Literacy in our classroom is carried out predominantly through the use of learning centres. It is my belief that children learn best when they are actively engaged and this is achieved in my classroom through the use of literacy centres.

Benefits of Learning Centres

Learning Centres:

  • encourage the children to be independent and responsible for their own learning
  • encompass a wide variety of ability levels, learning styles and interests
  • aid the progression of self-observation skills, problem-solving and teamwork
  • makes time available for teachers to undertake small group or one-to-one activities uninterrupted, such as guided reading or working with ELL children

How I introduce centres to the children

Some children have never been in a classroom where learning centres are the norm so it is important for the first few weeks to repeatedly go over the rules and routines of the learning centres. I generally do not start guided reading until week 3 or 4 so that children are able to work independently at the centres without interrupting the guided reading centre.

For the first few weeks I progressively introduce children to the learning centres and how they will work in our class. When introducing a new centre I bring all the children to the carpet and model how to use the centre, what activities to do, what to do when they are finished and how to put everything away properly.

I then get a couple of children to role-play using the centre so that the other children can see how it is supposed to be done. After this I will sit with each group at the new centre modelling and reinforcing the way to use the centre. I give lots of praise and stickers to the children for using the centres properly and they become so proud and responsible over their centres.

At the other centres I put simple activities that require no explanation, such as jigsaws or plasticine, so that I can be fully engaged with the group at the new centre. I repeat this for a couple of days and then I will move onto a new centre and repeat the process.

It is important to move slowly like this, especially for younger children. This gentle progression will ensure that the children fully understand what they are supposed to do in centre time, which will result in a smooth running classroom and increased learning for everyone.

How centres work in our classroom

We carry out our literacy centres between morning break and lunch from Monday to Wednesday. This gives us 120 minutes to complete the centre rotation for that day.

We always start with an introductory whole class lesson. This usually includes:

  • Whole class work with our interactive word wall
  • Whole class phonics work with the sound of the day
  • A mini-lesson before the children engage in writing
  • Shared reading of a big book
Then the children complete the rotation of centres for that day. Each group will go to four centres, spending 20 minutes at each centre. The children will know which centres are on for that day by looking at the centre chart on the wall. They will have spent a lot of time practising this over the first few weeks in September and so centre time usually runs very smoothly. When the 20 minutes is up I shake a mini tambourine and the children know to start tidying up immediately and stand quietly behind their chairs. When everyone is ready the children then move on to the next centre as dictated on the chart.
On Wednesdays the children get to choose their centres (although everyone must do guided reading). They can choose which of the literacy centres they would like to go to but they know that there cannot be more than five children at each centre. The children love choosing time and it makes them feel more responsible for their own learning as I try to encourage them not to go to the same centre each time.

Our Classroom Centres

Some of our centres, such as the writing centre and the computer centre are continuous provision-they are always set up and the children can simply go and use them. Other centres, such as the sight word centre and the ABC centre are stacked away in boxes and the children have to take the box to the designated place in the room and use the centre there. This is due to space but it always gives the children more practice at using the centre properly and more responsibility for making sure everything is back in the box in the correct way.

Sight Words

At the sight word centre there are many games and activities for the children to engage in.

On the first day of the week the children write the five new words of the week in their sight word notebook. They can then choose from the following games and activities to practice the sight words:

Playing 'Coin Toss' on the table.

  • Play coin toss or marbles: put the words on floor or the table and the children take turns to toss a coin or roll a marble onto a word and say that word.
  • Play who am I? for example, I have four letters, I start with a ‘d’, etc
  • Play Yes or No: As above but the children have to ask the questions and the other child can just say yes or no, for example, Do you have four/five letters? Do you start with a ‘p’? etc
  • Play Hangman using the word card words.
  • How quickly can you find a certain the five new sight words in a book?
  • Play Chinese Whispers – say a word – pass it around.
  • The children can go outside and practice writing their words with chalk on the concrete.
  • Play ‘Concentration’ or ‘Memory Games’

    Playing 'Memory'

  • Practice handwriting by tracing over words using white board marker on laminated sight word cards.
  •  Place sight word cards in alphabetical order.
  • Cloze – children find the missing word within a sentence.
  • Play musical words – children pass words around in a circle until music stops – that child says the word – can be played with 1 or more words.
  • Go on a word walk / drive – find words around the environment – signs etc.

Making the words with magnetic letters.

  • Make words using play dough, string gluing, letter tiles, scrabble pieces, stencils, alphabet stamps, magnetic letters or sandpaper letters
  • Play stepping stones – place words on the floor and children walk over them saying the word as they go to get to the other side of the stream.
  • Beat the clock – how many times can a word be written in 1 minute etc.
  • Children write their words in list form and then write over the words 2 or more times using different colors to create rainbow words.
  • Play sight word bingo

Playing sight word bingo.

