Literacy Centers Done Right


You might already know the many different options in which you can run your literacy centers.

You can have students work in rotating groups.  You could give them a folder and they can self-direct their learning.  You could also have them work in pairs, interdependently. 

You could have your students working on their centers with peers from their guided reading groups, or you could mix abilities. 

There are so many different ways to run your centers, and you have to choose what’s right for you and your students.  It may change from year to year.  

Literacy Centers Done Right

In this article, I will be sharing the way I do Literacy Centers so you can see how I implement, manage, and hold my students accountable.  I hope you are able to find some golden nuggets and pick and choose what works for you and your classroom! 

If you have ever wondered…

? How will I ever make sense of my literacy centers?
? Will I ever feel like I have a handle on my reading block?
? How do I plan week’s worth of differentiated activities?”
? How do I stay on top of my center activities?”
? How do I get my students to complete their work with quality?”

you are in the right spot.

This blog post is dedicated to busy primary teachers who just want a better grip on their reading block.

I want you to know that you are not alone.  So many teachers struggle with managing centers in so many different ways.

Finding quality literacy centers and implementing them should not be this difficult.

Unfortunately, many schools adopt big box programs that are inadequate when it comes to engaging activities.  This leaves teachers scrambling for activities.

Often, this leads to other problems because we run out of the most precious resource…time.

I want to change that. Below, you will find 10 suggestions on making sure you get your literacy centers right.

So many teachers struggle with managing centers in so many different ways. Finding quality literacy centers and implementing them should not be this difficult. We want to help you with that!

Learn more about our 1st and 2nd Grade Literacy Centers for the Year! 

1. Have a plan for what each group will do each week.

This plan needs to be something simple that you write down.  You need this information while you are at your small group table because you will always know what activities are being done by each group.

You can also use this plan when you are inputting grades, as you won’t have to dig through your center activities to jog your memory on what you did with each group at each center.

Doing the work and having a plan up front will eliminate chaos during your centers time.

[Get our Free Editable Literacy Centers Planning Template]

Have a plan for what each group will do each week.

2. Organize your materials as you make them.

Have a plan for how you are going to organize your centers once you make them.  Keep in mind, if you do not take the time to organize your centers, you will not remember to use the activity again.  Even if you file it away, it’s hard to remember to go back to your files to plan the following year.

You want to have convenient organization where your students can easily access materials.  I recommend the Iris Project bins from Amazon.

Check out  my Literacy Center Organization Blog Post for more ideas.

Organize your materials as you make them.

3.  Always expect quality work from your students.

This one is huge for me.  I don’t just make sure all my students are working.  I make sure they are working and doing things right.

If you notice they are slopping things together without thinking, address it.  If they see you ignore it, it will only make the behavior worse.

I also make sure they show me they are doing the work by making accountability sheets mandatory for every center.

If you already own our First and/or Second Grade Centers, you have access to the accountability sheets for each center.

Always expect quality work from your students.

4.  Check in on your students without wasting valuable time.

I put all of my students’ accountability sheets in their “Centers Folder.”

This way, I can easily check to see what they have completed and what they still need to do.

On Friday, if they are not finished, they will have to use their time to complete anything left by the end of the day.  I usually have an idea of who is completing their work and who is not.

A couple weeks of this kind of accountability, and your students will use their time more wisely during centers.

Check in on your students without wasting valuable time.

5.  Align your centers to your curriculum.

When you choose non-seasonal centers, you can pull them when you need them.  Oftentimes, the issue with having seasonal centers is the fact that they aren’t as versatile as the non-seasonal centers.

If your curriculum changes, or if the needs of your class is different from year to year, you won’t need to constantly create new to address the needs of your class.

Align your centers to your curriculum.

6.  Differentiate…but don’t lose your mind over it.

This is another reason why I love my Literacy Centers Planning Template.  I can see right away what activities I am doing with each group.

I can jot down how I am going to differentiate within the activity, OR with a different activity.  I can also see the activities I pulled and at the end of the week, I know where they go! I just copy paste my scope and sequence along with the month it came from, and I can easily file the activity back in it’s place.  This gives me more motivation to differentiate beyond what I would normally do, because I am not afraid of having too many activities out at one time.

Differentiate...but don't lose your mind over it.

7.  Make the activities count.

Whatever overall skill you are teaching for the week, make sure you make each one count.  Because our literacy centers include so many skills that are aligned to the standards, it’s easy to make each one count.

Both our 1st and 2nd Grade Centers include 120 standards-aligned activities.

Make the activities count.

8. Eliminate transition time.

This one seems like a no-brainer, but time is EVERYTHING when it comes to centers.  One minute of wasted time cannot be recovered.

Find a routine that works and stick to it! There are two fool-proof ways to make transitions run smoothly.  First one, I make a “Centers Wheel” out of a pizza box, and it works for me.  I don’t have to move cards around every time I transition because that is wasted time to me.

Another option is to go virtual!  This Station Rotations PowerPoint does all the transitions for you!  You can arrange your centers using the clipart provided and alter the transition times to suit your class best.  I love this!  I start the PowerPoint on any given day.  After 15 minutes, it automatically rings a bell and has the students clean up and move to their next rotation.  You can view the tutorial here if you want to learn more!  For more information on transitions, be sure to check out 10 Tips for Easier Transitions!

Eliminate transition time.

9. Establish an expectation for noise levels.

Noise levels should be productive.  Not too quiet, not too loud.  But how do you get your students to this point?  You have to model it.  Talk about what acceptable noise levels are. Discuss this often and model it with your students.  Talking above them accomplishes nothing.

When things get a little too noisy, I have silent cues to let my students know when their noise levels are unacceptable.

Establish an expectation for noise levels.

10. Have a plan for when your students finish.

Half the issue with centers is you have some students that finish quickly and some that just don’t.  Don’t let the students that are finished become a distraction to those who aren’t done.  Give them something to do.  In my classroom, we have “Early Finisher Folders” so I don’t have to find activities for them to do when they are done.

Anything we do during the year that doesn’t get done gets put into their “Early Finisher Folders.”

This is great for two reasons.

1.  I don’t feel guilty for not allowing a student to finish an activity they really want to finish.  I tell them they can get to it when they finish something else early.

2.  I don’t have to give instructions for early finisher activities.

Have a plan for when your students finish.

Now you are on your way to getting your literacy centers done right!  I hope these simple tips help you make big changes for your Literacy Centers Block!

I wanted to share a free Cause and Effect Center with you from our 1st Grade and 2nd Grade Literacy Centers Bundle! These two centers are complete with a cover page, instructions, pieces, and an accountability sheet.

Get our Free Cause and Effect Center for 1st and 2nd Grade!

BUT…I need a comprehensive set of centers…

Can you help me?

Absolutely! If you would like ready to print centers for the year, and you are a 1st and/or 2nd grade teacher, you are in luck! We did just that! We have created centers with the tools to get you organized and your reading block in order! We know you are going to love not having to think of what activities your students are going to do each week.

We offer Year-Long Literacy Centers for 1st and 2nd Grade! Here are some reasons why teachers are loving these Literacy Centers:

  • Student-Friendly Directions for Every Center
  • Hands-On and Engaging Activities
  • Recording/Accountability Sheets for Every Center
  • Flexible and nonseasonal centers to supplement your current curriculum.
  • Cohesive resource with a variety of centers to last you an entire year.
  • Consistent centers so you have minimal redirection.

Learn more about our 1st and/or 2nd Grade Centers for the Year

Thanks so much for stopping by!


Welcome! I’m Emily, Founder of Education to the Core. We are all about helping K-2 teachers by providing unlimited access to affordable printables for every subject area.