A literacy center is one of several learning stations arranged in a classroom designed for students to visit and learn independently. Children often select a literacy center where they can work by themselves or in a small group of children. Literacy centers within an elementary school classroom feature a variety of stations geared toward phonics, phonemic awareness, spelling, reading, and writing.
A literacy center features hands-on activities that reinforce concepts and themes taught in the classroom. Children can practice what they learn in class in an engaging, interactive environment. A literacy center provides students with opportunities to work with others and independently, and problem solve. In order for the literacy centers to be effective, they must be interesting and deal with topics the teacher has already taught to the class.
Typical literacy center stations in an elementary classroom include a reading center filled with books or big books, a puzzle center that features alphabet puzzles, a listening station where children can follow along as books are read on CD, and a magnetic letter station that uses cookie sheets. Other examples of literacy centers include poem charts where students use pointers to read poetry and rhymes out loud. The type of centers are limited only by a teacher's imagination.
Literacy centers involve a great deal of advanced planning in order for them to be effective classroom tools. A teacher must decide how many centers will be located in the classroom. This depends on her ability to manage the centers and the amount of space available in the room. Each center must complement the skills, concepts, and topics she teaches to her students.
A teacher must also consider how materials for the centers will be obtained. Purchasing the materials can become expensive, so it is best to use classroom funds if available. If the school is unable to pay for the items, she can solicit donations from parents or local businesses. Using donated items can alleviate some of the burden of buying materials from personal funds.
Each center must have materials arranged in an organized manner so that students can find what they need and clean up when the activity is ready to be put away. The literacy centers should have interesting names so that students are excited about visiting them. For example, a reading station could be called The Story Kingdom. A bookmaking station could be dubbed The Book Barn. The goal is to make the literacy stations seems glamorous to young students so they will want to spend time at each one.
As individual students visit centers, the teacher often works with small groups on reading instruction. Since several things are going on at once within the classroom, it's important that the teacher ensures that students can move easily between each literacy center without disrupting others. The day can quickly become a rowdy three-ring circus if centers are not stationed appropriately throughout the room — far enough away from each other so that the noise level doesn't get out of hand.
All learning centers should be clearly labeled and easy for children to locate. Before allowing students to use the centers, teachers need to show students how to use them. Important rules should be established before kids can use the literacy centers. For example, the teacher should show the kids how each activity is completed and how they should clean up after the activity is finished. The teacher must also establish noise-level rules.
Teachers can use their creativity to devise a variety of literacy stations to reinforce learning. Since children learn best when actively engaged, it's crucial to organize literacy centers that will provide hands-on experience to students as they strengthen reading and writing skills. Whether a teacher decides to work with individual students or small groups within the centers, literacy centers are useful ways to enrich classroom instruction.