Literacy Activities for Small Group Centers

When you plan for literacy activities at small group centers, you typically want your students to work independently or in small groups while you, the teacher, work with small groups or individual students.  You may be teaching guided reading groups, giving assessments, or carrying out individual interventions.  Regardless of the activity, you want the rest of the class to stay engaged in learning. To accomplish this,  you will need some fun and exciting activities to put out that are as educational as they are entertaining.

Provided with engaging and developmentally appropriate literacy center activities, kids tend to stay more focused as they work without direct support from the teacher.  The teacher is then able to focus on providing small group instruction with minimal interruption.

The following literacy activities are designed to keep everyone engaged in their small-group activities.

Rainbow Writing.  Students can rainbow write to practice writing letters, words, and names.  To prepare for a rainbow writing activity, write each student’s name on a large strip of white poster-board or construction paper with a marker.  Laminate each name strip.  Once the names are laminated, your students can use dry erase markers to trace over the names you wrote.   To achieve the”rainbow writing” result, I ask them to use  3 or more colors and trace over their names a few times.  The dry erase markers will easily wipe off the laminated paper with an eraser or tissue.  When students can write their name independently, they can flip over the laminated poster-board and rainbow write their names on their own without the written name to trace over.


Uppercase Lowercase SortUppercase/ Lowercase Letter Sort.
 Here is a simple uppercase/ lowercase letter sort activity for kindergarten. Simply print out the PDF and let your students cut out the letters and glue them to the appropriate uppercase or lowercase column.  Download the Uppercase/ Lowercase Sort Activity PDF from TeachersPayTeachers.com

Play-Doh Names. Prepare the names as you would for rainbow writing, writing names on a large strip of poster-board and laminating them.  You can also use the same laminated paper names that you used for the rainbow writing activity above.  Give each kid a zip-lock bag of play-doh and tell them to cover their written names with it. As students become more familiar with their names, they can turn their laminated name strip paper over to the blank side and form the letters in their names with play-doh without written support.

Play-Doh Sight Words.  Students use play-doh to form letters and sight words.  Either write each sight word on a piece of paper and laminate it, or supply students with blank laminated construction paper and give them a list of sight words to use as a guide as they create their own play-doh sight words.

Cut Up Sentence Strip Names.  Students write their name on a sentence strip and then cut it into pieces.  Then students mix up the pieces and try to put their “puzzle” back together. Your kids can store sentence strip puzzles in a zip-lock bag and put it together again and again.

Name Puzzles.
Blank Name Puzzle TemplatesPrint this blank name puzzle template on card-stock. Give each student a puzzle template.  Students write their name on the puzzle and then cut along the solid lines to separate the puzzle pieces. Give each student a plastic bag to keep their puzzle in so they can work on it later in class or at home.

Click here to download the blank name puzzle template (2 puzzles per page) or click on the thumbnail above right.

8. Sight Word Puzzles.

Print the blank name puzzle template on card-stock. Give each student a puzzle template.  Students write a sight word each puzzle and cut along the solid lines to separate the puzzle pieces. Give each student a plastic bag to keep their sight word puzzle in so they can work on it later.

9. Assemble Individual Work Baskets for Each Student. Keep small baskets in each student’s cubby where they can store their name puzzles and take them out during literacy centers. Add small easy readers, magnetic letters, and other independent activities that they can work on during quiet time or during Daily 5.

10. Sight Word Search and Find with Old Magazines. Place a list of sight words, magazines, scissors, and a tray at the table.  You can reuse a Styrofoam lunch tray that has been cleaned and sanitized.  Instruct students to search for and cut out sight words from the magazines and have them place what they find in the tray. You can use these cut out magazine sight words later for a different literacy center.

11. Magazine Letter Hunt This activity is similar to the one above, except students search for a specific letter for this activity.  Specify the letter or letters they will be looking for by cutting out a large letter ahead of time and taping  it to the tray.  When they find one of the specified letters in the magazine, they can cut it out and place it in the corresponding tray.

12. Sight Word Scavenger Hunt.  You can use the sight words that students cut out and collected from the sight word search and find with old magazines activity.  Glue sight words to construction paper and cut around them so they are a little more sturdy.  You might even want to laminate them.  Place these sight words in a tray along with some other words. Give each student a tray, or have students pair up so there are two students looking for sight words in the same tray.  Students search through the sight words cross each one off the list once it has been found.  Then they place the sight word back in the tray.   Kids search for the sight words until they have crossed off all sight words on the list.  Once they have found all the sight words, kids can try to make sentences by putting together the words in the tray.

