The Science of Reading and Literacy Centers, Part 3: Leveled Readers

What to Do With Leveled Readers and Other Books

Welcome to my third post about The Science of Reading and Literacy Centers!  If you have questions about what kinds of activities you might have your students complete during center time, you are in the right place.  After you read this post, you will find out why you should not throw out those leveled readers when implementing the Science of Reading in your classroom.

One of the biggest questions you might have is what to do with leveled readers and other books during center time in your classroom.  How can you put these kinds of books to good use?

The first thing I will say is when it comes to books, there is no such thing as a bad book!  The students in my classroom have access to leveled readers, easy readers, beginning chapter books, chapter books, and picture books. I organize my leveled readers by level, my picture books by genre, by topic, and even by author.  The chapter books are also relegated to a special section of my classroom library.  Leveled readers, easy readers, and picture and chapter books are all GREAT ways to provide enrichment and differentiate for all the learners in your classroom. I have never had a class yet who has not benefited from independent reading.
Science of Reading Chapter Books
It’s very important for students to have access to all kinds of books, whether they are picture books, easy readers, or leveled readers.

What to Do With Leveled Readers

Leveled readers do have a structure and text complexity that becomes more advanced as the levels increase. They are somewhat reliable in that students who have developed foundational skills and high-frequency word knowledge can be successful with them. Although leveled readers do not align with The Science of Reading, they can be useful in providing students with practicing fluent reading, reading comprehension, and reading for pleasure.
At the beginning of the year, I recommend assessing students on their foundational reading skills and then following up with progress monitoring throughout the year.  This is a very important step and is what will help you in identifying students in need of support.
Foundational reading skills include:

  • Knowledge of letter names and sounds
  • Ability to segment sounds in words and blend sounds to read words fluently ( move from b-a-t to bat without struggling to think of sounds)
  • Ability to read a variety of high-frequency words (Fry and Dolch are popular lists, but you might also use the lists that come with your curriculum)
  • More advanced readers might have the ability to read beginning and ending blends, vowel teams, digraphs, diphthongs etc.

I use leveled readers in my classroom as a “May Do” activity.  This means that students will read on their own. It’s important to provide books to students that they will be successful with, without any support.  If you do not assess their foundational skills and then use that data to provide appropriate books to your students, they may become frustrated and may not be successful at reading books independently. Always review the books before assigning them to students to ensure they will match the skills each student has.
The Science of Reading and Leveled Readers

When students complete their “Must Do” activities they may choose to read independently.  I allow students to choose 10 books at a time and place them in their book baskets. For students who can blend and segment sounds, read words fluently, and have sufficient high-frequency word knowledge, I provide them with specific levels that they may choose from.

If a student is a struggling reader, I recommend providing those students with your curriculum decodables and other decodables (as needed), like Bob Books, instead of providing leveled readers to students.  You can set up a special basket just for those students with alphabet books or other books that you have already worked on together with students.


All students are permitted to choose books from the picture book section but I save my chapter books for my highest readers who are very fluent, have good comprehension skills, and excellent high-frequency word knowledge.

The Science of Reading and Picture Books

Each group of students has a shopping day, where they may go to the class library and shop for books. Because I have my library organized, I teach the students where to find the books and how to put them away when it is time to trade books out on their next shopping day.

The Importance of Teaching Reading Strategies

It’s important to remember, even with leveled texts, students should be putting to use research-based decoding skills. Just because a student has a leveled reader in their hands, it doesn’t mean they are going to use ineffective strategies. Students will use the strategies you teach them, provided you give them explicit, direct instruction.

Students should not be relying on pictures for clues or guessing what the words might be. Students should be using strategies like:

  • Look at the letters in the word from left to right.
  • Blend the sounds together.
  • Look for parts you know (i.e. letter sounds, vowel teams, digraphs, blends, short vowels, etc.)
  • Break the word into syllables.
  • Cover part of the word. Read this part (i.e. “card” cover the c and the d. Look at the ar. What sound does ar make together? Now, let’s go back and read the first sound. What sound does this letter make?  And so on. Blend the sounds together and then read the whole word).
  • Ask for help.

Additional Activities for Leveled Readers, Easy Readers, and Picture Books

Even if you choose to not have students read books independently, you might choose some of these other activities with leveled readers instead:

  • Find words in the book with the sound-spelling pattern for the week and write those words in a journal.  Draw a picture to go with each word.
  • Use the pictures in the book to write your own story.
  • Use one picture in the book and write a sentence about what you see happening in the picture.
  • Tell a story to a partner about what the book might be about.
  • Read and write one sentence from the book. Create a new story based off of one sentence.

One Final Thought...

This might be more of a reminder than a thought. Make sure when you are providing books for your students or placing your students in groups that you progress monitor. Remember that groups are fluid and skills-based. Students may, and should, move groups when they acquire the necessary skills to move on.


