How to Create Literacy Centers in Kindergarten: 7 Inexpensive, Open-Ended, Ongoing Center Ideas
Whether you are just starting out with centers, are looking to change things up completely, or are just looking for some ideas to revitalize your literacy routines, this post should have something for you!
Why Use Literacy Centers in Kindergarten?
Using centers (or stations or areas or whatever you choose to call them) gives your students opportunities to practice independence. They build confidence and problem solving skills as they internalize procedures and navigate the physical and social aspects of the classroom. While participating in center activities, children interact with academics in fun, non-threatening ways. They are engaged and busy and are sometimes even quiet! Perhaps most importantly, using centers as part of your reading time allows you to work with small groups, giving them the individualized instruction they need to blossom into confident readers.
What Makes a Great Literacy Center?
In kindergarten, I believe a really great literacy center is one that engages students in reading, writing, or both while allowing them to be independent. My focus for centers is on literacy and independence rather than on measuring achievement, monitoring for accountability*, or collecting data. Those are things that are more suited to my guided reading groups.
There are countless ways to engage students in literacy, but I choose center activities that are open-ended and ongoing. By open-ended, I mean that students can work on them for five minutes or twenty minutes without being “done.” I want students to practice continuing to work until it is time to stop, so I prefer tasks that do not have a finite ending point. By ongoing, I mean that the centers can be used throughout the year and do not need to be changed out every week. Of course, we all like variety and I don’t advocate for keeping stagnant centers in place all year, but I do like to give students time to become experts at a task and this means doing it many times in some way or another.
*When young children are learning a task for the first time, it can be overwhelming to introduce recording sheets and other accountability measures. I prefer to let students become immersed in literacy during center time in hopes that they will intrinsically motivated to accomplish their tasks. For those teachers that need or want more accountability, I am including simple ideas for each center.
So, let’s get to the centers!
Sentence strip puzzles can be stored in laminated envelopes.
1. Sentence Strip Puzzles
Sentence strips are such a versatile part of a kindergarten classroom. They fit neatly into pocket charts and are just the right size to form a child’s crown! For this center, which can be used on a table, carpet, or pocket chart, students practice reading and assembling pre-written sentences using high-frequency and decodable words.
Skills Practiced: Print Concepts (spacing, tracking print from left to right) CC.RF.K.1, Reading High-Frequency Words CC.RF.K.3.C
Setup: To set up the center, neatly print sentences onto sentence strips using vocabulary to which your students have already been exposed. (Composing sentences with your students during a guided reading group or shared writing session is a great way to give students ownership of this center.) Cut the sentences apart, word by word, and place each sentence into its own envelope with the same sentence printed on the front. (For durability, you can laminate an open envelope and use a craft knife to slit the opening. A sticky dot of Velcro makes a good closure.) It helps to use a variety of colors of sentence strips so that if they puzzles get mixed up, it’s easier to sort them.
Routines: When introducing this center, teach the students to only take one sentence out at a time. After assembling and reading the sentence, teach them to put the sentence away before taking out a new one.
Accountability Option: Have students copy their assembled sentences into a composition notebook or onto a piece of paper. You can spot-check later, asking students to demonstrate their reading.
Differentiation Options: For students who aren’t ready for sentences yet, try making puzzles of sight words (with the letters cut apart) and/or names of students. Other options include a puzzle to order the alphabet or to match lower and uppercase letters. To add an extra challenge, you might mix two sentences in one envelope for students to sort and then build. Another option is to make available blank index cards or segments of sentence strips so students can replace words in the premade sentences with words that they write. In the example below, a child might replace the word blue with red or the word cat with dog.
2. Magnetic Letters Most kindergarten classrooms have some magnetic letters on hand, but they often get left on the shelf because they can be a challenge to organize in a way that makes it easy for students to find the letters they need. If you are willing to put a little time in on the front end in organizing and teaching routines, magnetic letters can make a great ongoing center!
