Implementing Differentiated Literacy Centers or Work Stations

What’s Different About Differentiated Literacy Centers?

  • Groups of students work on tasks that target their data-based literacy goals.
  • Center tasks directly support the skills and strategies being taught in small-group lessons.
  • Tasks are differentiated in complexity. For example, groups of students may work on the same strategy, but at different levels of challenge.
  • Materials are also differentiated. At the comprehension center students practice their reading goal (teaching point in small-group lesson) with text at their independent reading level. At the word study center each group works with materials at the appropriate level of complexity of letter-sound relationships or word patterns based upon assessment.
  • This is made both sustainable and doable by using ongoing formats throughout the year. Teachers will not need to continuously create new center activities! (see Six-Step Guide)

Six-Step Guide to Implementation

1. VARY THE LEVEL OF CHALLENGE AND LABEL THE TASKS:

  • Provide a balance of leveled and multilevel tasks. I provide one easier and one more challenging task together with one or more multilevel tasks that everyone can complete based upon a whole class lesson (read-aloud, shared reading or vocabulary lesson) at each center.
  • Color-code tasks by level of challenge using green (beginner), yellow (intermediate) and red (advanced) stickers or use the number of stickers to indicate the level of challenge. I use a blue sticker to indicate the multilevel tasks.
  • You can copy the Tic Tac Toe menus for students to keep in plastic sleeves in their notebook or paste in their spiral notebook.

2. PROGRAM STUDENT MENUS & PROVIDE NOTEBOOKS:

  • Provide each student with a menu that lists the number of tasks and the level of challenge they will work on at each center. This menu may be in place for a number of weeks, depending on the rate of student progress in each skill/strategy area (comprehension, fluency, word study and writing).
  • You may also record students’ reading levels to support them in selecting independent level text at the Comprehension Center.

  • Students store these in pocket folders along with incomplete work.
  • To record their work at the comprehension center, each student uses the same reading response notebook they use in class lessons, so they have completed examples of recording formats to refer to at the center.
  • At the word study center students also use the same notebook for lessons and center work so that examples of recording formats are at their fingertips.

3. USE PHOTOS AND PICTURE CUES TO MAKE STEP-BY-STEP POSTERS:

  • Provide photos and picture cues that clearly depict the expectations.
  • You can make your own posters or task cards using student photographs and display at the center location or in the portable bin labeled for that center.
  • Take the photos while one or two students model the task for the class.

(Coding Bookmark in Differentiated Small-Group Reading Lessons, Southall, 2009; 16 Step-by-Step, Picture-Cued Word Study Task Cards in Differentiating Reading Instruction for Success with RtI, Southall, Scholastic)

4. KEEP IT SIMPLE WITH A SET OF WEEKLY CORE TASKS:

Select a set of core practice tasks for comprehension, word study, fluency and writing to streamline your planning and reduce preparation time.

  • At the comprehension center, provide a strategy-based read-and-respond task such as the Tic Tac Toe menus in #1. The strategy varies, and so do the texts students read, but the reading and responding formats are consistent, so students know how to record the response in their notebook.
  • At the word study center, there is always a set of core word sort tasks and high frequency word tasks that all students complete using the words their group is currently studying (see Tic Tac Look-and-Say menu example).
  • A core task at the fluency center includes the Tic Tac Poems menu (see example with #1).
  • My favorite ‘lifesaver’ at the writing center writing is the Story Builder, which includes story elements from class read-alouds for students to mix and match and construct their own stories (see example). This is added to continuously throughout the year. The story elements can be picture-cued in a rebus format so they are accessible to all students (see Silly Sentences example).

(from Differentiated Literacy Centers, Scholastic)

(See Word Study Independent Practice Rotation Icons in Differentiating Reading Instruction for Success with RtI by Southall, 2011, Scholastic)

5. AVOID THE DREADED ‘I’M DONE’ WITH A CHOICE BOARD:

  • Create an engaging choice board menu for fast finishers.
  • Display a choice board of sustainable, low-prep tasks every student can do when they have completed all the tasks at the center. For example, ongoing projects and class author studies.

(Choice Board Icons with accompanying tasks are in Southall, 2011, Scholastic)

Core tasks can include one task from each reading component that students must complete each week.

6. CONNECT THE INDEPENDENT PRACTICE TASKS TO SMALL-GROUP LESSONS:

  • For students to value center work and maintain motivation, it is essential that they see the purpose – how the practice tasks will help them grow as a reader and writer.
  • During the last section of your lesson in which you review the teaching point, show students the link between what they are learning together in small-group lessons and tasks they will perform at the center.
  • Verbally reaffirm the importance of having time to practice their comprehension, fluency or word-solving strategy goal on their own. This supports the transfer of skills and strategies from lessons to independent application.
  • Review student work (e.g. reading response notebooks, word study notebooks) and provide feedback during small group lessons and one-to-one conferences. This also establishes accountability and relevance for center work.

Students use the strategy bookmark and retelling cards in small group lessons (Differentiated Small-Group Reading Lessons, Southall, 2009).

Students use the retelling cube with the cards and a variety of graphic organizers at the center (Southall, 2011).

With years of experience as a classroom teacher, special education resource teacher, reading specialist and literacy coach to guide her, Margo now enjoys her role as an educational consultant with school districts across the United States and Canada. Margo's books and training are designed to support teachers in developing highly effective, differentiated literacy programs.

Copyright 2007-2009 Margo Southall - Developed by GoLogo