  • Play ‘Bang!’ – All the sight words we have learned are put in a tub along with four or five word cards saying bang. The children take turns to pick out a word and say it. If they get it right they keep it. If a child pulls out the word ‘bang’ all the word cards are returned to the box. The winner is the child with the most cards at the end.
  • Erasing Relay-The children are in two teams and a list of words are written on the whiteboard. The children have to take turns saying the words and then erasing them.

Thank you to teaching first and ezine articles for some of the great ideas above!

Here is our sight word centre and an example of the activities that are kept in the box:

The Sight Word Centre

Bingo game for Dolch words

The above bingo game is taken from The School Bell, a wonderful site for sight word resources.

Sight word flashcards

Sandpaper letters

Memory game

ABC Centre

The ABC Centre

In the ABC centre the children partake in phonics based activities. We follow the British Curricular system ‘Progression in Phonics’ but also use games and activities from various other schemes.

I usually introduce a new sound every two days. So we have direct teaching of the sound and then the children have two days to practice it.

We begin to blend the sound straight away. For example, if I am presenting the sound /ch/ we will immediately begin to spell words containing that sound.  This is done initially through the use of a phoneme frame, shown below.

An example of a phoneme frame

After the initial introduction the children can engage in a variety of activities in the ABC centre. They will have been taught to use the centre and do the activities properly at the beginning of the year and so will be able to use this centre independently.

Here are just some examples of activities and games the children play in this centre:

  • Children use letter/phonic knowledge to write words on laminated phoneme frames. They can also do this activity using magnetic letters.
  • Children use rime fold-overs to make new words in the same “family” (Onset and Rime). Then can record all the words they made on mini whiteboards.
  • Children match up objects or pictures and letters.
  • Children use sand table, plasticine, magnetic letters, sandpaper letters to make words.
  • Children match picture to a rhyming word.
  • Play ‘Go Fish.’ Children can use a fish net to scoop out some letters and try to make a word.

Making words using large foam letters.

Spelling CVC words.

Hard at work sorting out the letters. Each letter goes into a different cup.

Spelling the words using magnetic letters.


Thank you to Little Giraffes for some of the above ideas.
Here is an example of the ‘Word Family Box’ that is used at the ABC centre:

Word family box

Children make words with magnetic letters

Children have to write the correct word family using the picture as a guide.

Matching pictures to words

Children pull the card to make new words

Computer Centre

At the computer centre the children can play games online to practice a particular grammar point that they are learning. E.g. sight words, long vowels, magic e, CVC words, etc.

I find the following websites excellent for literacy games:

Star Fall

ICT Games

Crick Web

Woodlands Junior

Book Corner

The children love to relax and read in our book corner. They can choose from a wide variety of books, including big books. The children love to read to each other and I often catch them telling each other stories in exactly the way I tell them during story time.

Reading a big book in the book corner

I arrange the books in basins as it is easier for the children to find books and put them away properly. Also when I'm doing a topic, e.g. dinosaurs, I'll have a basin just for dinosaur books.

Relaxing and reading in book corner

Read/Write the Room Centre

The children love the read/write the room centre. They love walking around the room with their clipboards or mini whiteboards. It makes them feel so important.

Read/write the room can be totally unstructured, the children can write down whatever print they see around the room. Or sometimes I give them tasks to carry out. Some examples of these tasks are:

  • Find 5/4/6 letter words
  • Find words beginning/ending with a certain letter
  • Find words associated with our topic/theme
  • Do a ladder activity- find a word with one letter, then a word with two letters, etc.
  • Find five words and put them in alphabetical order

Writing Centre

The writing centre is positioned beside the word wall so that the children have access to it when writing.

In the writing centre the children are engaged in writer’s workshop once per week. There is information on that here.

There is a wide variety of materials in the writing centre to encourage the children to write. This includes:

  • Coloured paper with different designs
  • Glitter pens
  • Stencils
  • Coloured markers and pencils
  • Envelopes
  • Stickers and stampers
  • Staplers
  • Hole punchers
  • Picture dictionaries
  • Different coloured post-it notes
The children do free writing here once a week where they can write anything they want. As we have a little post office in the writing centre, many of them write letters to each other.

Our post office filled with letters that the children have written.

On the other three days the writing is structured. I have set a task which they have to carry out. The children usually work independently at this centre but are sometimes kept on task by myself or my TA.
Writing activities that the children have engaged in include:
  • Making a ‘Lift the Flap’ book
  • Writing lists
  • Making picture dictionaries related to a particular theme
  • News writing-Children write their ‘news’, e.g. something they did at the weekend
  • Letter writing
  • Writing poetry
  • Responding to a particular story they did in guided or shared reading
  • Writing captions for a comic strip
  • Report writing
  • Rewrite endings to stories

Children working hard in the writing centre