Setting Up Literacy Centers in the Upper Elementary Classroom


Whether you call them literacy centers or literacy stations, big kids at the upper elementary level love center time and get so much out of it!

How do literacy centers benefit kids?
  • They add variety to learning and to the routine.
  • They allow teachers to easily differentiate learning.
  • They are a great way to help cover and reinforce all of the standards.
  • They give students a place to practice important social skills, like collaboration, problem solving, and communication.
So how do you set up literacy centers and run them successfully?

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Plan Centers and Center Spaces
Plan Centers:
Since I've been teaching for quite a few years, I have a pretty good idea of what I'll be teaching and when. Of course, I make small changes as needed with each class, but generally my pacing is pretty set. This information helps me make a skeleton plan for the major concepts, games, and activities I'll plan for the year.

If you aren't sure of your yearly schedule, maybe you could schedule them a month ahead of time as you go. Another idea is to meet with your grade level team to talk about your reading themes for the year and to plan together.

Plan Center Spaces in Your Classroom:
Classrooms never seem big enough, so this can be a challenge. I like to have 4 - 5 kids at each center (the smaller number the better) but it depends on the class size. If I have 28 kids, that means about six center areas. Since my classroom is pretty small, when kids do the independent reading center, they stay at their desk/seat. That leaves me with 5 center areas to plan.

2. Types of Centers
One of the questions teachers often ask is what kind of centers to include. Here are some suggestions that I've used in my classroom. I don't use all of the centers suggested at the same time but do mix up some of the centers every now and then for a bit of variety. Each center lasts 20 minutes long and the total center time is one hour, which means students should visit 3 centers each day.

1. Independent Reading - This is one that ALL students do every day! It's important to me that students self-select books based on motivation and not reading level. One of the rules is that kids need to have a book ready before reading time. I don't want them to waste time searching the classroom library during this time.

2. Teacher Time - This could be guided reading in a very structured setting or it could be reader's workshop style, where students meet with me to read a bit and to discuss concepts.

3. Word Work - At this center, students work on spelling, grammar, context clues, and vocabulary. They may have a worksheet but more often they play a game. Since I couldn't find any games already made, I created a bundle of 30 Grammar Games, one for third grade and one for fourth grade to cover all language standards. They target grade level skills and really make grammar fun. A huge time saver for sure!

Abstract Nouns - Click here

4. Magazine Center/Informational Text - This center is filled with children's news magazines (some from last year) like Scholastic News or Weekly Reader. I also include kid's magazines, like National Geographic Kids. I have graphic organizers I use for a bit of accountability. Students read an article, fill out the template, and then are free to continue reading whatever they'd like at this center.

5. Technology Center - Every school is a bit different but whether you are blessed with tons of technology or are scraping by with a few older computers, there are still lots of great websites students can access with your direction at this center. Here are some you might want to check out:

Freckle Education (formerly Front Row)

6. Genius Hour - If you've never done Genius Hour with your students, you'll want to definitely look into it. I used to call these independent projects. Students are able to research and read about topics of interest and then prepare some type of presentation to share what they've learned with the class. 

Genius Hour projects are ongoing projects which students complete on their own time table, although you can set guidelines for how many they need to complete a semester for example. I tend to let it be more open ended, as long as I see them engaged and focused. Since they have selected topics they are truly interested in, I know that some projects may take a number of weeks, while others may take two center rotation times.

7. Reading Skills - At this center, I tie in worksheets which match our current reading strategy. Reading is my very favorite subject so I have lots of reading units already prepared which are no-prep, print and go. Click here if you need some fresh reading units for this center.

8. Writing - Students may create poetry, write a letter to the principal, or create a personal narrative in their writer's workshop notebook. This is NOT our main writing time however. It's more of a chance to let students experience low-pressure writing which is not specifically connected to a writing lesson.

9. Reading Games - I love this center because it is rigorous while masquerading as fun! Kids at this center play games which are connected to the topic we are highlighting, like main idea, cause and effect, theme, or character traits. 

I actually created a whole series of reading games, just because I really needed them for my classroom and thought others might too. There is a game for each standard and they provide so much focused practice. I really love these! There's a set of 20 Reading Games for 3rd Grade and 20 Reading Games for 4th/5th. Each bundle of reading games has 10 Fiction Games and 10 Nonfiction Games.
Context Clues Game - Click here

Elements of Poetry, Drama, and Prose - Click here

10. Read to a Friend - In this center, I have a variety of materials like poetry books and mini-plays to read together, to practice fluency. I also like to place high interest picture books in this center! Even for 5th graders, you might be surprised at the complexity level of many picture books! Kids love them and they really are beneficial for them. 

Sometimes I have students bring their own independent books to share with each other. Other times, I have a book sampling basket at the center filled with book underdogs! These are some lesser known books that I want kids to try. Their job is to read the book summary on the cover and to take turns reading either a paragraph or a page at a time.