Skills Practiced: Reading High-Frequency Words CC.RF.K.3.C, Spelling Phonetically CC.L.K.2.D
Setup: To set up the center, find a place to organize your letters alphabetically. If you have a metal door, filing cabinet, or teacher desk in a place where a small group can gather, you can section it off with tape and put all of the letters there (all As together, Bs together, etc.). Students would then be responsible for taking the letters they need and putting them back in the correct spots. If you would rather that your students spread out when using magnetic letters, you could put sets of letters on individual cookie sheets (Dollar Tree is a great place to find these). Bear in mind that students will inevitably need more than one of certain letters, so a single alphabet set might not be enough. Students will need a magnetic surface upon which to use their letters. Cookie sheets are great for this! Depending on what you want your students to practice, you might type up the week’s sight words for students to make or print out some sentences with missing words (or words with missing letters).
Routines: Decide which skills you want to have as your focus. Magnetic letters lend themselves to sight word spelling, word families, and CVC words, but can also be used for matching upper and lowercase letters or filling in a missing word or letter. Teach your students the task and have them practice returning the letters to their proper spot.
Accountability Option: If you have iPads or tablets with cameras, you could teach students to take pictures as they build words. You could also have them record their tasks in a composition notebook for you to spot-check later. (For example, build the word, then write the word.)
Differentiation Options: For a simpler task for beginners, use a wet-erase marker (a.k.a overhead pen) to write the alphabet on a cookie sheet in the approximate size of magnetic letters. Have students match letter magnets to the written letters (upper/lower or same case depending on the skill you want to practice). For students who are ready for a higher order task, print out pages of high-frequency words that are missing letters (to be filled in with magnets), CVC words with a missing vowel, or sentences with missing words.
Sight word chains are great for printing and fine motor practice.
3. Word Chains
What I love most about these word chains is the pride and excitement the children have in seeing their colorful work displayed around the classroom! This center gives little fingers an excellent workout and allows children to practice their handwriting, as well.
Skills Practiced: Reading High-Frequency Words CC.RF.K.3.C, Printing Letters CC.L.K.1.A
Setup: To set up the center, cut colored paper into one-inch strips (this is a great use for leftover partial pieces of construction paper). Students will need glue (glue sticks work well) and something to write with. Letting students use felt tip pens adds a little extra excitement to this center, but a crayon or pencil would work fine, too. If you do not have a word wall for students to reference, they will need a list of words that you want them to practice.
Routines: Most students will need to be taught how to make a paper chain. Teach them to write a word on a paper strip before putting a little glue on one end. Teach them to press the two ends together while they quietly count to ten. Students can work together to make one long chain.
Accountability Option: Because this center has a final product, accountability is embedded. You can have students write their names on their links.
Differentiation Options: For students who still need practice writing their name, include a name model and have them make a chain of their own name. Students can also make an alphabet chain. Students who are ready for a greater challenge can make a sentence chain with one word per link.
4. Read the Room
This center is an old favorite of which some students seem never to tire. Children get a chance to feel like the teacher when they hold a pointer and this activity gives children a chance to get up and move around. During the Read the Room center, students find print in the classroom and read it aloud (in a soft voice).
Skills Practiced: Reading High-Frequency Words CC.RF.K.3.C, Print Concepts (spacing, tracking print from left to right) CC.RF.K.1
Setup: All you need to set up a Read the Room center is accessible print (in the form of charts, big books, classroom labels, the calendar, posters, etc.) and some pointers (I have finger pointers from Dollar Tree, but you can make your own pointers with wood dowels and foam or wood shapes).
Routines: Students will need some instruction and practice on how to use their time during this center. Show them how to use pointers safely and appropriately. I find it helpful to combine this center with a more general reading center so children can curl up with a good book in the classroom library when they are finished reading the room.
Accountability Option: If you need tangible evidence for this center, you could have students sit down with a composition notebook or piece of paper when they’re finished reading to journal about what they read. For many students, this will mean drawing a picture of something they read. For example, a child could draw a picture of the word wall or of the cover of a big book. Model first if you plan to use this method.