13. Sensory Table Scavenger Hunt. Do you have a sensory table? If so, throw some letters or sight words into a sensory table filled with beans or rice and letting the kids search for them.  For this activity, use magnetic letters,  or laminated letters or sight words that are printed on paper or card-stock.  Then, print out a list of all the letters or sight words. Students say each letter or sight word and then check it off their list once they find it.  Students then return the letter or sight word to the sensory table. Challenge each student to find and cross off as many letters or sight words as they can.

14. Go Fishing for Letters.

letter fishing activityIf you have a sensory table, you can also play Fishing for Letters.  Place a bunch of magnetic letters in the sensory table along with some plastic fish or pom-poms.  You can use pre-made magnetic fishing rods for kids, such as this set from Lakeshore Learning: Magnetic Fishing Playset.  This set also comes with plastic fish that you can have in the sensory table with the letters.  If you prefer, you can make your own fishing rods by attaching a magnet to a piece of yarn or cord and tying it to a stick or plastic rod. Kids have so much fun “fishing” for the letters.  When they “catch” a letter, they can call out, “A on!” or “X on!” just like they would say, “fish on!” if they were real fishermen!  Once they “catch” a letter, have them place it in a bucket. This way, kids can keep track of the letters they have “caught”.  Kids absolutely love this activity and it gives them lots of practice with letter identification in a very fun and engaging way!

15. Mini-Alphabet Books.

mini alphabet book templateKids can create their own mini alphabet books and draw pictures of things that begin with each letter on it’s corresponding page. You will need 3 pieces of plain white copy paper and the Mini Alphabet Book Printable Template.  Fold 3 pieces of white copy paper long ways (hot dog style) and cut it in half  to make 6 pieces.  Fold these in half to make the inside pages of this small book.

Download and print the Mini Alphabet Book Printable Template and assemble the book so that the cover is on the outside and the alphabet chart is on the first page. Staple the pages together to make a book.  Make one of these for each student.  Gather alphabet books from the classroom library so that children can to “do research” on each letter and find pictures and words of different things that begin with each letter.  Kids write the letters in alphabetical order, and draw a picture of things that begin with that letter on each page of their mini alphabet books.  Have students fill up their book with lots of words and pictures. This activity will most likely take longer than one block of literacy centers to finish. It is a great activity to work on over a few day, or you can send it home and have parents work on it with their kids.

16. Pokey Pin Sight Words

For this literacy center activity, kids will create sight words by poking push pins through paper so that the sight words can be seen when light shines through the holes. You can hang these up on a window and let the sunlight shine through to reveal the sight words. It is a good activity to help students practice their fine motor skills too. Although the pins could possibly poke the kids, in my experience, my kindergartners have always been extremely careful not to poke themselves during this activity.  Even so, you know your kids best, so only let them do this activity if you know they will be careful and responsible with the push pins.

Pokey Pins

Source: MrsMinersMonkeyBusiness.com

Materials

Directions

Prepare each sight word that will be poked with a pin.  Place a 3 x 5 inch piece of black construction paper under a 3 x 5 piece of white paper with a sight word printed or written on it. Tape the two pieces together with a small piece of clear tape.  Do this for each sight word.

Place these poke-ready sight word papers in a basket in the middle of the table, words facing up.  Place a small cup of push pins next to the basket.

Students choose one push pin from the cup of push pins and one card with a sight word on it.  Students place the sight word card on their Styrofoam tray in front of them.  Carefully, students poke through the paper, poking just along the letters, and making sure to push all the way through so that the pin works through both pieces of paper and in to the Styrofoam.

Students cut through the tape that is connecting the two pieces of paper in order to separate the black construction paper, from the written sight word.  Have students place completed pokey pin sight words in a plastic bag.

Tape the pokey pin words to a window in the classroom so that words are visible when light shines through the holes. You can also send the pokey pin sight words home with a note so that parents can put the pokey pin sight words up in a window at home.

Free Literacy Centers on TeachersPayTeachers.com

The next few literacy center activities are available for free download on TeachersPayTeachers.com.  Teachers Pay Teachers is an invaluable resource for teachers, with thousands of free and inexpensive literacy activities for students in grades pre-k-12.  All the activities on TeachersPayTeachers.com are created by teachers for teachers.  You do need to create a free account to download resources from TeachersPayTeachers.com but it is definitely worth the few minutes it takes to sign up. If you are a teacher and don’t have a TPT account already, you really need to sign up – like now!  In addition to gaining access to tons of great teaching resources, you can also share your own teaching resources as freebies or paid products. The next few resources on this list are TPT products that have been made available for free, by generous individuals in order to share their great ideas with people like us!

