This past week I finally tried using literacy centers in my classroom. I’d thought about it (and probably blogged about it) for several months, but the mechanics of actually doing it daunted me, and I procrastinated. I spent lot of time talking about it with my friend Alicia, who has centers in her first grade classroom, but still I put it off. Finally, one day last week my colleague, René told me she had just tried it, and she and her students liked it. After reviewing the stations she created, I decided I’d go for it too.
I decided I’d create nine stations, and not expect that each group would make it to each station. I wasn’t sure about timing, so decided this would be fine. I would have eight groups of three or four students, and I thought they might spend ten minutes at each station. That would give me enough time to explain the process and still leave time for writing reflections at the end of class, before it was time to leave.
Here are the stations I created:
1. At the SMART Board were two Anagram games for practicing spelling words. Each game had only five words, so they played both of them. They had done these same games a week or two earlier.
2. Sentence Revision: I wrote three sentences on different colored sentence strips. I cut the strips apart and put the pieces in a zip-lock bag. I told the students that there were three sentences in there, each a different color, and they were to figure them out and write them on a half sheet of paper. One paper per group.
3. Critical Reading: At this table was a short (3 paragraph) article, which was followed by four multiple choice questions. They were to read it aloud and decide together on the correct answers to the questions. One of the questions required them to make an inference.
4. Reading food labels: I collected some chip and Cheeto bags from the students after a recent field trip. I brought in a Coke and a bottle of Gatorade. Students had to pull data from the nutrition labels of these packages, and then answer some analytical questions about them. This center was more time consuming than the others, so students were instructed to just collect the data here and wait until they had downtime at another station to answer the questions. This worked very well.
5. Brain Gym: I have been reading some brain research over the past couple of years, and every so often I pull out a couple of exercises for the kids to try. This center had instructions for three exercises, and told them what they were good for (reading comprehension, focus, retention of information, etc.) We practiced these three exercises the day before the centers activity.
6. Prefixes: This station had a worksheet from Skill Sharpeners 3 which included 20 words with prefixes. It involved matching prefixes and definitions. The group was to do it together, only completing one sheet.
7. Cause and Effect: This was another worksheet similar to the previous one, from the same source. It was a little tricky, which made it more challenging for them. Again, they only did one of these for the whole group.
8. Greek and Latin word roots: I have made some sets of “Word Root Dominos” and we played them as a class a week or so ago. In this station they were to play the game until they had collected at least 10 connections between roots and their meanings or a word that contained them.
9. Reading a Manual: I copied a diagram of the remote control from my cable company. I asked four questions about it, the answers to which were found on the diagram.
My Opinion: I was pleased with this outcome. The students were engaged most of the period, far more than in a normal situation with me directing everything. The things that made it work (I think) were these:
* We had done all of the activities ahead of time, so they weren’t mystified by new skill requirements.
* I kept them outside the room until everyone arrived, and I got all of their attention before they entered the room, so I could explain what they would find there. This helped set the expectation for order and calm which doesn’t always happen with these guys.
* I watched the time carefully, adapting as I saw them finishing sooner than I’d expected.
* I saved time at the end for the students to answer three reflective questions about the day. This gave me valuable feedback as well as made them feel like part of the process.
* I was careful to intersperse the activities so that each station was a different sort of task than the one before it. The three worksheets did not follow one another, for example.
The students said:
* Thank you. This was really fun.
* They wanted to do it more often. (3 times a week!?)
* They needed a little more time at each station.
* They felt more confident working with their friends.
* It provided a good review.
The things I’m still thinking about are these:
* How often can I do this? It is important to have regular types of stations and then change the content each time, I think. For example, the sentence revision station was a big hit. Next time maybe I’d change the instructions to have them add in adjectives or adverbs. Maybe I’d do it with magnetic poetry rather than paper sentence strips.
* Should I keep them with their friends? A couple of the boy groups got a little overactive at the SMART Board and at another station or two. Would random grouping make this part work better?
* I think this is a way to do review. I still think the initial teaching has to be more direct. Am I right about this?
* I want to build in a writing station. Maybe a way to generate ideas for more concentrated writing the following day. Also a reading station that is a little more solid than what I did today. The story could be more interesting, the questions more rigorous. Should I have a reading station where I actually read with them? Make one station a small group with me? If I do that, how will I manage the movement?
* I need a louder timer. I used my iPhone, and it was a little too subtle for the noise of these learners.
* I don’t know why I thought doing only eight of the nine activities would be fine. Next time they will go to all of the stations, even if it means only creating eight of them.
All in all, I’m happy with the outcome. I’ll definitely do this again, and then again. I think I will even nerve up to do it with my Really Rowdy Boy class in the morning. Eventually. I’d love to hear any feedback from readers who have tried this sort of thing. I am definitely open to suggestions.