KinderGals: 6 Easy Steps to Develop Independent Literacy Centers

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

6 Easy Steps to Develop Independent Literacy Centers

Have you tried a million different systems to set up literacy centers in your room and you still can't seem to get it just right? If you said yes, you are not alone.  As teachers we are constantly tweaking things, trying to find that system that works perfectly for us and our kids.
Or, does your dining room table no longer look like a dining room table?  I haven't seen the top of my table since Easter! We all struggle with finding that perfect system.  But, sometimes if we work with another teacher, all of a sudden things seem much clearer. There is great power in planning with another teacher.
Last year I teamed up with my friend Deanna Jump to create a series of units that would make center time planning simple!

Here are the 5 Simple Steps for Successful INDEPENDENT Literacy Centers

1. Use Mini Lesson to Set Expectations and Teach New Activities.

So often we just expect our kids to know our routines and procedures after the first day. But, having strong routines and procedures requires a lot of practice...and patience! The first thing we did was to sit down and decided what were our expectations for centers. What were our procedures going to be? How would kids moves to centers? What would be in centers? What should they do with their work?
After coming up with our list of questions, we broke each one down into a series of mini lessons. We spend 10 minutes each day, prior to going to centers, to do our mini lessons. 
We also use our mini lessons to teach what will be in centers. We especially want to spend time teaching those can do centers. This will ensure that when the children move to these centers, time is productive and behavior is appropriate.

2. Designate Literacy Center Zones.

We divide our rooms into 5 zones. There are several ways you can do this, but in our units we decided to divide them by Alphabet, Phonemic Awareness, Writing, Reading, and Word Work. We made a sign for each area. My friend Amanda decided to make matching number signs for each of the 5 zones. The color of the numeral matches the boarder on the center sign from our unit.

3. Develop a Storage System.

Once your have your zones set up, you will want a storage tub for each zone.  These tubs can be stored on a shelf in any area of your room. When center time begins, the children can quickly move the tub to the areas by matching the signs.  Amanda put numbers on hers, but I think it might be easier if you put the matching label.  The children can quickly match the pictures and colors.

4. Develop Have to Centers for Each Zone.

For each of the 5 zones, you will want to plan a "have to" activity. This is something that each child will do. This is where we want to be careful. Be sure that the activities are ones that your kids can do independently.  Keep them very simple. You can slowly build a collection of activities in your mini lessons that can become "have to" centers. Remember, these are not a new teach. Centers are used to practice and maintain standards already learned.
My friend Deanna is so smart! It was her idea to color code the "I Can" cards to match the center signs.  This makes it so easy for you to be sure you know which standard each activity is designed for. The "I Can" cards provide the children will simple picture directions. This helps foster that independence we want.

5. Develop a Management System.

 You might be wondering how do the children know which center they are going to. Have you ever tried ringing a bell and having children rotate to a different activity? I know I did. I found that it was pretty much a nightmare.  Some children wouldn't be done, some have been done for a while. We were wasting time cleaning up and physically moving to another area. We developed a system that would allow the children to know exactly where they needed to go each day. 
  • The children are placed into groups. This group has all abilities, all personalities. These are children that get along--they work together but don't play together. They stay with the same group all year.
  • Each day they will visit a different area.
  • They will do the "have to" activity in that area.
  • Once they are finished, they will move to the "can do" centers.

6. Develop Can Do Centers for Early Finishers.

At the beginning of the year, the can dos are very basic. You are simply using items from your room that the children can free explore and manipulate.  Some teachers have a shelf in each area to store these can do centers. In Amanda's room that is where we are moving. But, for right now, we have the can do activities stored in a basket for each zone. 
During our mini lessons we are demonstrating, modeling, and practicing can do centers. As we do we can use the tags (see above) to build a choice board. This will take time. Be patient and teach each activity slowly and clearly.  You can display these boards in each of the zones. Once the children finish their "have to" center, they can look at the choice board to select a can do center.
I hope this helps explain how we set up our centers. Do you still have questions? Leave them in the comments section and we can plan a follow up blog post to answer them!
Here is the link to Centers Made Easy Unit . It is in Deanna's store.
And here is a link to the bundle. There is a different unit each month (9 units), or you can get the bundle and have all of the units together.

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