17. Sight Words Football (TPT Free Download)

football-sight-wordsStudents can play this football game for a super sporty and fun literacy center designed to give kids practice with 40 beginning sight words. This free download includes a printable game board that resembles a football field, 40 beginning sight words written on little footballs, a printable dice template that you can put together, and instructions for playing the game.  Students get into teams and roll the dice to move forward, reading sight words as they go.  Correctly read sight words allow a student to move closer and closer to the goal, until they get a “touchdown”.  The team with the most touchdowns wins the game.  Students keep track of their scores on the scoreboard template, which is also included in the download. Download Sight Words Football Activity (link opens in a new tab).

18. Seasonal Word Cards (TPT Free Download)

writing and word work cards

Download and print these seasonal writing and word work cards to use for a variety of literacy centers activities in your kindergarten classroom. This download includes cards with beginning sight words, along with cards with pictures and words for different subjects, holidays, seasons, and themes.     These cards would be the perfect addition to your writing center and kids could refer to them during writing time, so that they find and spell certain words. They can also use these words while they are writing stories, cards, and lots more!

Students can use these colorful picture and word cards as a guide for putting words together with magnetic letters, writing words on white boards, sculpting words with play-doh, or stringing together words with letter beads.

Simply print the cards with a color printer, cut them apart, and add them to your literacy center.  You could also laminate the cards, punch a hole in the top,  and add a binder ring to create a useful word reference resource.

Download: Writing And Word Work Cards Freebie from TeachersPayTeachers.com

19. Highlight a Letter – Letter Identification Activity (TPT Freebie)

highlight a letter activityThis download includes 54 pages of letter worksheets for kindergartners.  Each page includes a focus letter that is written in a variety of different fonts. Other letters besides the focus letter also appear on the page.   Students look for and highlight each instance of the focus letter in the grid. Kids practice identifying and learning letters as they highlight the focus letter, and avoid writing on the other letters.

The highlighting activity is just one way to use these versatile worksheets though.  For each letter, there are two activity mats, one is just the letter grid, the other includes a letter grid and a handwriting practice activity.

The Highlight-A-Letter worksheets can also be used for kindergarten literacy center activities such as these:

  • Cut the letters apart and have students complete a letter sort, separating letters into two or three piles by letter name.
  • Have students sort the letters into upper case and lowercase piles.
  • Glue the letters into alphabet books (all A’s on one page, B’s on the next, etc.).
  • Have students put letters together to make sight words.
  • Place letters around the classroom and have a letter scavenger hunt.Letter D Worksheet Preview 2
  • Have students place the letters in alphabetical order.
  • Put letters in a brown paper bag. Students choose a letter and say a word that begins with that letter. They can also choose a letter and say a word that ends with that letter.
  • Lots of other fun and educational uses and activities.  I would love to know how you use this resource. Email me with your ideas or leave a comment below!

Download: Highlight a Letter, Letter Identification Activity from TeachersPayTeachers.com

20. Sight Word Work – Trace, Write, Find, Use, Build (TPT Freebie)

sight word practice activityThis amazine freebie includes 39 kindergarten sight word worksheets to give kids lots of practice with sight words.  Each worksheet includes tracing practice, writing practice, a cut and paste, sight word building activity, and a sentence strip where kids use the word in a sentence.  There are 39 pages.  39! for FREE! A STEAL! It’s unbelievable what people are willing to give away these days but I will take it!  Get this awesome freebie while you still can!

In addition to using this activity as a literacy center station, you can send these worksheets home as homework, use them as a filler for early finishers, or give a few copies of one page to struggling students, who will benefit from the repetition of doing the activity more than once.

These 39 Sight Words are included in this activity:
a, and, away, big, blue, can, come, down, find, for, funny, go, help, here, I, in, is, it, little, look, make, me, my, not, one, play, red, run, said, see, the, three, to, two, up, me, where, yellow, you.