3. Prepare Centers
Once you've tentatively planned out your centers, the next step is to make or purchase the centers you'll need. I really do like to get the majority done in the summer time or at the beginning of the year because it's great to just pull out the center I need and it's ready to go.

You can store the centers a number of ways. I really like the gallon size plastic baggies because I can put game boards, task cards, and anything else I might need (game markers or spinners...) in that bag. I just label the bag with a sharpie but you could make cute labels on the computer too, if you want.

You'll also want to have plenty of baskets and trays to organize center materials as you use them each week. The Dollar Store always has a great selection of these!

4. Decide How to Structure the Centers
You can either have students do a rotation schedule that you create, or allow them to self-select within your parameters. Either works well, so you just need to decide which one works best for you.

If students self-select, kids need to know expectations. For example, how many students can be at a single center at a time? How many centers do students need to complete each day or each week?

I actually prefer a rotation schedule. I make some simple cards with center titles on them and create the schedule in a pocket chart with the days on the left side (vertically) and the center titles across the top (horizontally).

5. Set Expectations for Center Time
Just like anything in the classroom, rules and procedures have to be explicitly taught and reviewed or chaos is bound to occur. First, I think through all of the possibilities of what could happen, and then I prepare for that by making up my list of rules on an anchor chart for all to see. We do some modeling of good and bad examples of behavior and discuss them together. If centers are going to work, this piece is crucial!!! There is no way for you to have quality teacher time if you are interrupted every few minutes to put out fires, answer questions, and give more directions. Take the time to set up centers well and you'll find it to be worth it. 

6. Teach Each Center to the Whole Class Before Kids Use It
Getting kids ready for centers is truly a process. To make it successful, you'll want to introduce the center to the whole class before expecting them to participate on their own. This is a great time for thumbs up and down questions to check for understanding, as well as modeling when appropriate.

Once you've tried centers and have them operating smoothly, I think you'll really enjoy them. 


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5 Tested Writing Strategies That Work Like A Charm


Since writing is my jam, I have tried so many different writing strategies in my classroom over the years and found ones that truly work like a charm. I wouldn't teach writing without them. Each strategy sets the stage for effective writing.

1.  SCAFFOLD YOUR WRITER'S WORKSHOP LESSONS


This strategy is mainly for the teacher. The writer's workshop lessons should be presented to students in a step-by-step progression. When lessons are planned out and in an order that makes sense for that type of writing, students' writing will undoubtedly improve. They will understand the writing process and see how a quality piece of writing starts from the beginning stages of prewriting to the end stage with a final copy. Learn from my mistakes. I used to teach different mini lessons, but until I focused on an order to take one piece of writing all the way through a series of mini lessons, I didn't see the same results. It may take a long time to finish one piece of writing, but it is worth it in the end! A sample of scaffolded lessons can be found HERE.

2.  SET WRITING GOALS


Young writers should create a goal for each piece of writing. It will help them reflect on their writing and grow into expert authors.

 
WHAT SHOULD STUDENTS CHOOSE AS A WRITING GOAL?
Tell students to think of something that they frequently have to correct in their writing or something that they find difficult when writing in the past. Explain that writing goals can change from one piece of writing to the next. I find it best for students to focus on ONE goal in each writing piece. I know I know, it is hard to pick just one when they may need help in numerous areas. However, this focus will help them in that particular area every time they write! There are many goals that can be developed from writer's workshop. For example, writing in complete sentences, sticking to the topic, adding more details, or organization. Find a list of common goals HERE.

 
WHAT IF YOU WANT TO SET THE GOAL?
Absolutely! It is perfectly fine for the teacher or parent to set a goal or help the young writer set a goal, but make sure you explain your reasoning! Think of anything that may have been taught in a previous lesson or something students are expected to use throughout the year. Are there any writing skills that the young writer needs more time to develop?

3.  CREATE A WRITING REFERENCE



Writers should have a source to reference when writing. One way of providing a reference is by taking notes in each writer's workshop lesson. If you provide lessons that scaffold through the writing process, the notes will be in the same step-by-step order. This is especially helpful when students have another writing prompt in that same type of writing. They can go back to their notebooks and use it as a guide. Another way is to provide student reference folders. Print off all the necessary resources for your writing standards and place them in the folder. This can be used in a writing center or printed for each student. It is a valuable tool that can be used over and over.

4.  WORK WITH WRITING CHECKLISTS


Writing checklists are by far one of the best strategies for students to use when writing. Whether it is a paragraph or an essay, a checklist will help young writers look back through their writing to see if it still needs work.
 
WHAT DO YOU INCLUDE IN A CHECKLIST? 