Differentiation Options: For students who are just beginning to read, teach them that they can also “read” pictures by naming the things that they are pointing at or by narrating big books. This is valuable language practice. Include a variety of sources of text in your room to appeal to the various reading levels represented by your class. Class-made anchor charts and shared writing are great sources of reading practice for more advanced readers.
5. Note Writing
Students’ writing skills really blossom when they have opportunities to write with a purpose. A note-writing center is a perfect way for children to channel their chattiness into literacy!
Skills Practiced: Printing Uppercase and Lowercase Letters CC.L.K.1.A, Writing Conventions (capitalization, punctuation, spelling words phonetically) CC.L.K.2, Drawing to Show DetailCC.SL.K.5
Setup: Stock your note-writing center, which can simply consist of a plastic tub or can be a more elaborate permanent station, with various papers and pens and pencils. This is a great place to put the remaining few sheets of cute note paper from a pad, colorful index cards or paper, printable themed stationery, flowery note cards that you got for free in the mail, or even plain notebook paper. Add some thin markers, colored pencils and pens, and even some special pencils that your students don’t use for their everyday work. It is also a good idea to include a class list if you don’t already have your students’ names posted in an easy-to-see location.
Routines: Set limits on the number of sheets of paper students may use (I would start with one in order to encourage careful and thoughtful writing). Model writing a note to a friend or work together with your students to write a shared note to someone. Set up a delivery system. If you want to see the notes before they’re distributed, teach students where to put them. Be sure to teach them to sign their names on their notes.
Accountability Option: You can occasionally photocopy or photograph notes before they’re distributed for your records.
Differentiation Options: This center is inherently differentiated because students will write at their own levels. For students who are just beginning to associate sounds with letters, encourage them to draw and label with first letters. For students who need a greater challenge, set them up with a pen pal in another classroom so they can have meaningful written exchanges.
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6. Newspaper Search
Children enjoy playing word detective with this easy-to-set-up center. Have your students search for certain letters, words, or punctuation marks in sections of newspaper using a hand lens for added fun.
Skills Practiced: Letter IdentificationCC.RF.K.1.D, Reading High Frequency Words CC.RF.K.3.C
Setup: Cut newspapers into manageable sections that include plenty of text. Include yellow crayons for highlighting and, if you have them, magnifying glasses. Make a list of words, letters, or punctuation marks you want students to search for.
Routines: Model searching for and highlighting words using a crayon. Teach students to write their name on their section of newspaper. Set a limit on how many sheets of newspaper you want students to use. One option is for them to just use one and to then write their words on a separate sheet of paper or in a composition notebook.
Accountability Option: If students write their names on the newspaper, you can check for accuracy and direction-following.
Differentiation Options: Students with beginning literacy skills can start by looking for the letters that are in their name. Advanced students can search for words on a teacher-made list and then tally the number of each word they found.
7. Write the Room
When I began teaching, I learned about write the room as a simple center where students walked around the classroom with a clipboard recording text that they found on the walls. Today there are many resources available that require students to search for specific words in more of a scavenger hunt style. Both types of write the room are popular with students!
Skills Practiced: Printing Uppercase and Lowercase Letters CC.L.K.1.A, Reading High-Frequency Words CC.RF.K.3.C
Setup: Have clipboards and paper available (or, to save paper, have students write on small dry-erase boards or chalkboards).
Routines: I’ve often introduced this center in its simplest form, where students walk around with a clipboard writing down any words that they find. Sometimes they choose to write the names of their classmates or the days of the week. Other times they copy the titles of their favorite books. In all of these cases, they are attending to print in their environment, which later carries over to their writing. This center offers practice at finding words when they need them. Later, it adds more interest to the center to give parameters.
Accountability Option: You can save the students’ write the room papers to check for completion.
Differentiation Options: By giving students different objectives, you can control the level of challenge. Some students may be challenged sufficiently by the task of copying words from the wall onto paper. Others may be ready to search for words that start with a certain letter or that fit into a certain category. For ready-to-print forms for differentiation, check out my Write the Room Center Printables on TPT.
I hope these literacy centers are useful to you! I’d love to read about your favorite literacy centers in the comments. Thanks for reading!
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This is wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing!