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.

Simple Secrets to Classroom Management

A few years ago the perfect storm hit: a difficult class, ineffective classroom management strategies, and some family tragedy all intertwined.  My life was utter chaos.  I felt like an ineffective teacher, I felt all alone, and felt like I had no clue what I was doing. If you have “been there” and “done that”, I would like to encourage you that you are not alone and things will get better.

After spending some time reflecting, I picked myself up off the floor and realized I needed to change some key management strategies in my classroom in order to maintain my sanity, keep my students from running amok, and get things running smoothly in my classroom.

Secret #1 Find a Management System That Works for You

Here is a newsflash for you: just because everyone else is using a management system does not mean it is the right system for you. Did you hear that? I am giving you permission to NOT jump on the latest bandwagon! Be proud of yourself for what you do and what makes YOU unique. Do not feel pressured or believe the lie that you are not good enough because you choose to do something different.

There are some truly great classroom management ideas out there.  Other teachers on campus might use different reward systems like brag tags, or maybe they have behavior charts, posters, treasure boxes, use Responsive Classroom techniques, Whole Brain Teaching, Daily Five , or flexible seating as part of their classroom structure and management.

Think about what kind of a teacher you are.  What will fit with your personality? Do you want a system that is very easy to implement or are you wanting to set up a more complex system?

I tend to like systems that are easy and do not take a lot of prep time; that’s just my personal preference.  Therefore, I chose this year to do away with brag tags. I cannot handle the constant printing, cutting, laminating, hole punching, and constantly handing out that goes along with brag tags. Since I do not always have a lot of volunteers, I do not want to tie myself up with hours and hours of extra prep each week.

At the end of the day you need to be comfortable using the system you set up and handling everything that comes along with it.  Research a few systems and think critically about what each offers before you jump right in.

Secret #2 Explicitly teach rules, routines, and procedures.

Once you have identified the management strategies you would like it is time to teach the students how to follow the rules and “live” in the classroom.  You will need to teach them how to get supplies, walk through the hallways, what to do when they need something, etc.

One thing I did this year is create a list of literally everything I thought the students might need to know and printed it out so I could make sure to not miss anything. This will take some time and it may take the students a month or so to settle in.  However, the benefits will last the entire year!

Thanks to my list, it was literally one of the smoothest starts I have ever had at the beginning of the year.  I will preface that with the fact that this will work even if your class is not especially easy; it is all in the management!

If you need a quick, easy, and FREE list of beginning of the year procedures and routines, please check it out below.  This should at least give you some ideas to get you started on what routines you might need to teach to your students.

Classroom Procedures and Routines

Secret #3  Be Consistent and Follow Up

After you teach the routines and procedures you will need to reinforce them with encouragement and specific praise.

Enforce your policies and procedures fairly and firmly. You do not need to scream, yell, or be mean, but you do need to make sure that students follow the rules and the systems you have in place.  Do not be afraid to repeat instructions, go over rules and procedures, or have the students stop what they are doing for just a minute to review.

Wash, rinse, repeat! Teach the skills, give them time to practice those skills, and repeat instruction / review the skills as needed. Do not give up on any student and be patient.

Even if you are in the middle of the year it’s okay to stop and restart. It is never too late to change.

Make sure to grab my freebie, Classroom Routines and Procedures which is available in my TPT shop.