What do you want your students to accomplish? What skills do you want to see in their writing? I like to use a different writing checklist for each type of writing. 

AT WHAT POINT IN THEIR WRITING DO YOU INTRODUCE A CHECKLIST?

I give students a checklist when I introduce the prompt as a guide, but ask them to fill it out after their rough draft, revisions, and editing. This will provide them with one last peek into their writing to see if they need any more tweaks before the final copy. You can get these FREE as one of our exclusive freebies for signing up for our Rockin Resource's newsletter. We offer teacher tips, ideas for instruction to motivate and differentiate in the classroom, and send out exclusive freebies and deals to our members. Don't miss out! Sign up HERE.  

5.  USE SPACING AND COLOR WHEN REVISING


When your young writers are ready for the revising step, ask them to skip lines in their writing. Why? It will give them room to add and exchange words, phrases, and sentences. Then when they are revising, suggest using a colorful pen. I even like to have students use a different color for the type of FAAVS they are using in their writing. This is an acronym I created to help student with word choice. Although many of the sense words will fall under adjectives, it is just one more way to have them think of words when revising!  

F- Figurative language
A- Adjectives that sparkle
A- Adverbs that shine
V- Verbs that strengthen
S- Sense Words that sizzle

I hope these ideas are just as helpful to you as they were in my classroom! Thank you for visiting Upper Elementary Snapshots! I would love to connect with you! 







Increase Reading Comprehension with Summary Sentences

When it comes to reading comprehension, it can be difficult to know if your students truly understood what they read. It can also be difficult to know if your students are reading the entire passage, or if they are going right to the questions and skimming the passage for the answers.

Help your students increase their reading comprehension by using summary sentences. This reading strategy helps students break down reading passages so that they can fully understand a text. Grab some Free Reading Passages with Text Dependent Questions while you read the post.


Teaching summary sentences is an excellent way for teachers to see what their students are taking away from the different sections of the passage, which can lead you to see how well they understood the passage, from start to finish.

WHAT ARE SUMMARY SENTENCES?

Summary Sentences are sentences used to summarize different sections, or parts, of a passage. These sentences can be used with every text, whether it be long or short, fiction or nonfiction.

The point of taking the time to write summary sentences is to help students quickly see what each section was mostly about, which will help when answering comprehension questions.  The summary sentences will help students find evidence from the passage that supports their answers, which helps them to have confidence in their answers.

By going through this process, you require students to think deeply about a text and decide what each section is mostly about. This will automatically increase a student's comprehension of the text.

Help your students increase their reading comprehension by using summary sentences. This reading strategy helps students break down reading passages so that they can fully understand a text. Grab some Free Reading Passages with Text Dependent Questions while you read the post.

If you would like some FREE reading passages with text dependent quesitons, 
CLICK your grade level.

HOW TO USE SUMMARY SENTENCES 

  1. Students will go through the passage and divide it into sections. If the passage is already separated into paragraphs, they can simply section it off that way. For longer paragraphs, they can section it off into more than one section per paragraph. If the paragraphs are shorter, they could combine more than one paragraph into a section. The sectioning will differ depending on the layout of the passage.  
  2. After sectioning off the passage, students will go back through and number each section. My students usually wrote the numbers on the left side of the passage.
  3. After numbering the sections, students will do a “Cold Read” of the passage. For a cold read, students will read the passage all the way through without stopping. 
  4. Following the cold read, students will read the passage againThis time, they will stop after each section and write a summary sentence. Their summary sentence should include what that section was mostly about, almost like the main idea of that section of the passage. If there is room, the students can write their summary sentences on the side of each section. However, sticky notes work great for summary sentences. 
  5. Once students have finished reading the passage for the 2nd time and writing their summary sentences, they will move on to answering the comprehension questions. They will refer to their summary sentences to help them answer the questions. 

Reading Anchor Chart: Help your students increase their reading comprehension by using summary sentences. This reading strategy helps students break down reading passages so that they can fully understand a text. Grab some Free Reading Passages with Text Dependent Questions while you read the post.

HOW SUMMARY SENTENCES HELPED MY STUDENTS

Based on my experience in using Summary Sentences with my students, I noticed a HUGE increase in confidence when answering questions, whether it be multiple choice, short answer or extended response. My students were able to use their summary sentences to see where in the passage they should be looking for the answer. This saved them from becoming frustrated and ensured they were answering the questions correctly.

While it does take extra time to write summary sentences in the beginning, in the end, this strategy will increase overall reading comprehension for your students.

If you need some quality reading passages and text-dependent questions to use with your students, CLICK your grade level below.


Help your students increase their reading comprehension by using summary sentences. This reading strategy helps students break down reading passages so that they can fully understand a text. Grab some Free Reading Passages with Text Dependent Questions while you read the post.

Need more help with reading comprehension? Come check out my other blog post, 

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