How to Plan Simple, Effective Reading Centers

A typical Sunday night for me involves an emergency load of laundry because I have nothing to wear to school the next day and scrambling around for some sort of activity to do during reading centers. I really really hate centers. I love the idea of them... students working independently on a worthwhile educational activity while I work with small groups. But it rarely turns out that way.

Reading centers, for the most part, end up being busy work. Maybe not for superstar teachers... but that's not me. I'm a regular teacher. So I try to plan something rigorous that requires higher level thinking and end up with a bunch of sub-par work, multiple interruptions at teacher table asking what to do again, and kids that just don't finish. I've never found that perfect balance of challenge and independently do-able.

Then one day, it dawned on me that I was trying too hard. The fact is the more time kids spend reading, the better they get. It's like practicing any skill. So I decided to streamline my centers to provide my students with as much actual reading as I could.

easy reading centers

My literacy centers now consist of...

  • Teacher Table (small group instruction)

  • Technology

  • Independent Reading

Teacher table is just what it sounds like... students meet with me to work in a small group on targeted skills. This is valuable time when I can do remediation or enrichment, work on specific phonics skills or a particular reading strategy.

For technology, we use several programs. My school district has implemented iReady for all students. They are required to use the program three to five days a week, so that takes care of their technology center. I also use a combination of Freckle and Newsela. Both of these websites let you assign specific articles for students to read and answer comprehension questions. I like this because you can choose specific articles based on your students' interests.

The last center - independent reading - gives students time to enjoy a good book. I have very few problems with kids staying on task because they are reading something they picked out themselves.

What about student accountability?

What about accountability though, right? How do you make sure students are doing what they are supposed to? I have that...

Reading logs are useless, in my opinion. Kids will write down whatever they have to, whether it's true or not. Asking them to summarize what they just read makes reading a chore. I want to avoid that. So I use my i-pads as my accountability piece.

On Mondays, students choose whatever book they want and read independently for the entire 20 minute rotation. They mark any words they have trouble with and bring them to me when they come to teacher table. That lets me quickly help them figure those words out and address any decoding and phonics issues they have.

On Tuesday, students choose a challenging section of text to build fluency. They take an i-pad and record themselves reading aloud. Then, they play it back and listen to themselves. They reread the section silently and follow up with a second recording. The goal is to build speed and accuracy and improve phrasing. They can do this as many times as they want during the 20 minute rotation. The kids know that I can pull the i-pads at any time to listen to their recordings, so there's very little messing around. If I find a student is having trouble choosing appropriately leveled books for themselves, I print out fluency passages from Reading A-Z for them to use for their recordings.

On Wednesday, they get to enjoy the whole 20 minutes just reading again.

Thursday is one of their favorite days... test questions. It works like this: They get 3 to 5 index cards. On each card, they write a text-based question from the book they're reading. (It takes practice and a lot of teacher modeling to write effective questions.) The cards get paper clipped inside the back cover. The next person to choose that book from our library, gets to try and answer the cards. The kids love doing this and love trying to stump each other with tricky text questions.

Friday is often reserved for weekly assessments, but if we get to centers, they work on fluency again.

This system for doing centers is sooooo easy and I feel zero guilt. The kids are engaged in authentic reading practice the whole time. There are no worksheets, no busy work, and no grading for me to do. I also know that even the kids who won't read at home are getting a lot of independent reading time at school.

I do occasionally have an enrichment activity for my high readers that don't need fluency practice. This might consist of some kind of book project, research, or writing activity. Otherwise, my centers are always the same... teacher table, technology, independent reading.

One less thing to stress about!

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