10 Tips For Incorporating Literacy Centers In Your Classroom

I cannot speak highly enough of the effectiveness of literacy centers. 

YES! It can be a lot of work to prepare. YES! It can be a challenge to organize. And YES, it can take time to properly train your students how to appropriately use them and transition smoothly. But YESSS, it is worth it!! There are so many benefits to literacy centers that I will never teach again without utilizing them. 

Benefits of Literacy Centers

Here are a few of the reasons why I think it’s a good idea for you to implement centers into your literacy block…

    • Centers provide students the ability to reinforce skills that they have already been taught. This supports the process of developing automaticity, automatic recall of information without having to think much about it. 
    • Centers are a “reset” for children’s stamina and attention span for learning. Giving children a break from a structured listening or learning time and a little more freedom to work independently is like a reset. Their ability to focus and reengage after centers is much stronger. 
    • Centers are usually very enjoyable for all students so they look forward to them and there is high engagement. These activities also support your kinesthetic learners, those who enjoy more “hands-on” learning. 
    • Students learn to collaborate with their peers. This can help them build meaningful relationships when working together. This helps develop the essential social skills of negotiating, problem solving, and compromising. 
    • Small group instruction can be incorporated into the rotation while your other students are busy at work in their centers. Small group instruction allows the teacher to differentiate lessons and targets them more specifically to the needs of each child. There will always be a wide variety of different ability levels in your classroom and the best way to meet a child where they’re at on a regular basis is within a small group.


10 tips to implement Literacy Centers

“So what’s the best way to implement them,” you might ask?! Well let me share some tips I’ve learned along the way. 

Tip #1

Centers should reinforce something that’s already been taught & students must be able to do it independently. 

When deciding what centers for your students to engage in, choose something that reinforces what your students have already learned. It’s not the time to introduce a new concept or skill but rather reinforce and cement in something they’ve already been taught. That said, it should be something they can do independently or within a small group. 

Some suggested skills to focus on in kindergarten literacy centers could be phonemic awareness, phonics, sight words, independent reading, listening to reading, writing words or sentences, etc. I will trade out centers about every 2 – 4 weeks, depending on how quickly they master that skill. If most of my students are finishing quickly and appear to be getting bored, I will trade it out. 

Tip #2

When possible, use the same format but just change out the content.

I have found that it’s much easier and more efficient to replace a center activity when the format stays the same and only the content changes. 

Here is a list of the types of formats I use in my literacy centers: 

  • Clip cards
  • Pocket chart sort
  • Say It! Stamp it!
  • Read – Build – Write with magnetic letters
  • Audio books 
  • Shared Reading Poetry – Puzzle and sight word find activity. 
  • Independent reading

Tip #3

Store your centers in clearly labeled containers and assign tables for each center. 

You’ll want to make center time a routine for your students which means it’s predictable. Students should know exactly what to do and where to go. I recommend not letting the children choose a location around the room because I have found it wastes time while they are deciding where to go and it can often cause other issues. 

Number and/or color code your center containers so they are clearly labeled and students can grab and go each day. 

Tip #4

Keep organized by putting your centers in smaller containers to separate different items. 

This helps the students stay organized which often means more learning and less time is wasted. I like to use these photo boxes and/or pencil zipper pouches. For example, I’ll put my picture cards in the photo box and my clothes pin in the zipper pouch. It’s also very helpful if you plan on differentiating your centers for students.

Tip #5

Create a center rotation chart where students’ names are moveable. 

Oftentimes you will need to shift students into another group for various reasons – their ability level changes, behavior challenges, or if a student is absent sometimes.  I like to have a chart with their names on sticky notes so I can easily move them around. The center rotations are also on sticky notes so they can be rotated as well. 

There is definitely more than one way to do this. You could use a mini pocket chart and move their names around, or you could use a timed powerpoint slideshow. The challenge I found when I used the powerpoint slide show was that I wasn’t always finished with the small group I was working with and didn’t like that I was restricted to exactly 15 minutes. Instead I like to look at my watch to keep track of time and ring a bell when we are finished. I aim to stay pretty close to the rotation time on the schedule but I like a few minutes of flex time depending on the need of the moment.

Tip #6

Group students by like abilities. 

Students are placed in a group where they have similar needs so that the teacher can more effectively target each student. This gives you the opportunity to differentiate instruction. It allows those who are more advanced to stay challenged and those who aren’t ready to move on, to prevent frustration. 

Center rotations can also be differentiated to the students’ needs so they’re not too challenging. In addition to this, I will often assign one or two of my stronger students to support a group that may need extra help at times. This prevents them from interrupting my small group teaching time. And if I ever have volunteers or support with flexible time, I request that they come during center time. 

Tip #7

Designate one rotation as small group instruction with the teacher.

During center rotations, create a rotation for small group instruction with the teacher. This is a powerful time where the teacher can more effectively target a child’s specific needs and more easily monitor each student’s progress in a small group. Lesson plans are targeted towards the group’s needs as they are separated by their like abilities.

Tip #8

Train your students with center rotations REALLY WELL at the beginning of the year and don’t move on until they are independent. 

When I train my student, I explain my expectations for a specific center, then I model how to do it, and last I ask a few students who think they know how to do it to model it for the class, lavishing praises pointing out all the things they are doing right to reinforce appropriate behaviors. 

For the first few weeks, I will circulate around the room reinforcing and guiding appropriate behaviors. I do not attempt to have a small group at the teacher table until they are able to work independently. This may take more or less time to train your students, as each group of kids is different. You also may find that even though some children are on the same level academically, because of behavior challenges they shouldn’t be together. This is a time where I begin to learn and gather information about my students and how they interact with each other. 

Tip #9

Introduce new centers in small groups or in a mini-lesson whole group. 

Though the format is the same, the activity changes and students will need to be introduced to the new activity. If its a more challenging activity, I like to have my students practice it during small group time to familiarize my students with the content. If it’s a less complex activity, I will introduce it whole group and have a few friends come up to demonstrate. 

Tip #10

Decide how many center rotations you will have and for how long. 

It’s important to understand the attention span and stamina of your students. For kindergarten, which is the grade level I teach, I like to have two rotations of 15 minutes each. I add an additional 5 minutes on to our scheduled time for centers (35 minutes) to account for transition and flex time should we need it.

Literacy Center Resources

The best way to implement centers is to just get started. You will learn as you go. Yes, it can be helpful to buy some visually appealing centers from the Teachers Pay Teachers store but it’s not always necessary. You can get creative and make up your own.

But, should you like some of literacy centers you see here, check out my TPT store as I have an assortment of centers for you to choose from. 

I recommend printing your centers in color (yes, there are studies that show color increases learning), and then laminating not only for extra durability but so that students can write on them with expo markers.  

I hope this helps inspire and empower you to use centers with your students!


Mrs. Young

“Doing little things with great love!” 

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