Using Centers

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Literacy Centers, also referred to as learning centers or learning stations, are physical places within the classroom where students work independently or collaboratively with specified materials to meet a specific learning objective related to literacy. Centers may focus on review for an assessment or the development of general literacy skills. The activities yourcenters can last from ten to thirty minutes. Grouping of students can depend on the objective of the center and the dynamics of the students in the class. Some learning objectives will support mixed ability grouping, while others are designed to differentiate for varying learning needs of homogeonously grouped students. Centers in the middle school capitalize on the social nature of middle level students and ask students to take charge of their own learning.  Read on for ideas for literacy centers you can use in your classroom.Ideas for CentersVocabulary/Spelling/Word Work1. Provide vocabulary words and page:paragraph:line references from a class or group novel. Students find the words and record context clues and their ideas best guess for the meaning of each word based on the context clues. Then the students look up the word online or in a printed dictionary and record the actual definition if it is different from their best guess .

2. Use a SMART board for unscrambling scrambled spelling words or matching vocabulary with definitions.

3. Match prefixes with definitions using index cards or worksheets.

4. Match Greek and Latin roots with their meanings and with words that use the roots as well as the meaning of the words. This can be done with matching of index cards, semantic mapping, or worksheets .

5. Use the memory game with matches made from words, roots, or prefixes with definitions.

6. Activities can also review denotation/connotation, context clues, homophones and homonyms, similes, metaphors, idioms, and commonly misspelled words.

Sentence Writing and Revision

1. Sentences can be written on different colored papers and cut up so that students can put the sentences back together in a sensical order.

2. Fix all the mistakes in unedited sentences relating to a target skill.

3. Focus on paragraph organization by unscrambling a paragraph with scrambed sentences.

Critical Reading/Comprehension:

1. Students can read a short article and answer Pull it Together, Implied, and Outside the Text Questions.

2. Given nutrition labels off common food packaging, students read the labels and answer analytical questions about them.

3. Students read a diagram or portion of directions from a directional manual and answer questions.

4. Students fill in a graphic organizer to compare and contrast two characters from a literary piece.

5. Students can identify what an author is comparing or contrasting and complete a graphic organizer listing the details the author provides to illustrate the comparison.

7. Students can identify a problem identified by an author and find the solutions the author proposes.

8. Students can find the author’s purpose or main idea and record supporting details.

9. Students can participate in literature circle discussions, having prepared roles beforehand. These include discussion director, summarizer, vocabulary enricher, and passage person.

10. Use the memory game to match characters and descriptions or literary elements and examples from a literary piece.

11. Students can create a cartoon strip or drawing to represent reading.

12. Make posters to illustrate the tone of a scene or chapter.

13. Make posters to illustrate symbols that represent a literary character.

14. Create titles for short newspaper clippings that have had the title removed to capture the main idea.


1. Post a picture that goes along with a theme or reading selection and ask for connections.

2. Write an entry from the perspective of a character or object.

3. Write a reader’s response to a chapter or story, responding to teacher provided prompts.

4. Provide index cards to choose from with character names, settings, and problems. Students write a story using their randomly chosen elements.

5. Write a book review that can be edited and revised for later publication on a class wiki or online.

6. Use magnetic words to create poetry according to an assigned theme or style. Record the final poem in journals.

Test Preparation:

1. Provide short excerpts with comprehension questions from old state tests.

Visual Arts Connections:

1. Create a movie style poster to advertise a book. Focus on tone, setting, character, and conflict .

2. Use free online cartooning software to turn a chapter of a book into a graphic novel.

3. Create a wordle depicting a character’s most significant traits.

What is needed to make literary centers effective and successful?

Like any instructional technique, centers won’t work without laying the groundwork.  Because students are working largely independently, the procedures, behavioral expectaions, and expected products all must be clear to students before they start.  Read on for ideas:

1. Routines and expectations for centers need to be explicitly taught to students before they are used and reinforced throughout the year. Everyone at a center needs to have a defined role.

2. Centers should encourage collaboration among students working together at a center.

3. Centers should not be used to introduce new information or tasks, but should provide targeted practice in content students have learned before or use task procedures the students have done several times before.

4. Center rotations should vary the learning modality – a worksheet at one, manipulatives at the next, and technology use at the next.

5. No more than four students should work at a center at any time.

6. Center work should be engaging and motivating to the students.

7. Provide a printed “task sheet” that students can follow to complete the center even if the teacher is not at that center.

8. Assess individual student participation when using centers. Individual accountability needs to be strong or students may allow the most vocal or able in their group to do the work of the center. Some teachers recommend using small timed group work sessions with feedback first before starting centers.

9. Monitor student use of centers for feedback about students’ abiility to complete the tasks, follow the procedures, and work collaboratively successfully.

10. The creation and organization of materials for multiple centers and skill levels can take a significant amount of time, which must be incorporated into planning time.

11. Reserve time for a closing reflection at the end of class for assessment.

12. Use a clear loud timer to signal one-minute warnings and times to switch centers.

13. Use assessments to group students according to the objective of the centers. These assessments can include a reading level assessment, writing samples, state test scores, or vocabulary and spelling pretests.

14. Use rubrics to assess the work at each station that include some elements related to rules/expectations. Also, teacher movement around all stations and careful monitoring is needed to keep some students on task.


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