Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Literacy Center Groupings

How to Group Literacy Center Students

Literacy Center Groupings

Teachers tend to be ardent democrats (lower case d). Whether Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, we all value equal opportunity and responsibility. Every one of our students deserves the same, fair shot at the American Dream and education is the ticket. Teachers who resonate deeply with these values tend to favor grade level Standards-based literacy centers (or stations if you wish).

However, no matter where we teach… in the cornfields of Iowa, in the multiplicity of languages that is Los Angeles, or the heart of inter city Chicago… we all teach to diverse student populations. Whether diverse by culture, language, socio-economic status, urban, suburban, or rural status, and so forth, every student is a snowflake. Teachers who identify their core values with diversity tend to favor differentiated Standards-based literacy centers.

Of course, many of us lean toward one of the ideals, but mix the two. However, let’s explore the two ideals a bit more in detail before discussing mixed approaches to literacy center groupings.

Grade Level Standards-based Literacy Centers

Some teachers believe in the value of sameness. Each student should be afforded an equal opportunity to access the Common Core Standards-based curriculum. Separate is inherently unequal Groupings according to perceived differences means that students will always miss out on something. For example, students pulled out to work on their phonics with the special education teacher will miss out on the “core curriculum” during the literacy block. Education is always reductive. Teachers would like to see learning opportunities as being both-and, but in reality they become either-or.

With regard to instruction, it would not be fair to characterize these teachers as all about direct, whole-class instruction for 100% of the instructional day. Teachers with this sameness philosophy often see the instructional value of small groups for both content and process learning. These teachers see literacy centers as helpful means to practice the gradual release of responsibility in order to promote independence in learning the same content. “Using this mode of instruction, teachers gradually release the responsibility for a task to students through four components: demonstration, shared demonstration, guided practice, and independent practice” (Fisher & Frey, 2008).

For example, teachers who value sameness might use a centers approach in which students would be grouped heterogeneously to rotate via either free choice or guided choice to each of the same centers, say to reading, writing, language conventions, and vocabulary centers in which they would work together collaboratively to complete the same work on grade level Standards-based lessons or activities.

Differentiated Standards-based Literacy Centers

Other teachers believe in the value of differences. These teachers would argue that the only way to access the Common Core Standards-based curriculum is through differentiated instruction according to the individual needs of individual students. Only when learning opportunities are truly differentiated will equality be achieved in the classroom. Because students have different abilities and challenges, they will learn best when accommodations are made, instead of ignored. In response to the the either-or conclusion reached by teachers adopting the sameness point of view, teachers valuing differences as an instructional approach might argue that the sameness instructional philosophy results in neither-nor.

With regard to instruction, it would not be fair to characterize these differences teachers as less rigorous in their expectations of student achievement. Plus, it would be unfair to assume that these teachers are less devoted to Standards-based instruction. The Common Core State Standards emphasize both linear and cyclical instruction. The authors explicitly leave the issue of remediation up to teachers, administrators and district personnel. In Appendix A, the Common Core authors state, “Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms” (

For example, teachers who value differences might use a centers approach in which students would be grouped homogeneously by specific criteria, say reading levels, to rotate via either free choice or guided choice to different content or skill-focused centers. The teacher might run five different guided reading groups during centers, have a center set up for multiplication practice for students who need it, have a center set up for remedial writing skills, etc.

Instruction in the Real World for Your Classroom

Because teachers live in the both the ideal and real worlds, we compromise. Many teachers of both sameness and differences educational value sets form both heterogeneous and homogeneous groupings in their literacy centers.

There are instructionally sound reasons for doing so. If half of your students need phonics instruction, according to the results of diagnostic assessments, but half don’t, it would be educational malpractice to either force all students to rotate to a Phonics Literacy Center and work on learning diphthongs. Sameness doesn’t make sense here. However, if all your students need to learn the Six Steps to Active Listening study skill, it would be crazy to group “bluebirds” and “redbirds” in ability groups for this skill that all need or deny remedial students these skill s because they can’t do anything else in life until they learn their diphthongs. Differences doesn’t make sense here.

Classroom management and behavioral considerations must supersede ideal groupings for literacy centers. Even if Robert and Juan have the same instructional needs and same reading levels, you know they can’t be in the same group. They would kills each other and, perhaps worse, make your life miserable.

Additionally, some literacy groupings need to be formed according to some good-old-common sense. Your non-English-speaking newcomer should participate in some, but not all of the literacy centers. The same will be the case for your three special education students and your two gifted and talented students who are pulled from your class on a regular basis.

Lastly, structural considerations will necessitate compromise between the ideals of homogeneous and homogeneous literacy centers. Check out the helpful seven group rotation models HERE.

We teachers always seem to have one foot in the ideal and another foot in the real. Don’t give up on literacy centers because  some compromises are necessary. My take is that some melding to the sameness and differences instructional approaches is possible. I believe students can catch up while they keep up with grade-level Standards. Literacy centers are a helpful instructional approach to achieving this end.

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centersAcademic Literacy Centers are designed to teach the grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core English Language Arts and Reading Standards with these six rigorous and well-planned 20-minute centers for grades : 1. Reading fluency and comprehension (includes YouTube modeled readings 2. Writing sentence revisions and literary response 3. Language Conventions grammar and mechanics lessons 4. Vocabulary 5. Spelling and syllabication 6. Study skills. This user-friendly program bundle includes lessons and activities designed for independent, collaborative centers with minimal prep and correction. Plus, biweekly unit tests and all literacy center signs and rotation options are provided.

Also check out our remedial literacy centers: Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

Grades 4-8 Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center for Remediation

Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center

Literacy Center for Phonics

The Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books









Mix and match with your own centers.

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Study Skills, Uncategorized, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,