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how to set up literacy centers

5 Common Mistakes To Avoid When You’re Learning How To Set Up Literacy Centers

Hey teacher friend! Today let’s talk ALL the things related to setting up centers in the classroom. And let’s be honest, literacy centers if set up correctly can change everything, but the same goes for if they are set up incorrectly. 

Today I’m going to take a deep dive into all the mistakes I made when setting up my literacy centers in the classroom (and trust me there were many.) I’m going to share all the mistakes that I made so that you can avoid some of the hassles that I had to endure when you’re learning how to set up centers. 

how to set up literacy centers

Let’s make centers a breeze! If you’ve been around for a while, I’ve talked about how messy my literacy centers were. This was mainly because I didn’t know how to start setting up centers. Trust me, it can feel so overwhelming. But don’t worry, we can fix it together.

I was beating my head against the wall because I always thought I was pretty good at classroom management, and I knew I was a good reading teacher. I just struggled with organizing and implementing the idea of small groups and I didn’t teach my students how to work independently.

Don’t Give Up! You’ll Learn How To Set Up Literacy Centers!

To be very candid, I gave up most days. I just didn’t know what to do, much less how to do it. Honestly, I thought I couldn’t figure out the best method for setting up centers in the classroom!

While I deeply struggled with organizing centers, I also knew the significant importance of guided reading. We know just how vital it is for reading comprehension to take that small group of kiddos and really work with them to help them succeed. And centers can fine-tune students’ reading skills, so I thought “Okay I’ve got to figure this out!”

While I tried my very best to organize successful centers, it came with A LOT of trial and error. There were so many things I tried and actually found to make my situation so much worse. I don’t want this to be you, so I’m going to show you how to set up literacy centers!

So let’s talk about my top five things NOT to do when setting up centers in your classroom.

Setting Up Centers With Your Student’s Needs In Mind

A HUGE mistake I made was trying to come up with cute centers, rather than focusing on activities that my students NEEDED. But honestly, what good are the activities if your students don’t actually NEED them, or they aren’t in line with your curriculum. 

I had so many great ideas for my students to practice during center time. However, I never considered their different needs or even reading levels. I hit a major roadblock when the work was too hard for the majority of my students. You can see more about how I started setting up centers with my student’s needs first here.

how to set up literacy centers

The Solution: 

I made sure to look at my class as a whole first, then made sure I was looking at them individually to make sure I was focused on their learning needs. I put away what I thought was “cute” and focused on my students’ individual needs. Planning literacy center activities for my students became so much easier when I had more direction. You can see more about how I started setting up centers with my student’s needs first here.

How To Set Up Literacy Centers - Teach Your Students To Use Them!

Okay, this was major fail on my part. I didn’t teach my students how to USE my centers. I spent so much time once again, making “cute” centers and let my students loose to go wherever they pleased. What was I thinking?! (major facepalm) When it all flopped I realized I didn’t actually TEACH them how to work independently.

The Solution: 

I made sure to look at my class as a whole first, then made sure I was looking at them individually to make sure I was focused on their learning needs. I put away what I thought was “cute” and focused on my students’ individual needs. Planning literacy center activities for my students became so much easier when I had more direction. You can see more about how I started setting up centers with my student’s needs first here.

how to set up literacy centers

Some Helpful Tips!

  1.  Jot down all the things that you want your students to do. From how you’d like them to move from center to center to where you’d like them to place their finished work. This can be a running list throughout the year too. But looking ahead at these things will help you know WHAT to teach your students to do at their centers.
  1.   Start teaching these things on day one, before you even let them touch a crayon at one of your centers. It’s easier to start off with good habits than try to reteach poor established habits. And it’s better to spend the time doing this and being proactive, rather than always correcting unwanted behavior.
  1.   Of course, you’re going to want to model this! The good behavior as well as the unwanted behavior! Make sure that you’re having a discussion with them about what works and what doesn’t work!
  1.   Make charts to post at each center about your expectations. Be clear about what their job is in each area of your room.
  1.   I talked about this with tip #2… take your time to do this well. Hopefully, you’ll not be pressured to begin guided reading right away and you can spend the first month or month and a half teaching your students how to use your classroom centers.
  1.   Practice! This, of course, will take lots of practice. Make sure that you don’t skip this part even if you’re SO ready to move on.
  1.   And don’t be afraid to revisit your rules and expectations often throughout the year. Remember, these are little kiddos who are learning how to behave in so many different parts of your classroom and the school. It’s a lot for them, and they’re going to need helpful reminders. I would go over my expectations right after returning from break, or anytime I noticed that my kiddos were getting a little squirmy at their stations. 

I’ve talked about these and more tips for your literacy stations here.

Realistic Expectations - How To Set Up Literacy Centers

Boy, did I bite off more than I could chew with this one! I thought that I could create ALL my centers from scratch each week. Yes, I said EACH week. They were finished, but I’m sure I stayed at school until dark getting them done. I had already taught my students how to use the centers that I was planning on making, but could never keep up with them all.

The Solution: 

how to set up literacy centers

I would start by choosing ONE center to begin creating really great activities for and use simple activities for the rest. I started with my listening center, so I created some really great resources for my students to use. The rest of my centers were much simpler with cut and paste activities or printable worksheets. 

Then, the next year, I had all my listening activities from the previous year ready to go, and I could work on the next center. It was much more realistic for me.  And, before you know it, you’re going to have so many literacy centers activities to use for years to come!

Flexible Student Grouping

I regret not having flexible groups! I grouped my students based on their behavior and didn’t switch them often. So my kiddos got tired of working with the same students week after week. Which surprise, surprise, created even more behavior issues.

The Solution: 

Once I began to change up groups at least once a month it made such a huge difference. Both as far as behavior and performance are concerned. This was a huge shift and I really think it helped me learn how to set up literacy centers more efficiently.

how to set up literacy centers

Making A Plan For Students Who Finish Their Work First

Finally, I regret not having enough work for my students to do at their centers. I had so many early finishers who loved telling me the famous “I’m done…” Which are the two words any teacher hears in their nightmares, right?! 

how to set up literacy centers

The Solution: 

Next week I will give you some more really helpful ideas for making sure you have enough challenging work for the kiddos who do finish early, so check back here on the blog. 

I hope this helped you learn how to set up literacy centers. Remember to consider some of the small changes that you can make while setting up centers in a classroom. I’m happy to share all the mistakes I made along the way so you don’t need to struggle the way I did.

Is it a struggle to teach your students the Seesaw tools? I’ve created a FREE game for your students that will help them learn to use the Seesaw tools responsibly!

Check out my Summer Series

To get you ready for Back To School 2021, I've organized all the best literacy station ideas for you! This past year was rough so let Teaching Firsties do the work for you this summer so you'll be confident and ready to begin school in the fall.

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