8 Ways to Make ELA Centers Work in Your Classroom

Literacy centers are an important part of any classroom. Especially if you have 32 students, all learning at different levels and needing some intervention time with you on a daily basis. In college I remember being so excited to teach literacy. I love to read, and wanted to pass that passion on to the students I would be teaching. While studying education at the University of Utah, I vaguely remember being warned that teaching would be harder than I expected, but I didn’t let that bother me. My whole life I dreamed of becoming a teacher, and didn’t need anyone scaring me from accomplishing my dream.

Turns out my professors were right. Teaching was harder than I ever expected, but it was also more rewarding than I could ever imagine. My first year I focused on connecting with the students, the standards, and just getting through the day. I tried literacy centers, but had no idea what I was doing. The summer after my first year I came up with a plan; I had a goal to implement literacy centers correctly and I wanted to reach each struggling reader and help them improve. Each year my centers became smoother and more organized. Here are the tips I learned, and what I think are the best practices for implementing literacy centers into the classroom.

#1. Have a plan. This seems obvious, yet it is one of the hardest parts about centers. How many students will be in each group? How many rotations will they visit each day? How will they know when it is time to rotate to a new center? What materials will they use? Will students need any instruction beforehand? These are just a few questions to ask yourself as you are setting centers up. Get a game plan and stick with it. I like students to visit 5-6 centers each day. Student groups over 6 is too many, because your groups should be small enough to be effective. Also, 15-20 minutes is about right for each center. Under 15 is just not enough time to accomplish a task. Click on this pin below to see how organized this teacher is with centers!
#2. Group your students accordingly. This is important, and it depends on what your motive is. Do you want to level your students, so you can work with your students that need extra help with reading daily? Or do you want your higher leveled students helping struggling readers when they are rotating together? I always like grouping my students by level, because it was easier to differentiate for me. I could have my high level students working on one thing, while I give some intense reading instruction to my lower group. At the same time, other students can work on spelling practice using words that are at their level.

#3. Be consistent. This is important! If you choose to have students rotate daily to 5 centers, keep it at 5 always. If students rotate every 15 minutes when you ring a bell, always use the same bell. I also like to keep my rotation “themes” consistent. For example, I like to use the same 5 rotation centers: Reading, Writing, Spelling, Vocabulary, and Teacher Time.

#4. Make your expectations clear. This is a great blog post that has some ideas on what procedures you should make clear during centers. Click on the pin and you will also find some other awesome center ideas as well 🙂
#5 Make centers meaningful. While you are working with small groups during ELA center time, make sure the other work your students are doing is not busy work. I like to always have a spelling and vocabulary center, because my students always need extra practice with those skills and I don’t feel like I am wasting their time. What can your students do that will help them, and not just keep them occupied? Hands on centers and technology centers are always worthwhile as well.

#6. Students need to be held accountable for their work. During center time, make sure you have a plan in place to keep track of student work. I like having a student folder. Students keep all their work for the week in a folder, and check off each center as they go. Then, at the end of the week they turn the folder into me. I check for work, and give a grade on the folder as a whole, or each individual assignment–depending on what I am looking for that week.

#7 Transitions should be smooth. For me, I have a timer by my side. When the timer goes off, I ring a bell. My students know they then quietly rotate to the next station. Of course, we practice this procedure over and over so they really get it down. Have an idea for what you want, and execute it. This blog post gives some great ideas for transitions that could definitely be used during center time as well.

#8. Make each minute count in your teacher-led group. This means no interruptions. The first year I tried centers I remember students constantly coming up to with things like, “Can I go to the bathroom? Can I get a drink? Where is a pencil? What do I do at this center again?” Don’t forget, make sure your expectations clear. Students should know the bathroom, drink and pencil procedures. Students should know they CAN NOT bug you, (unless of an emergency of course) during center time. Students must know what they are doing in each center, and feel confident that they can accomplish each one without your help.

Literacy centers changed my life! Students could accomplish multiple tasks on their own learning level, and I was able to give those students needing extra attention the time they needed each day.

If you are looking for center work for you classroom, check out these products in my TPT store. Each set is a month long set of centers!


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