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July 26, 2013

Managing Literacy Centers with NO Adult Help

Managing Literacy Centers with No Help FBManaging Literacy Centers with No Help FB


What is the best way to teach small groups of children with only one adult in the room?   It seems that most of the time, teachers are left alone in the classroom with no help at all and are expected to pull small groups to teach reading and math while the other children occupy themselves quietly.  This is a problem that riddles just about every teacher at one point or another, and is probably the most common question that I receive, so this is the question I am trying to answer today.  And this is probably the simplest way that I know of that is usually successful for the most people:  combine some of the routines of the Daily Five with learning centers in an organized way.  If you are not familiar with the Daily Five, then you can read a little about it here.

The Daily Five is a system of literacy instruction and classroom management designed by two sisters, named Gail Boushey and Joan Moser.  They wrote about it in their book at the link provided.  The book is worth reading and has a lot of helpful insights on how to train a class to follow the system, I think!  But for a person that is struggling with just figuring out what to do with a class of little kids, it offers concrete suggestions and a routine for your kids every day, and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel (and then laminate it!) to do it.  However, you certainly can do as much of that as you would like!

The Daily Five includes these five areas of literacy work each day.  It is these five things that could then be included in your centers.

  1. Read to yourself.
  2. Read with someone.
  3. Writing
  4. Word work.
  5. Listening to reading.

Since I have never been inclined to implement the Daily Five exclusively, I would consider these five things centers to fall back on and know that you can always do, not things that you are “stuck with” and MUST do every day.  (Please don’t start throwing eggs at me, all you fans of the Daily Five!  This is just my opinion.)  You can always rotate them in and out.  In any case, at my school, we have a prescribed program that we are supposed to be doing, and therefore we cannot just throw everything out and just do the Daily Five.

But first, let’s talk about center organization.

Center Organization
I am not a person that likes to have kids “roaming freely” around my classroom at any time, so I like to assign them a place to go and ask them to stay there until I say that it is time to move.  It’s not that I don’t believe in free choice; I just don’t want to give it during my literacy block.  Now that’s just me, and these are my suggestions.  You are certainly free to change things around and do whatever makes you happy!  But I think that this system will give you good control of the room and make it so that when an administrator walks into the room, he or she will see that each child is busy and working- hopefully!

So, my students are all assigned a color group and they must STAY WITH THAT GROUP, DOING WHAT THEY ARE ASSIGNED UNTIL THE BELL RINGS.  There are four groups.  If they finish early, there are instructions for that, but they cannot leave that center and wander around the room to look for something else to do- period.  If they do, there are consequences, and I am consistent with them- especially at the beginning of the year.  I know that if I let it go, I’ll be sorry for the rest of the year!  The children ALWAYS test me on this.  They need to know their boundaries, and once they find them, they are secure and happy (I think.)

Anyway, I know that if I give a child the motivation to finish early and go find something more interesting to a five year old to do (like play with a toy), then he of course WILL.  But what I need that child to do is practice reading or writing for the full fifteen minute block, etc.  Therefore, I insist that the child stay there and take away all other “rewards” of finishing early and finding something else to do.  And THAT is why I don’t give the children free choice during the literacy block!  If they want to go back to one of these activities and pursue it more during their play time in the afternoon, they are always welcome to do so.

The best thing about having assigned groups/centers that children MUST do and go to is that you don’t need a complicated system to keep track of what they have completed and what they have not completed, etc.  And if a child has missed a day of school, then they just missed those centers, and that’s the end of that.  Oh, well!

To implement literacy centers by your self, the key is to have everything set up the afternoon before you go home for the day. I put all of the materials and supplies on the table where they will be used so that they are ready to go. Then the next day, I explain to all of the children what they will do when they get there so that there is no need to stop to explain again during the rotation.  We rotate groups and everyone sits down to work. Once you have it going, it works great.  This should work out for the Daily Five activities as well.  All you have to do is put the Daily Five activities at those other three work stations while you pull your guided reading groups. Rotate them through, keeping each group together as they do their activities.

This is how my art table was set up for the children before I left for the day.  Art was one of our centers, so I had each child’s space all ready to go.  Whether or not anyone showed up to help me, I knew I could give the lesson.

A sound sorting tray was set up for another center before I left for the day.

You will also probably need to find a couple of really good helpers to be in charge of organizing and putting your center materials away for you when you are done.  If you show your very responsible kids what the materials should look like when they are put away, there’s always a few kids that can handle the responsibility!  This will save you a ton of time after school, and children usually LOVE to be helpers.  It’s good for them, too!

An Example of a Group Rotation

So for example, this is what one day might look like:

The Red Group:  Guided Reading with YOU

I meet with each group every day, although we don’t necessarily do guided reading every day.  Sometimes we do guided writing, or small group directed lessons in phonemic awareness, phonics, or sight word instruction.

The Green Group:  Reading to Self for half of the time; Read to Someone Else for the rest of the time.  (Set a timer)

These children are reading the Rhyme Book, which is one of my Singable Books from Little Songs for Language Arts.  It’s a lift the flap book that they made themselves!

Yellow Group:  Word Work   (There are lots of ideas for this on my Learning Centers Pinterest Board.)

These Sight Word Wands were a fun way to look for, read, and record sight words!  Read about them here.

Blue Group:  Writing in Journals or Listen to Reading
(You could switch off and do one two days a week and the other three days a week.)  OR, you could split the group and have half the group listen while the other half writes, and then switch.  But I think it is easier for the teacher to manage if the group stays together.  Remember that if they are listening to reading, it doesn’t have to be a professionally recorded book!  It could be just YOU reading a book into a tape recorder or your computer!   That’s all it takes.  And kids enjoy writing in journals, even when they can barely just draw pictures.  Just give them a topic, and they are off.

My students really enjoyed writing in blank books, with or without a topic!  But even a blank piece of paper will do.

In the beginning, keep your groups very short- just ten or fifteen minutes- and you won’t have to worry too much about your students getting bored at the independent centers.  And as you go along, you can always give them some different things to do if it seems that they are getting tired of one thing or the other, and you find some new things.

Remember to give your kids a chance to stretch in between centers.  I ALWAYS have my kids stand up and sing three, four, or even five songs with me on the carpet in between centers!  It’s just part of our routine.  The children expect it.  It also gives the ones that are not finished cleaning up their centers a chance to finish doing that while we are singing.  And it is a great way to review sight words, math, or phonics concepts throughout the day!

We put one of my HeidiSongs DVD’s up on my big screen and sing in between every group!

If you are having trouble fitting math instruction in due to a half day schedule, you could consider doing some math instruction rather than always language arts instruction during the time the children meet with the teacher.

Remember,  if your schedule gets interrupted by specials or recess, etc., it is always possible to start and stop your rotation, and then pick it up again later, as long as you keep your groups together and the children are required to stay at their assigned spots.  I have done this many, many, times!  In fact, we did it all last year and the year before!  We would do the first two groups before recess, and then the third and fourth groups after recess.  Once the children get used to the routine, it works out great.  In fact, it gives the children (and you!) a nice little break in between groups!

If you would like to see exactly what my schedule are, then see this post here:
Heidi’s Kindergarten Schedules for Half Day, Extended Day, and Full Day K


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