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If you are sitting at your desk, scratching your head as you try to come up with ideas for literacy centers for your dual-language, upper elementary classroom, you are probably not alone. Dual language literacy centers don’t have to be difficult – and you don’t have to spend your entire weekend prepping them either. There is an easy and effective way to keep your students engaged during stations, even in a bilingual classroom.
Literacy stations… Some teachers love them, some hate them, most have to do them, and everyone needs some fresh new ideas from time to time. When done correctly, your dual language literacy centers should function like a well-oiled machine. You shouldn’t even have to tell your students what to do. But without the proper routines and procedures in place, and without appropriate activities that keep your students engaged, guided reading time can become the most dreaded time of the day.
Why are literacy centers important?
Before we talk about some great ideas for literacy center, we must discuss their importance in the upper elementary classroom. Literacy centers give students an opportunity to practice previously learned skills independently or with a partner. They also give you time to work with small groups of students to provide targeted instruction.
Without my dual language literacy centers, I can’t have small group instruction. It is essential that students be engaged in meaningful activities while I work with my small group. The word meaningful here is key! Giving your students “busy” work, instead of meaningful and engaging activities, is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. We will talk more about this in the next section.
How I came up with these ideas for literacy centers
I remember being a first-year teacher and trying to figure out how I was going to keep my students “busy” while I worked with my groups. I came up with easy, “busy” activities that should keep my students quiet and working independently. Boy, did that backfire! Keeping your students “busy” should never be the end goal. Keeping them engaged is the golden ticket to a successful guided reading block. And there is nothing less engaging than busy work.
I quickly learned that I needed to come up with dual language literacy centers that challenged and motivated my learners. They also needed to be able to complete these activities without my help. Google searches turned up some great ideas for literacy center, but they all required a lot of prep work on my part, and quite frankly, I didn’t have the time (and I still don’t!) That is when I had a brilliant idea (sorry for tooting my own kazoo here, but it is brilliant!) I came up with what I like to call “self-changing” stations. I know, I know… The name may need some work, but the idea is pure gold. Let me tell you why!
What are “self-changing” dual language literacy centers?
“Self-changing” centers, as the name suggests, are stations that change organically from day to day, and require little to no work from you once routines and procedures have been established. Instead, the choices students make every time they visit a certain station lead to the work always being different, even though you as the teacher did nothing to produce that change. Do I have your attention yet?
Over the years, I have come up with a number of “self-changing” literacy centers in the classroom. I used them in fourth grade, and now that I am in second grade, I plan to continue using most if not all of these ideas in my new classroom. I truly believe these ideas, with some tweaks, can easily be implemented in grades 2-6.
How do “self-changing” centers work?
“Self-changing” literacy centers work because students use their choice of text in each station. I don’t tell students what to read when they visit a station. Instead, I tell them what to do with the text they chose. This means that, even if they visit the same stations every day (which they don’t), they would be doing something new every single time because the text changes every single time. And since they are responsible for choosing the text, I don’t have to worry about anything. I am free to focus solely on my small group instruction.
How to manage behavior during literacy centers
When you implement literacy centers in the classroom that are engaging for students, they are much more likely to actually complete the work. So the first thing I do to make sure my students are working is to come up with activities they want to do. If I begin to notice that one of my centers is no longer engaging for my students, I make changes. Other than that, very little changes throughout the year. I am always brainstorming fresh new ideas for literacy centers, so if my students need a change, I am ready.
If students are still struggling to stay focused or complete their work, there are other classroom management strategies that you can employ. My favorite is the reflection sheet. I first heard about this from Anna DiGilio in one of her YouTube videos. I love this for upper elementary students!
This is how it works. If a student is off-task during station time, I give them a warning. If the behavior continues, I ask that student to visit the reflection station. At the reflection station, I have copies of the reflection sheet. This is a simple sheet in which the student will describe what he was doing in stations, and why that was not appropriate.
Once the student is done writing his reflection, he brings it to me. When I am done working with my groups, I read his reflection. If the reflection is an accurate description of what happened, I sign it. If not, we have a conversation about what happened. It is possible that I misinterpreted the situation. It is also possible that the student is not being 100% truthful. Once we have discussed the situation, I add a note to the parents and attach it to the reflection page if necessary.
This strategy is simple to implement and because the sheets go home at the end of the day, students take it very seriously. The best part is that students have to think about what they were doing, and what they should have been doing instead. We want students to take ownership of their behavior.
Of course, you must model and practice this station with your students. Whenever I introduce a station, we spend some time practicing and talking about what that station should look like and sound like. Students know the expectations! Therefore, they know when they are not meeting them.
Dual language literacy centers and rigor
If you are worried that students won’t be challenged enough during literacy stations, you can take a deep breath now. Just because you don’t control the text they read does not mean that it is not rigorous. Part of the process of practicing for this independent work includes teaching students to find “just right” text. In addition, you can always offer some reading choices, but remember to make it easy on yourself. You won’t always be there to tell your students what they should or should not read. Teaching them to choose appropriate texts is part of our job as teachers.
Furthermore, you can make sure the work is rigorous without controlling the text. Choose activities that require deep thinking (think of Bloom’s taxonomy! We want to lead our students towards higher-order thinking as much as possible!)
