If you’re like many kindergarten teachers, you have a literacy block or rotation every day that includes independent learning centers. If you’re anything like me, coming up with meaningful and engaging center activities week-after-week can be extremely time-consuming. I have always loved using thematic and seasonal centers and I’ve even created several seasonal/holiday center packs. However, what about those in-between weeks, like after Halloween when it seems a little early for Thanksgiving and turkey centers? Those are the weeks when I’ve always struggled because I don’t have a set of centers that I can just print and prep.
The great thing about those seasonal and thematic center packs are exactly that: they’re seasonal and thematic, which usually means they’re pretty motivating for our students! I love incorporating those fun themes into my classroom and I think it’s part of what makes teaching primary grades so much fun. I love pulling out those winter-themed centers in December and the adorable bunny centers in the spring.
I’ve recently taken a step back to think about how I can make the rest of my center activities easier for me to plan for while still having that motivational factor for my students. I refocused my thinking on the most important part about centers, which is the skills they’re reinforcing for my students, and I jotted down a whole school year’s worth of skills, month by month. When I focused my attention on the skills and having them progress at a good pace throughout the school year, then I was able to think about the actual activities.
That is how I came up with my non-thematic and systematic approach to literacy centers. I decided to create monthly packs of centers that advance in difficulty throughout the year but are not thematic. This works for a variety of reasons! First of all, I can always add seasonal manipulatives to my learning centers, so by removing the thematic element I’ve made these centers extremely versatile. This helps you also be able to use them at different points in the year for purposes of differentiation and reteaching. Additionally, most of the activities I’m creating are perfect for guided reading group as well, so you can work on the activities with students before (and after!) they make an appearance in literacy centers.
I organized my centers into five skill areas: Sight Words, Sorting Activities, Letters and Sounds, Literacy Spotlight, and Writing. I suggest having ten bins or tubs, so you’ll prepare each activity twice. There are five activities for each week and although they progress in difficulty throughout the year, you can definitely rearrange or alter the activities in whatever way meets your and your students’ needs.
One of the difficult parts of independent centers is that students will be self-guided in both their on-task behavior and learning. Especially at the beginning of the year, this can be stress-inducing for teachers and students. With lots of practice and high expectations, it can and will come together. However, I know that this is a big area where students can struggle with the centers, so I’m including center management and organization tools with the center activities. I’ll blog about all of those separately soon! The basic idea is that students will have a tool for keeping track of which centers they’ve completed each week, whether it’s a punch card or a passport-like card. The pictures on the card match the simple pictures on each center. You can then use color coordination to help organize the tracking tools and make your centers run more smoothly and systematically.
So, let’s get into the activities for September!
Sight Word Centers: These are fully editable! You will be able to type your word list for each week and the activities will automatically be filled in. The activities are Rainbow Writing, Sand Tray Writing, Hair Gel Bag Writing, and Magnetic Letter Word Building. As you can see, I incorporated as much hands-on and sensory work as possible for the sight word activities to help all learner types and keep students motivated.
Sort It Out Centers: The Sort It Out centers cover a variety of skills but the concept stays the same each week. If you have an area with a pocket chart for your students, I really think that helps them stay focused on the task and figure out how to sort much more quickly. However, I know this isn’t always a reality, so students can also sort at their table/desk or on the floor. The four Sort It Out centers for September are Letter/Not a Letter, Uppercase/Lowercase Letters, Pictures with One or Two Syllables, and Rhyme/Do Not Rhyme Picture Pairs.
Letters and Sounds Centers: The activities in the Letters and Sounds Centers will vary week-to-week and I’m going to be repeating most of the activities with different letters and sounds throughout the year. This will increase your students’ ability to work at centers independently. The four Letters and Sounds Centers for September are Writing Letters in Sand, Magnetic Letter First Sound Cards, First Sound Cover-Up, and Spin and Smash/Spin and Cover. The Spin and Cover activity is one of those activities where you could add seasonal-themed mini erasers if you’re looking to incorporate something seasonal!
Literacy Spotlight: These centers will always have activities that cover skills in the areas of phonemic awareness, phonics, word families, and other crucial skills. The four Literacy Spotlight Centers for September are Rhyming Puzzles, Syllable Clip Cards, “I see a ___” Make-a-Sentence, and -at/-an/-ap Sticky Words.
“I’m a Writer!” Centers: In my experience, writing is one of the areas in kindergarten where students can greatly vary in their abilities. In the same class, you could have a student who can’t write any letters in their name (or even be able to recognize their name) and then also have a student who can write in complete sentences with correct phonetic spelling. Because of this, I knew my writing center activities would have to be differentiated as much as possible. Especially since I’m creating these and sharing them with other teachers whose students I do not know, this is really important to me. Therefore, for almost all of the writing center activities, I’ve included multiple writing page options. Some will be mostly tracing or drawing, especially at the beginning of the year. For the same activity, I will additionally have more advanced options, too. You’ll have to do the hard work of picking out which pages you want to have at each center and facilitating the differentiation, but I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible!
The four “I’m a Writer!” activities are “My name is ___”/Draw a Picture, Label a Picture, “I see a ___.”/Draw a Picture, and Trace or Write Sentences About a Picture. The pictures below do not show all of the differentiated options, but they’re in the pack!
You’ll see two pictures representing the labeling activity. The activity comes with a page you can laminate where students will label the picture, and then they will complete a writing page that has the same picture and labeling options. There’s also a version of the writing page with no word bank.
I also want to point out that for the Sort It Out centers, Letters and Sounds centers, and Literacy Spotlight centers, I’ve included a corresponding practice page. I know that many schools and teachers require some sort of evidence of learning to accompany independent learning centers, so you can use the practice page for that if needed.
Oh, and do you need a black-and-white option for the centers? I have included black-and-white options for all of the activities!
I am not including an August pack at this time. The reason is that I always wait a couple weeks to begin formal independent centers so I have time to establish a routine, group my students for guided reading, etc. However, you can definitely begin to practice rotating around centers! You can add simple activities such as puzzles, lacing cards, and blocks to the center bins and have students practice this way. There are editable versions of the bin label cards so you can just have blank pictures on them or you can label them as you wish for the first few weeks. Then once you begin formal guided reading groups and center rotations, your students will be familiar with the routine.
In order for you to get a good look at the centers and decide whether they’re something that could help you out next school year, I’m excited to offer you two free weeks of center activities! The two free weeks are the first two weeks of the September pack so you can start from the very beginning. This way, you have all summer to prepare your activities for the beginning of the year and get organized. Click on the image below to download your two free weeks! NOTE: You MUST download the file and open it in Adobe in order for the editable features to work!
To check out the individual monthly packs and the discounted bundle on TpT, click on the images below.
Finally, I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am to share these center activities with you. I truly believe that the activities will not only help your literacy centers run smoothly, but also that you will see your students’ skill understanding and level of independence increase throughout the year. Thank you for your support and I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences with the activities!