Literacy centers (sometimes called "reading centers" or "stations") have become a vital component in the elementary classroom. When setting up literacy centers in the classroom, there are two main elements that need to be addressed.
First, the centers must be able to be completed independently. This may seem like common sense, but in my experience I've noticed that teachers sometimes do not spend the time necessary to introduce the center concept to the students. This results in confusion for the student and may cause interruptions during the teacher's small group lessons. The best way I've found to address this is to devote a two week period at the beginning of the school year to explicitly teaching the literacy centers. In my classroom, I spend the first week of school introducing one of my five centers each day. I give explicit instructions on how the center is to be completed, and the students practice completing the center in a whole-group setting.
During the second week, the students complete the literacy centers independently while I observe and redirect them as necessary. By the end of the two week period, my students are confident that they understand how to complete the center, and I am able to begin my small group lessons on the third week of the school year without interruption. By giving my students repeated explicit lessons on center objectives, I ensure that their performance will be satisfactory.
The second element to consider when planning literacy centers in the classroom is making sure the content of the center reinforces skills that are being taught in the whole group lessons. My five classroom literacy centers consist of the technology center, the word work center, the writing center, the fluency center, and the classroom library. In the technology center, students complete computer generated lessons that correspond to the current week's reading lesson. In the word work center, the students experience reinforcement of the weekly vocabulary words. The writing center gives students the chance to practice writing to predetermined prompts geared toward the mode of writing that is currently being studied.
In the fluency center, students work together to increase oral reading fluency by timing each other as they read and reread selected passages. At the classroom library, students are exposed to various types of literature for free-reading, or reading for pleasure. By keeping my centers skill-based, I can be confident that the time my students spend there is beneficial to their mastery of those skills.
By ensuring student understanding of center objectives through repeated instruction and practice and correlating center activities to necessary skills, the teacher is ensuring that his or her literacy centers are as effective as they should be. In making certain that your students know what to do, how to do it, and why they have to do it, you are creating the foundation for deeply involved, independent learning within your classroom. You will be able to complete your small group lessons content in the knowledge that the materials your students are presented with are ones for which they are prepared.