent Reading: My school has a subscription to Reading A-Z and the students have a RAZ account set up. This has leveled readers for them to read. They listen to a story, read it, and then do the questions. It really helps improve their reading. If you don’t have something like this, there is always EPIC, which I believe is still free for teachers, and the reading curriculum we use “American Reading Company” has books online that the kids can read at their level. If I didn’t have an online program, I would have the students silently read from books that were pre-picked out. 

Technology: This station is a flexible one for me. I have a poster in the room, above our tech cart, and the students look on there to see what program they are using for the day. Some days I assign specific students to something if they are behind or let them have free choice. I have things like Prodigy, Zearn, ABC Mouse, Boom Cards, Typing.com, etc. I wish we had a reading and language program like Lexia Core, because I would have them do that, but we don’t. Boom Cards are nice because I can differentiate and assign certain students, certain decks. 

Meet with Teacher: My group is also flexible. I built the schedule, so I don’t meet with any specific group. I will pull groups that I need. If one group is behind, I can pull them, a holiday, I can pull the groups that missed, I have reading testing to do, I can do that instead. However, I do have a schedule of groups, that I would like to meet on an ideal day. 

How Timing Works

  • Each day we have 2 rounds of stations. They are at each station for  about 15 minutes. 
  • Since I only have 4 stations, ideally it would be nice to have have 4 groups, but it made my groups too large to do my small group. So I have 5 groups. Two of the groups are very close in skills so they do the same things. They just meet with me separately. 

How Groups Are Broken Up:

Group 1 Below Below-Level Group  (Meet with teacher 3 x a week)

Group 2 Below-Level Group (Meet with teacher 3 x a week)

Group 3 Just Below Grade Level (Meet with teacher 2 x a week)

Group 4 On Level (Meet with teacher 2 x a week)

Group 5 Above Level (Meet with teacher 1 x a week)

This year my students are really far behind, therefore my below-level groups are top-heavy. 

I know that this is a lot to take in and I wish I could invite each of you into my classroom to watch how it works.  ** I cant video due to privacy issues.

If you want more information on running ELA Centers in your classroom or are interested in FREE activities and FREE templates, CLICK HERE for more information


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