All about Centers!

An important component of Guided Reading is the independent practice that your students should be doing while you are teaching!  It is so important to create a classroom climate where the students can work independently, get help from friends of they need it, and stay busy without interrupting the important learning going on at the guided reading table!  I like to use centers to give my students independent practice with skills we have been working on, while giving myself the chance to focus on teaching my students how to read.

If you missed it, I wrote about how I organize guided reading in my classroom here.

I feel like my center rotation is looks like the biggest mess ever to the untrained eye! :-)  However, my students and I are pros now!  We do 4 rotations a day.  The first rotation is only 10 minutes due to time constraints.  4 of my groups do "Read to Self" or "Read to Someone" (when I'm feeling generous!), and I meet with my highest group that are reading at a DRA level 18.  I only meet with them briefly and read with them or check their work from the day before, and then they go off and work by themselves during their "Reading Response" rotation.  The rest of the rotations are 20 minutes each.

I group my students heterogeneously, so they don't go to the same reading group with students from their center group.  As a result, at the most, there are only 3 students in a center at a time, which helps keep things calm!  I have small flower clips that I put next to the center the groups are going to for that day (not pictured).  The red chart is the rotation for each "round", and the blue and green chart are the center rotation.  The numbers are the group numbers.  It works for me, but I miss the simple chart I used a few years ago!

I love the idea of using choice with the students, a la Daily 5, but that's not something I feel this group can handle.  I used it 2 years ago and loved it, but there are too many rotations and too much going on that I don't feel like I can use it this year.  Maybe later in the year. :-/

I mentioned in my post about guided reading that I think that organization is so important when it comes to guided reading, and I think the same is true about centers!  It is important to have everything your students need easily accessible to them so they aren't interrupting you asking you where to get a glue stick or how to do an activity.  I have a bin for my word work and writing centers, and I keep all the materials in the bins.  Writing is read, and word work is green.  They take the red bin to the red table, and green bin to the green table, so there is no confusion there.  I purchased these bins at Target in the Dollar Spot a few years ago, I believe, but Michaels has something similar.  Or at least they did.

Right now, I only have 1 activity in the bin that all the students will do.  However, as the year goes on, I will differentiate the activities and have different versions of an activity, or 2 different activities, depending on the needs of my students.  When this happens, I usually use folders to keep the materials in, and I just put the folders in the bin instead.

I also keep a copy of the "I Can" statement on the center as well.  This way, if somebody were to walk into my room, they would be able to see what skill the students are working on.  The skill doesn't always match the one I have posted on my "I Can" board because these skills are review or independent practice of skills the students have mastered/almost mastered.  So this allows them to see that they are working on a particular standard without having to stop and ask me!  I started doing this last year.  I just typed them up and laminated them and posted them to the center bin with a ring, but this year, I printed out my adorable Visual "I Can" Statements 4 to a page, laminated them, and hang them on a ring.  (Does anybody need instructions on how to do this?  It's super easy!)  When I'm not using them, the rest of them are hanging on a ring near my guided reading table, so it is easy to find a the right standard and switch them out.  So far, so good!

I have 5 centers in my room:  Read to Someone, computer, Listen to Reading, Word Work, and Writing.  I also do Read to Self with all of the class at the same time while I'm working with my high group, and Reading Response.  I have one group that does not go to centers at all.  Instead, they meet with the ECE teacher and myself, and then they get on the computer to do a program called Successmaker during the last rotation for an intervention.

Reading Response and Writing are 2 different centers.  Reading Response is where the students respond to the text they read during their guided reading group.  They may do something with vocabulary, answer a question, practice sequencing the story, or something else with their guided reading book.  Writing is where they respond to the book we read as a class during Shared Reading.  For example, the week after we read Pumpkin Pumpkin and Growing Pumpkins during Shared Reading, the students had to sequence the life cycle of a pumpkin in a little flip book and write the steps.  They had to use vocabulary from the book we read, such as the word "sprout".  The papers, flip books, scissors, and glue are all there.  Pencils and crayons are already on the table.

My word work activity is always a review of a skill we've been working on or something they should be able to do independently.  I like to have lots of varied activities for the students to participate in.  Sometimes it's a simple "Spin and Spell" activity where they blend words and determine if they are real words or nonsense words.  I've done sentence scrambles, sorts, and a few other different types of activities.  I like sorts the best, I must say!  They are easy to do, and the students can do them pretty independently.

This past week, I used a syllable sort from my fall unit.  I loved watching my students work together on the activity!  Look at these cuties working hard!  I actually got up to take their picture because they were working hard!  They weren't posing for me at all!  And look at those readers in the background!  SO PROUD!  (Please ignore the overturned chair though- one of my friends had a "moment" and had to leave the classroom for awhile.  So the chair was waiting for him to come back and fix it.  We've got to learn to fix our mistakes, you know!)

A favorite center in the classroom is Listen to Reading.  I don't have a typical listening center in my room.  When I taught Kindergarten, I had the typical tape player with 3-4 pairs of headphones and the tapes.  When I moved to 1st grade 3 years ago, I wasn't allowed to take the listening center with me.  For the first year I was in first, I used the computers we had in the room (2 at the time) for the listening center.

Then last year, I wrote up a Donors Choose project and received 4 iPods for my room.  They are AWESOME.  The 4 iPods are iPod shuffles, and I chose to get 4 different colors for easy identification!  They are super small, so I have the students keep them in a bag I got from the scrapbooking section of Michaels.  It's the small black bag to the left.  Each of the compartments is color coded to match the color of the iPod, so the students know where to put the iPods when they are finished.  I can easily check to see if the iPods were put back where they belong as well.  The books for each iPod are in canvas bags that are also color coded to match the iPod.  There are 4 bags with a different color rick rack.  The student can grab the bag, which also has the headphones in it, and an iPod, and find a spot in the room to sit.  You can see one of my students following along with Corduroy on the iPod!  The best part is that I can purchase CDs from Scholastic, rip them to my computer, and sync them to the iPods.  I only have to buy 1 CD, but I can purchase several copies of a book, or I can put different stories on different iPods.  I can easily change the books with the seasons, books we've read as a class, etc...   I could do an entire blog post on my Listen to Reading center, so I'll shut up now. :-)

We also received 6 Chromebooks from Donors Choose last year, so I use these computers for my Computer center.  I built the little bench they are sitting on.  The other computers (which are on the other side of the room) are used for Successmaker.  These don't run Successmaker (the Chrome OS doesn't run Java) so the students get on Starfall.  I'm looking for new sites for the students to get on.  I have used Scootpad in the past, but I would like something a little more kid friendly.  Any suggestions?

The students also need a place to store their own materials!  Completed or uncompleted work, their center notebook, their book choices... enter book boxes!  I purchase these each year from IKEA because they are so cheap!  I give each student their book box, and it is a big deal to be able to decorate them with markers.  I usually put their pictures on them as well.  Then I reinforce them with packing tape or contact paper on the bottoms, and teach the students to use them appropriately!  I took this picture awhile ago, so there were no books in them yet!  The students can choose a few books from the classroom library to keep in their book boxes.  We switch them out every few weeks.  At the end of the year, I let the students keep their book boxes and take them home.

I hope you found this post informative!  I am glad I was able to share a bit about how I run centers in my classroom.  If you have any questions or want to learn more, let me know, and I'll be happy to share!


  1. Wow! You ARE organized! As a 4th grade teacher, I really appreciate how academically rigorous your center activities are! So glad not to see busy work!

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