Thanks for joining me! Next up will be some of the Must Do activities I assign to students. Stay tuned!

Science of Reading and Literacy Centers Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of The Science of Reading and Literacy Centers!

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If you missed the first post on the Science of Reading, click here to catch up!  In today’s post we’ll look at some simple changes you can make in your classroom to teach small groups with a Science of Reading focus while simultaneously fostering independence in your students.  For more information on how to implement structure and excellent classroom management strategies in your classroom I highly recommend *The Daily Five and *The First Six Weeks of School.

One thing I want to make clear is that neither of these books are curriculum. What they do offer are management strategies that will significantly impact your classroom for the better.

Building Independence in Your Classroom

Here are a few key points to keep in mind as we discuss literacy centers:

  • Explicitly teach everything.
  • Set clear expectations for routines, procedures, behavior, and academics.
  • Build community, respect, and trust.
  • Believe that your students are capable.
  • Help students build stamina.
  • There is power in choice.

Structuring Center Time

The Daily Five offers a wonderful framework to help structure your literacy center block.  I will briefly review the framework and some key ideas from this book, BUT I will also say that I do not use each of these activities or routines as they are suggested in the book.  My process is slightly different and I’ll share that near the end of the post.  These ideas and concepts, however, are a great place to start when using literacy centers and aligning them to the Science of Reading.

In this book it is suggested to have five different categories of activities from which students may choose when working independently.  These tasks stay consistent throughout the year.  Basically this means the students will complete the same activities under each overarching area, but with more rigorous skills as the students progress throughout the year.  Each activity is differentiated for every level of student.

For each activity:

  • students are explicitly taught the expectations.
  • a list of expectations is posted in the classroom for students to reference.

Some ideas for expectations include:

  • Gather all materials.
  • Choose a seat.
  • Work quietly the whole time (i.e. using a whisper voice).
  • Stay on task  (This requires teaching students how to build stamina and persevere.)
  • Complete one task before moving to the next task.
  • Clean up and put away all materials before moving to the next activity.

Daily Five Expectations and Procedures


Overarching Areas (Each activity in The Daily Five will fall under one of these areas):

  • Read to Self: Reading a good-fit book (books stored in a book box or bag)
    I-PICK books- I choose a book.
    Purpose- Why do I want to read it?
    Interest- Does the book interest me?
    Comprehension-Am I understanding what I am reading?
    Know- Do I know most of the words?
  • Work on Writing: Writing notebooks, writing journals
  • Read to Someone: Read to a partner, check for understanding
  • Word Work: Word patterns, word families, (using stamps, markers, magnetic letters, etc.)
  • Listen to Reading: Listening center

After teaching procedures for each activity and students have built their stamina such that they can stay on task for extended periods of time, it’s time to start centers.

During centers students will complete the activities in any order they choose. Students will have a choice over which activity they start first, second, etc. and teachers will track / monitor activities to increase accountability.  Additionally, students choose the books they read, the activities and materials that best meet their goals, choose a place to sit, choose listen center books, and choose the writing genre and topics they write about.

The key to implementing these strategies is the explicit teaching (teach, model, practice) of each procedure and routine, building students’ stamina so that they can be successful for sustained periods of time, monitoring students, and meeting as a whole group to discuss building stamina.

For a deep dive into The Daily Five, I recommend visiting The Daily Five Website and purchasing The Daily Five Book.

How I Structure My Center Time

First off, I do set up activities and follow the explicit teaching of each activity and building stamina that is suggested in The Daily Five.  However I use a Must Do / May Do list on the board for students so they know what activities are set up for the day. I change out the activities depending upon the phonics, reading, or writing standard we are practicing, but I make sure they are all activities I have already taught and students are successful with independently.

Classroom Expectations


My Must Do/ May Do activities fall under these categories:

  • Word Work: This is the the category that will focus on the Science of Reading activities.  I recommend creating activities based on phonics, phonemic awareness, onset/rime, syllables, blending, phonological awareness, orthographic mapping, phoneme-grapheme mapping, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.These are only a few ideas you might find in a typical word work center: Stamp a Word, Word/Picture Sorts, Phonics Fluency Strips, Phoneme Addition, Deletion, and Substitution, Rainbow Writing, Magnetic Letters, Roll and Read (Fluency) and a variety of other activities.


To purchase some Science of Reading activities I use, click the links below.

Science of Reading Word Work Activities


  • Silent Reading: Students have book baskets. I choose books for them based on their foundational skills (based on information from DIBELS).  I also allow students to choose picture books, even if they are unable to read them independently. This might not “align” with the Science of Reading, but it is very important for students to be able to look at picture books to build their interest in reading. In the book baskets students have a maximum of 10 books at one time.  I use these awesome book baskets from Target. They usually have these in their dollar spot section in June / July right before the official Back to School season starts.