Download: Sight Word Practice – Trace, Write, Find, Use, Build from TeachersPayTeachers.com

And those are just a few of the activities that are offered on TeachersPayTeachers.com.  There are many, many more free and cheap literacy activities on sites like TeachersPayTeachers.com, and you can find a ton of templates and printables for other subjects like math, science, social studies, music, and art

21. Dot the Alphabet –  Students can use an ink dotter to fill in these uppercase and lowercase letters

22. Trace the Uppercase Alphabet ~ Dotted uppercase letters on one page, ready to be printed and traced!

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Leprechaun Sight Words

For a fun and festive Saint Patrick’s Day Activity, kids fill these little paper leprechaun pots with gold coins printed with sight words.  We call this activity Leprechaun Sight Words because students write tiny words on the paper coins, as if they were wee little leprechaun.

leprechaun site words activity for kindergarten

To prepare for this activity, first make the little black paper cauldrons or pots.  You will need two cauldron shapes to make one leprechaun pot.

Fold a piece of black construction paper in half, and cut out a pot or cauldron shape.  By folding the paper, you can cut out multiple leprechaun pots at the same time and they will all be the same size.

Once you have the cauldron shapes cut out, take one and add a thin line of glue around the edge in a “C” shape, leaving the top part free of glue where the opening will be. Place another paper pot shape directly over the one with the glue on it.  The top part should open and the bottom part should be sealed so it will hold the paper coins.

leprechaun activities for kindergarten

You can laminate the black paper pots for extra durability and so they don’t tear when the kids are filling them. After laminating the paper pots, cut around them and across the top to re-open the pocket.  Repeat until you have one paper pot for each child.

For the gold coin pieces, use a circular paper punch to punch out the yellow circles. You will want to make a lot of these yellow circles, at least 20-30 for each student.  Put a handful of these paper coins into little cups to distribute to students at their tables. You can also mix in some Saint Patrick’s Day themed confetti. I think the confetti adds a little more fun and festivity to this activity and kids can put the confetti into their leprechaun pots too, as they fill them up with the leprechaun magic!

Print out lists of sight words to place on students’ tables.  Students will copy sight words from these lists onto their coins.

leprechaun site words activity

During the activity, pass out the cups with the coins and St. Patrick’s Day confetti.  Give each child one black leprechaun pot and tell them that they will be filling their magical leprechaun pots with golden sight word coins. Students write a sight word on each yellow circle and put their collection of “gold coins” into their leprechaun pots.

student writing sight words

This activity gets kids to write small letters and words, which is something they seem to need a lot of practice doing.  I’ve noticed that students in kindergarten often write using such big letters so I like how this activity gives them practice with writing smaller letters and words.

leprechaun sight words

Kids practice writing words inside the tiny circles as they work to fill their magical leprechaun pots with as many leprechaun sight words coins as they can.

open leprechaun pot

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How to Teach Letter Sounds to Young Children

learning imageLearning letters and letter sounds is an essential step for preschoolers and kindergartners as they begin their journey as young readers and writers.   This article will give you some ideas for how to teach letter sounds and letters to your children to help them build a strong foundation in early literacy skills.

To begin teaching letter sounds, start by introducing the letters. Talk about how letters have sounds, and letters have names.  I show animals such as cows, cats, pigs, etc, and we practice answering the question: Name? Cow! Sound? Moo!   I feel like this gets them in the mind frame for realizing that each letter has a sound and name and they are not the same. Again, I have found a lot of research that says kids are much more able to hold onto sound of letters if they also know the name.

I usually present 3 letters in a 4 day week. I do it at the end of the day, with a little build up such as “Ooooh, I have a new letter to show you. It is so exciting!…”etc. I show them the letter, and then show them what it is made of (I use handwriting without tears wording) For example, a B is one big line, and two small curves. A C is one large curve. A T is one big line and one small line. I draw the letter as I tell them the parts. I have them draw the letter in the air. I tell them the sound for the letter and show them the sign for it (I use the jolly phonics signs, but you can be creative and make up any movement to go along with each letter sound). We find it on the alphabet poster and I circle it with a dry erase marker. I add it to the letter chant.

The letter chant looks like this:

BB BBB

AA  AAA

TT   TTT

Etc. When you do the chant, you say name name, sound sound sound.  Always do the sign for the sound portion. I always keep the pointer and the chant in an accessible area, and I make a copy to put in house keeping so that they can teach the baby dolls.

So after I introduce the letter, I usually give them there own letter to take home. This can be done with a die cut (one year I got crazy and die cut, laminated and put a magnet on them…the kids LOVED them, but it was a lot of work) It can just be a 3 by 5 card with the letter written on it…but they seem to really like the cut out ones. I also put one at a time a large set of magnetic letters at the top of the board.