Some of my best ideas for literacy centers…
I know, I know! This seems like an obvious one, but it is always shocking to me when I hear teachers say they don’t have independent reading time as one of their dual language literacy centers. Also, I believe independent reading should be a “no strings attached” activity. By that, I mean that students should not be required to complete any responses or reading logs. In my dual language classroom, I do require students to read according to the language of the day. That is the only stipulation for independent reading. Making sure that I have a variety of Spanish books available in my library helped me make sure that everyone could find something they could read on their own.
Fluency Reading Station
This is one of my favorite ideas for literacy centers! I first heard of fluency reading stations during a technology training, and I was immediately hooked! For this, I like to use Seesaw. Seesaw is an amazing classroom app that allows students to create a digital portfolio of their work, and it is free! I love Seesaw because it is so easy to use! You can have a designated recording station in your classroom, or you can teach your students to take what they need to their desks and work from there. Either way is fine! It just has to work for your class. I personally have my students work on their desks.
In my classroom, my students use a milk crate laying on its side. They rest the iPad on it. I teach them to make sure the camera is in one of the openings in the milk crate, so they can record with it. Then, they place the book they are reading “under” the iPad and hit record. Voila! This station is a great way to get students excited about reading in their second language, too. In my dual language classroom, my students must read in Spanish whenever they visit this station. They love every minute of it!
Reading Games Station
This center is always a hit! It requires a little bit of work up front, but once it is set up, I don’t have to change it at all throughout the year. I have a variety of games with open-ended questions for every genre.
Students choose what they want to read with a partner (any short text would do – think poems, picture books, NewsELA articles, stories from the textbook adoption…) Once they are done reading, students play the game and answer questions about the text. Game options include board games, tic-tac-toe games, Jenga…
Games always follow the language of instruction. I have the same games available in English and Spanish. This means that once students know the rules, they can play them over and over again without a problem. I don’t have to teach them how to play a new game every few weeks, which takes so much time away from my groups and causes all kinds of interruptions.
This is, without a doubt, the easiest center to implement, and students love it! Whether you have desktops, laptops, or iPads available, students can read online using a plethora of websites. My favorite apps/websites for my dual language students were Raz-Kids and Epic.
Raz-Kids is a paid subscription, but we are lucky enough to have access to it in my district. There are thousands of books in English and Spanish that students can read and listen to at the same time. The program will even test students’ reading levels and offer books in their Lexile. If you are a bilingual teacher, and your district has not purchased Raz-Kids yet, I would highly suggest you bring this up to one of your curriculum specialists or your principal.
Epic is my favorite FREE reading website! It has a library of thousands of children’s books. Most books are in English, but they have a very decent selection of books in Spanish. Epic is completely free for teachers and very easy to set up, but there is a monthly charge if students want to use it at home. I have recommended this in the past to some of my parents who were struggling to get their students to read at home, and they said it was a game-changer.
Reading response station
I have tried several different things over the years when it comes to establishing a reading response station in my dual language classroom, and I feel like I finally have it right. About two years ago, I created these reading response menus in Spanish. Suddenly, this station became so much easier to manage and much more engaging for my students.
Every two weeks, I put out a new reading response menu. “By putting it out” I mean that I make enough copies for all my students and place the copies in a bin somewhere in the room. Students know to pick up a new menu every time they visit the reading response station.
Each menu has nine response options for students to choose from. Three responses are for fiction only, three are for nonfiction only, and the last three can work with any text. Students choose the text they want to use and the response they want to complete. You can have students complete the responses in a composition notebook or on the back of the menu.
For this station to run smoothly, it is important to have a few lessons on teaching students how to choose the best reading response depending on the text they are reading, and how far along they are in the text. For example, if a student just began reading a new fiction book, he may not know what the problem is yet. Therefore, choosing that as a reading response would not be the best choice today. Luckily, the menus offer a nice combination of options, so students will always be able to find something they can do, no matter what text they use or how far along they are in their reading.
We also practice as a class how to complete an in-depth reading response citing evidence from the text. When I first introduce this station, we practice writing a couple of responses using one of our read-alouds. Modeling is essential, especially if your students have no experience with crafting a reading response.
In my dual language classroom, I have made this a Spanish-only station, regardless of the language of instruction. This station gives my students an opportunity to practice writing in Spanish without feeling too overwhelmed because they have the text in their hands to guide them.
My biggest secret!!!
No matter which of these ideas for literacy centers you choose to try, remember that practicing and modeling what students are supposed to do is crucial for success.
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT throw your students into these dual language literacy centers without taking some time to explain and model exactly what they are supposed to be doing.
I take several weeks introducing each station and practicing before I launch my small groups. It may sound like a waste of time, but I assure you IT IS NOT! It will save SO MUCH TIME in the future when you don’t have to stop your small group instruction every few minutes to answer questions or manage behavior. Remember, high engagement equals fewer behavior issues.
There you have it…
…my best tips and ideas for literacy centers in any dual language classroom. These dual language literacy centers will keep your students engaged and learning. Which station are you dying to try with your students?
See ya next time!