Sunday, November 20, 2016

Differentiated Literacy Centers

Happy Sunday friends!! I know that many of you have the week off for Thanksgiving, lucky ducks! We have to go through Wednesday, so we are patiently waiting to go into vacation mode :)

Today, I wanted to share with you how I differentiate my literacy centers and run them in my room. For a long time, literacy centers were not my friend! I hated prepping them and the kiddos would run through them so fast and be bored because the centers could really only be used once. Then, once the kiddos had done them, I would have to cycle another center through. Oh the prep! No thanks!! That all changed when I went to a professional development with Margo Southall. Her differentiated center ideas changed my whole classroom! I'm excited to share it with you!

I have three centers: comprehension, fluency and work work. I keep them in dishwashing tubs that I got at Walmart! I really like the size on the tubs. I can move them around to different spots in my room pretty easily and they fit in all the components of the center.

Let's take a look at each center.


Right now, I have two different options in my fluency tub. The first option is sight word phrases. I have the FRY sight word phrases, lists 100-500, on rings. The kiddos take a ring and a timer and they see how many phrases they can make it through in one minute. The timers they use are one minute sand timers from Amazon. I also tell the students what set of phrases to take, which I will show you a little later. 

The second activity I have right now are expression cards. I have three different levels of poems and songs. The kiddos pick a poem or song at their level, and a set of expression cards. Then they go through the poem or song and read it with the coordinating expression. They LOVE it! Many of the songs and poems I include are ones we have already done in class. 

I keep the poems and songs in plastic protectors and I level them A, B and C. These do not coordinate with guided reading levels, that's just how I mark the three different levels.

I have other options that I add throughout the year, such at fluency sticks and timed readings, but currently these two options are working great. The thing I love about them is that they keep them busy everyday! They love trying to read the phrases and beat their score and they LOVE the songs. In a few weeks, I will rotate the poems and the interest will build again. Easy Peasy!

Word Work

Every Monday, I give my students a spelling pre-test. The tests tiered. It starts with easier words that fit our pattern for the week and then get progressively difficult. I have three separate spelling lists, that increase in difficulty, and depending on how they do on the pretest determines which list they get. This station will stay the same the entire year and they will keep doing the same activities with their current lists. I have smelly markers, stamps, colored pencils and different spelling activity cards that I got from Amy Lemons (get them HERE) that they can choose from. They do all their work in their reading spiral and keep it in their folders so I can check them.


My last center is comprehension. Right now, I have two options but as the year goes on I will add more, depending on what we are learning. The first option I have are retell cubes. All the kiddos have to do is find a just right book, read it, and then roll the cube and answer the questions in their reading spiral. This is the best! It requires nothing from me except monitoring their work to make sure they are using different texts each time. It's easily differentiated because they are choosing the books that fit their level. The second option is quick reads. These I switch out with the season. We have had this Thanksgiving quick read set for the last two weeks. Each quick read comes with a student booklet that the students can complete. They choose one page a day to complete. The quick reads are leveled so the students can make sure they are working at their independent level. Get quick reads HERE.

As the year goes on I will add questioning stems and webs, which they complete with a just right book, as well as text feature hunts and connection stems. These are great because they take very little prep and the students control the level of text and choice of book.

Phew! That's a lot! But, I want to also show you how I manage it all! Each student receives a four pocket folder, two folders stapled back to back. I keep them separated into a boys basket and a girls basket, only to save time when they are going to get their folders. 


The students have a menu where they write their center for the day. They start at a center that I assign, and rotate daily. They complete the center and write what they did on this menu. Then if there is still time, they can move to a center of their choice.

We have an hour a day for our reading groups. I don't like having students trying to do their read to self time when there are other students on centers. I feel like it's too distracting. So, I break my hour into three chunks. Students are working on the same thing at the same time which helps to minimize distractions and off task behaviors.

This is what I put on the board while they are working. I have students names listed under each center. I rotate these each day so they they are at least completing one of each center a week, almost twice a week. But, for most of my students, they get done with at least two centers a day. I also have students who like to do all three centers in one day, so when we move onto partner reading, iPads and computers, they can choose to keep working on their center.

Finally, in each folder I put a sticky note. This tells the student what level of fluency phrases or poem they should be working on and what level of quick read. This helps to ensure that they are working at their independent level.

So there you have it! While it seems like a lot, once you have everything organized, they really run themselves. You also get a lot of engagement because the students aren't getting frustrated with work that is too hard or too easy. They have a little bit of choice at each center and that also helps to keep students engaged.

I hope that you find this helpful in your classroom as well! You will be amazed at the amount of learning, focus and engagement you will get from your students when you differentiate their centers!

I hope you all have a fabulous week and Thanksgiving break!!


  1. Where do you get the expression cards?

    1. Hi Lori! I got these expression cards from Margo Southall's book, Differentiated Literacy Centers. It's a great book! Great resource for differentiating centers.
      Have a great day!

  2. Where do you get the leveled poems? By the way, I love this post. I'm planning to incorporate some of these ideas into our literacy centers.

    1. Hi Jennifer! The poems that I use aren't leveled to a specific level. I just search Pinterest and find a variety. Most of the poems that I use are freebies. There are so many great links on Pinterest, so check there. The leveled passages that we use are leveled according to Fountas and Pinnell. Those you can find in our Teachers Pay Teachers store, 2 Literacy Teachers.

      Good luck! I love these centers and they have totally changed my reading block. I hope they work out great for you!! :)


  3. Where did you get your phrases, or did you just copy examples from leveled texts? Would you be able to show some examples? I am loving the way the centers cover what is truly important and aren't just another busy activity. Thanks for your wonderful ideas!

    1. Hello:)
      These phrases are the Fry phrases. I just typed them into a table. Then copied and sliced and ringed them in the corner. Easy! These centers have been a life saver and they are SO easy to manage. I'm glad these ideas are helpful!

      I hope you're having a great summer!
      Lindsey :)
      2 Literacy Teachers