The next day (I use my entire morning ‘calendar’ time to teach letters, sounds and phonemic awareness. We work on patterns and math at other times of the day.)  The first thing I do is write with chalk the letter that they learned the day before on the sidewalks leading up to the school or classroom. I write it 20 or 30 times, very large…if you can, write it where they will step on it on the way to recess. Next, by their nametags, I put a letter mat on the ground with the letter they just learned (I usually have the most recent three letters they have learned, until I start looping and doing intervention…more on that later.)

We sing a welcome song, and then immediately review the letters we have learned. The first day, it is just one letter, say…the letter P. We find it on the alphabet poster…I say “Ooooh, a picture of a pig. Remember the sound for P is ‘p’, let’s see if pig starts with p. Let’s bounce pig: p-p-pig. Oooh, it does start with ‘p’!”  Well, we are going to sing the alphabet song and I can’t wait til we get to P!     I play a CD and we sing through the alphabet and I point to every single letter as we go. During this time, it is a good time to pre-introduce the letter that you will be teaching that afternoon. I do it like it is a secret and I sort of don’t want them to know. They love this!

I post the letters we have learned on large sheets of paper on the door we line up at. Before we go anywhere, I have them say the letters.

Then we do the alphabet chant. At the beginning of the year, that is it…I don’t start playing the games until I have introduced 12 or so letters.

Letter Games

Who has the A?  Pass out large magnetic letters. This game is typically not done until all letters are introduced. Give two or three letters to each child…according to their need or goal (if it is a child who has special needs, they might do best with the first letter of their name. If you already are doing interventions, give those children their goal letters) Have all of the letters written on the white board or magnetic chalkboard or filing cabinet IN the Same Size as the magnets!!! (or else it doesn’t work right!)  Start at the beginning and point at the written A and sing together “A A who has the A, who has the A today?” The person with the A will quickly come to the board and stick the A on the written A. Have the kids put their letters on the floor in front of themselves. They will end up helping each other and looking around to see who has the next letter. Go all the way through to Z, and if they start getting restless encourage them to go faster (and you can shorten the song to just ‘BB who has the B?’

Secret letter: I laminated an 8 by 11 sheet of red construction paper with a large black question mark on it. I tell them that they are going to guess my mystery letter behind the paper. I very obviously choose a letter and move it down on the board and cover it with the red paper. They have actually seen me do it, so it isn’t a mystery at all, but they love to think it is. The good thing about this game, is the ones who know the letter say it, and then the others know what it is. I ask them what they think the letter is and when they guess (I have never had them guess wrong!! If they do, correct them right away and then do this letter again in the game) I make a big show of revealing the letter and saying the letters name several times “You said that was a B? That is a B!”

Quiet/Loud: This is an alphabet poster game. Once all letters are introduced, I point to each letter in the alphabet and we say the first one loud and the second one quietly and so on. I don’t know why, but they love this game!

Jumping Beans: use only the letters you have introduced.  Write each letter on a green bean shaped piece of paper.  Draw some “jumping bean man” cartoons on 3 or 4 of the beans.  Show the beans one at a time and when the jumping bean man comes up, the kids have fun jumping up and down until you show the next letter.

Tracking data:

After two or three weeks, assess the letters and sounds you have taught. If after learning 6 letters and sounds, a child knows at least half…they might be on track. Check the missing sounds and letters in a week to see if they have gained them with the extra repetition. If a child knows none, or only one or two, this might be a sign of a problem. Watch them during instructional time. See if they are paying attention or not. Some students need to learn in smaller groups, some need to be taught one-on-one.

After about a month, if a student is deemed to be making inadequate progress they are pulled by an assistant during morning circle time. (my goal at the end of the year is 26 upper and lower case letters, 26 main sounds and several blends. This informs the pace at which I teach letters. Knowing 12 by Christmas break is typically not enough to reach this goal. I expect most students to know about 20 by break, and the rest of the year is reinforcing, and using the letters and sounds to begin blending (applying their knowledge!)

Pull out groups…make it fun, and rewarding. Use stickers or treats…most kids will want to be in the special group, they don’t realize it is remedial. Also, this requires stellar classroom management, because it leaves you with about 12 kids at circle time!! With no aide. Sooooo this may not work for some classes, or you might have to do the intervention groups during another time in the schedule.

Written by Cybil Holmes

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