Book Basket from Target

  • Listening Center: Students listen to a book at the listening center and complete a comprehension activity about the book.


  • Writing: Students write a personal narrative, opinion writing, or informational text- sometimes they choose topics, sometimes I assign them based on our units of study.

First Grade Writing

  • Curriculum (Phonics / Reading / Comprehension): I also assign various pieces of our curriculum for students to complete, typically as a Must Do activity.

While students are working on their Must Do / May Do list, I am pulling small groups for direct instruction, remediation, and practice with foundational reading standards. We use a variety of strategies including Elkonin Sound Boxes.  Students in my small group also read our core curriculum decodables so that they may practice and apply what they have learned.


Implementing this structure in my classroom has transformed the way my classroom runs. My students start building independence and responsibility within just a few weeks.  In my next post, I’ll break down my activities in more detail. Stay tuned!

Science of Reading and Literacy Centers Part 1

The Science of Reading and Literacy Centers

Join me in a blog post series and learn how to effectively incorporate the science of reading into your literacy centers.

After my first four years of teaching, our district cut back on Reading Recovery teachers who were assigned to specific school sites and switched over to literacy coaches. Then, The Common Core Standards were adopted. So, by the time I started my sixth year of teaching, we had a MAJOR shift change in the way we approached and taught phonics in K-2. Our district coaches started talking about phonics, graphemes, phonemic awareness, onset and rime, syllables, comprehension, vocabulary, and so on. They developed wonderful PowerPoint presentations and provided training on how to present the materials to students. It has been a major help in teaching students to read.

With this shift to focusing on phonics and foundational skills I needed to reassess what I was doing in my literacy centers. I needed to look at what was working, what wasn’t working, and what classroom management strategies I needed to adjust so that I could make my literacy centers effective, engaging, and efficient. You know, basically what would give me the most bang for my buck!

Why Literacy Centers?

When you start literacy centers in your classroom, it’s important to know your “why.” Why are you running centers? What is their purpose?  Small groups allow me to provide:

  •  targeted, small group instruction to my students in reading and writing.
  • guided practice with phonics, phonemic awareness, etc. especially for those students who are struggling.
  • opportunities to foster independence and responsibility (yes, really!).
  • time for students to practice already-taught skills.

Why I Do Not Do Traditional Centers

If traditional centers work for your students, that’s great! Everyone has a different way of running their classroom. However, I have not found traditional centers effective in my classroom for a few reasons.

  • We used to ring a bell for students to switch groups, students would line up, and then they would need to walk to the next group to start the next activity. Inevitably, this did take some time away from instruction every time students needed to clean up, line up, and switch groups.
  • Students would switch groups whether or not they were finished with the worksheet or activity because we needed to move on to the next group.
  • All small groups received the same amount of small group time, again, whether or not they were finished.

First, let’s chat about classroom schedules.


Classroom Schedule

Your district or state may have a specified number of minutes you are required to teach certain subjects. Always, always start with that information when developing your schedule.

Below is just ONE model and not the only way. Do what works for you and your students.

Here’s a sample schedule for a literacy block:

First Grade Daily Schedule

With this schedule, I can spend about 12-15 minutes with each group depending upon my groups. You may need more or less time depending on the number of students and your classroom demographics.

Next we’ll look at how to group students.

Assessments and Grouping Students

Your first steps for setting up your groups is to assess your students.   Again, your district and / or state may have requirements on what assessments you need to give to your students.  If your district does not have a set test, I highly recommend the DIBELS assessments.  These assessments provide you with a thorough understanding of the areas in which your students struggle.  Depending on class size, you may have four or five or even more groups based on abilities.

During the Literacy Centers I usually have five different groups of students based on ability, not on a specific reading level.  Our district used to use DRA levels to place students. I stopped that practice a few years ago as I noticed those levels did not completely correlate with the information I was receiving from our DIBELS tests.

After you have analyzed the information from your assessments, place your students by ability- what they can and cannot do. Can four of your students read fluently at end of year grade level AND understand what they read? Great! They might be ready to work on more advanced skills. Maybe you have 2 students who still need to learn all their letters and sounds. Those students should be grouped together. Maybe you have 7 students who are stuck on blending and cannot move from c-a-t to “cat.”  Those students should be grouped together.

This Blending Common Formative Assessment tool is a great tool to use to progress monitor blending.

Blending Common Formative Assessment

It’s important to note:

These groups are FLEXIBLE. Students may change groups because they have mastered skills.  Progress monitor your students and note their progress toward meeting skills (and standards).

When your groups are set, it’s time to plan out how to structure your literacy center time and what materials you will need for your literacy centers.

In my next post, I’ll be discussing the book, The Daily Five and how I implement some of the strategies from this book in my classroom.