Sunday, November 3, 2013

Giving you the 411 on Centers! (Part 1 of 3)

Hello Friends!

Well, this year I started out with 28 kids in my class and only 24 desks!  We did our best, but wow, we were crowded.  We definitely did not fit on the carpet and my line going out to the playground just felt like it went on and on and on!  We finally hired a 6th teacher in mid-October and I went down to a normal (and legal) size of 22 kiddos.  I was able to get some routines in place during those crazy first 2 months, but now we've finally really gotten into the groove this month with our normal daily activities.  Whew!

I'm here today to break it down for you and tell you how literacy centers work in our classroom.  I do my own version of Daily 5 and I highly recommend reading The Sister's book, if you haven't already!  My version is definitely different from the book, but you gotta do what works in your own room, right?  I absolutely love what The Sisters have set up in their classrooms and they do a great job of explaining it in the book.  I have just found a few things that I like to do differently!  That's the fun part of being a teacher- figuring out what works! (And then changing and rearranging when it doesn't work!!) 

I think I'll make this a 3 part post, just so I'm not rambling on for too long in one giant post!

background image- Ashley Hughes, alphabet graphics- Teaching Super Power, font- Jennifer Jones

For today, I'll explain how I organize our literacy centers and how the rotations work.

After I get to know my students, both academically and behaviorally, I move their desks and put them into "teams".  These are usually groups of 4-5 students that are mixed heterogeneously, so that there is a variety of levels in each team.  I love having mixed ability groups because they can help one another and learn from each other.  These groups definitely change throughout the year, but they stay are always a mixed group.

The teams are their groups for centers.  They work together in most of the centers and we have the "3 Before Me" rule in place, encouraging them to ask questions and try to solve their problems before coming over to me when I'm working with a small group.

Here are the Centers that I have, and again, these are modeled after The Daily 5, but with several changes that help it work better for me and the way my brain works as a teacher!

Word Work
Read to Self
Buddy Reading

(In Part 2 of this post, I will give explanations of all of the above and I'll link it here when it's posted!)

Each team has a team captain and they are in charge of their "picks paper".  This page is how we keep track of which Centers they have gone to.  Each week, they can go to each Center twice, except for Listening and Computer, which they only go to once a week.  The image below shows the picks paper that we use, if you'd like a copy of your own, just click on the image!  I have several other checklists included in the freebie download!
(click on the image to see the freebie in my store)
We have enough time in our daily schedule to do 2 rotations a day.  We have about an hour after breakfast, then Specials and then about 75 minutes before lunch.  That first morning block is where we do morning work, calendar, spelling practice and do the daily Phonics/ELA curriculum activities from our reading adoption.  We make our picks for our first rotation right before we go to Specials.  That way, we can hit the ground running right when we get back from Specials.

I name our teams with letters (creative, right?) and this year, I have 5 teams, so it's Team A through Team E.  I know a lot of teachers have super cute, super fancy ways of setting up their groups, with pictures, ribbon, fabric and all that, and as beautiful as they are- that's just not me!  I use super cheap simple supplies- clothespins and paper plates!!  Each team has a clothespin and I clip them to the paper plate so we remember who is going where.  The teams are responsible for crossing off their pick each time, so they know which Centers they have already visited that week.  For the first rotation, I just go in order and keep track of whose day it is to pick first.  For the second rotation, I let the quietest and cleanest teams pick first.  As they are cleaning, I remind them that I'm looking to see who is ready and quiet and I order their clothespins as I see them get ready.

super fancy, right?!?
I've used those paper plates for a couple years now, and I could probably update them with cuter fonts and paper or fabric, but, as they say...

The plates work for me, so that's what I use!!  If you look to the left of the plates, you can see my high-tech organizer to see who picks first for our first rotation- another clothespin!  :)

Like I said, we do two rotations a day.  Right after Specials, I pull a group of my most struggling students because four of them are pulled out for RTI at 10:25.  I have a box with activities for each team to do while I'm meeting with that group and then we start our first rotation at 10:30.  It takes about 3 weeks to get Centers up and fully running, with the students working completely independently (which unfortunately couldn't start this year until the 6th week of school!).  I slowly introduce parts of each Center and we practice them each day.  Once everyone knows the routines, I always dedicate a week to doing the Centers where I am available to walk around and make sure things are going smoothly.  I remind my students that starting the next week, I won't be available to help and to get their questions in now!  :)

Once it's time to start my groups, I always wear a Hawaiian lei around my neck as a visual reminder that I am working with my group and I should not be interrupted unless it's entirely necessary.  I use the necklace because it's something I had already from a class party years ago- you could use a hat or tiara or some other visual.  We do the "3 Before Me" rule and my students are allowed to get up and get water or go to the bathroom at any time during Centers (we are lucky enough to have both inside our classroom).  We do have a bathroom and water hand signal to use on the carpet, and you could use those during Centers as well, if your students have to leave the room for those.  We work through both rotations and I pull a different small group during each rotation.  Then, if I remember, we have a quick closure and share a couple of things we practiced during Centers before we head off to the cafeteria for lunch!  I try to have some share time every day, but you know how that goes!  :)

I hope I explained everything and I hope it makes sense!  Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments and I will respond!

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I will give you lots of details on my individual centers!  Until then, here's a little sneak peek of my kiddos working hard at the Writing Center!

(edited to add links to Part 2 and Part 3!)

June 2017- Linking up with Jen over at Teacher By The Beach!  Check out her awesome Motivation Monday series by clicking on the image below!!


  1. Wow! This is a great blog post...I'm looking forward to reading the other 2! I love that you wear a Hawaiian lei as a visual reminder for the kiddos! I may use something like this as a visual reminder or maybe even the ask 3 before me concept. I don't know why I haven't implemented something like this yet!!! I, too, do my own version of Daily 5...I have now just switched the name to Reader's Workshop because we only get to 2 rotations a day. Thanks for posting all of this great information...I am off to check out your other 2 posts!
    Mrs. Olson’s Lucky Little Learners

    1. Hey there! I love using the lei as a visual for the kids- it really works! I have heard them many times over the years say "Oh wait, she's wearing the necklace." and go back to their chairs!! Did you see that my last post is a linky party? I would love for you to link up to share about your Reader's Workshop!

      Katie :)

  2. As a future early childhood educator, I really enjoyed your post. It was shared on the facebook teaching resources page. I shared it with 2 of my fellow future educators. We are obsessed with centers. Thank you for the time you took to do this post.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment- and to share! I appreciate it! Please send me an email at if you ever have any questions about Centers (or anything else!!)

      Katie :)

  3. Where are the other 2 posts? I'm not finding the link to them.

  4. Where are the other 2 posts? I'm not finding the link to them.