Teaching with literacy centers provides students with opportunities to work and learn independently while providing teachers with time for small group instruction.   These pages are filled with ideas for independent literacy activities.  I have tried to include photos and links to helpful resources. 


Literacy centers differ from other learning centers because they focus on independent practice with reading, writing, and spelling. 


Literacy centers in the primary classroom target:


Word Work

Writing and Grammar


Literacy centers in the primary classroom:

Invite children to practice reading and writing.

Inspire children to explore and learn through self-discovery.

Demonstrate the purpose of reading and writing.

Encourage responsibility and independence.



Literacy centers in the early childhood classroom target:



Speaking and Listening

Fine Motor


Literacy Centers in the early childhood classroom:

Inspire children to explore reading and writing.

Invite children to gradually understand print concepts.

Encourage social interaction and oral language development.

Demonstrate the purpose and power of print.

Provide practice with real life experiences that require reading and writing. 


I call my literacy centers, "Literacy Boxes" because some years I will also implement a "center" or "workshop" time in my classroom that includes center activities from various disciplines.  Most of my literacy centers are stored inside clear plastic boxes that I purchased at Home Depot.  I printed labels for my boxes on the computer so that students could easily identify the activity.  Because reading and writing are the heart of language instruction, I choose to dedicate corners of my classroom to these centers.  I have a small table and two chairs that help create an inviting space for writing.  Hanging nearby is a pocket chart filled with all kinds of paper, adding machine tape, dictionaries, and more to help inspire students to write.  In another area, I have a large reading corner complete with a cozy reading beehive, organized library, reading buddies, and a bulletin board with examples of literature response choices. 

Classroom Library

Read in the Beehive

Students may choose a book from our classroom library to read in our beehive!  The bottom of our beehive is a plastic kiddie pool. The beehive is the result of some imagination and a lucky find.  I found the kiddie pool with a gazebo top at a local drugstore.  Then, my mom and I covered it with the yellow rubber material.  The material is the type used to stop rugs from slipping.  Inside are two body pillows, small pillows, and a variety of stuffed reading buddies and puppets. Students love to spend time in the hive!

Educating Parents

When using centers in your classroom, be sure to educate parents about how and what students are learning.  Center time may seem like "playtime" to our students.  However, as educators we know that students are practicing and developing important reading, writing, and spelling skills and growing socially and emotionally.  Here is a great poem to send home with parents on a back to school night to help explain the importance of centers:

There’s Nothing In My Bag Today

Author Unknown

Today I did math and science and I toasted bread,

I counted, measured and I used my eyes, ears and my head.

I added and subtracted and used magnets and blocks on the way

I learned about a rainbow and I learned how to weigh.

So please don’t ask me, “Is there anything in your bag today?”

For you see, I’m learning all about sharing as I play.

I learned to listen and speak clearly when I talk,

To wait my turn, and when inside, I learned I have to walk.

To put my thoughts into a phrase,

To guide a crayon through a maze.

To find my name and write it down,

To do it with a smile and not a frown.

To put my painting brush away.

So please don’t say, “Nothing in your bag today?”

I’ve learned about a snail and a worm.

Remembering how to take my turn.

I helped a friend when he was stuck,

Learned that water runs off a duck.

I looked at words from left to right,

Agreed to differ, not to fight.

So please don’t say,

“Did you only play?”


Literacy Center Activities!

Compound Word Work


Punctuation Station


Sticker Story


Clap a Word


Treasure Chest


Lace a Word


Letter Center

Spelling Box

Picture Stamps

Phonics Phones


Letter Sort


Build a Sentence

Build a Word



Magnetic Letters

Sight Words


Read the Room/ Write the Room

Classroom Library

More Classroom Centers

Sensational Centers in Small Spaces

Teacher Resources

Compound Word Work


This activity allows students to practice creating compound words.  I have a compound word pop-up book and a variety of compound word puzzles.  I created the puzzles by writing a compound word on an index card and then cutting it apart like a puzzle.    The word tiles came from Walmart several years ago. 

Compound Word Activity Sheet

Punctuation Station

The punctuation station is a great place to work with capitalization and punctuation.  I have a number of self-checking flip charts for the students to work on.  I also blow up a puncutation worksheet on the copy machine. Then, I provide beans for periods, elbow macaroni and beans for question marks, and cut up spaghetti noodles and beans for exclamation points.  You could also include some sentences to unscramble and punctuate or a copy of the sentence from your DOL work.  Try placing sentences in pocket charts. Then, use pompom balls and pipe cleaners as periods, question marks, and exclamation points. 


Sticker Story

This is a favorite literacy center!  I place a bunch of old stickers and a story form in the tub.  Students select 3-4 stickers to incorporate into their own illustration.  Then, the students write a 3-5 sentence story that coordinates with their stickers.  The kids never get tired of this activity!!!


Clap a Word

This box contains a pair of gardening gloves, a variety of picture cards, and a recording sheet.  Students put on the gloves and pick a card.  They say the word, clap it, and then write the word and record how many syllables are in the word.  This a fun activity!  Encourage students to write the vowels in red or highlight them with another color.

Clap a Word Activity Sheet

Treasure Chest

This is a very high interest center!  Inside the tub is a small treasure box.  I add 4-5 different items to the box.  Students take out the items and write the word for each item on a recording sheet. Then, they use the words to write complete sentences.  I change out the items as the kids tire of the old items. 

Lace a Word

This box contains alphabet letter beads.  I used to try and keep them in two containers, one for vowels and one for consonants, but the kids always mix them up!!  The kids string words on pipe cleaners and then record them on a report form.  I like to use pipe cleaners instead of yarn or string because it is stiff and easy for young fingers to work with.  Afterwards, students pick a couple words to use in sentences.  The original activity sheet was created by Cindy Gibson, a wonderful first grade teacher.  Thanks to Kate Chappell, I now have an activity sheet for you to download!  She saw this center online and created a matching activity sheet and emailed it to me. Thanks for sharing Kate!  Lace a Word


Letter Center

Students love to visit the letter center!  The tub contains all kinds of stationary and fun pens for writing letters or notes to friends, teachers, classroom pets, or family friends.  Students love to do this and it is great practice for improving writing fluency and mechanics. 

Weekly Reader Center

Don't throw away those old Weekly Readers or Scholastic News!  Laminate the big version if possible.  Then, students can visit the center to read one of the newspapers and respond to it.  Students can also use a marker to complete the activity on the back of the Weekly Reader. 

Weekly Reader Report

Spelling Box

This box contains the weekly spelling lists and a variety of materials to practice spelling the words.  There are letter tiles, magnetic letters, linking letters, and foam letters.  I also wrote letters on beans and mini-spoons and students love to use these to practice spelling words.  Students may also rainbow write their words using markers or crayons or pyramid spell their words.  In addition, students love to take and give buddy tests.  They either use the worksheet or a white board.  Buddy Test    Spelling Homework Contract


Picture Stamps

This box contains a set of rhyming stamps I purchased from Lakeshore.  Students may use them to create rebus stories. I try to keep the box supplied with itty bitty books for story creation.  The books are made of plain white paper that has been cut and folded to create a tiny book. Sometimes, I will have the students stamp a chart.  The chart might ask the student to identify nouns by person, place, or thing.  Another chart, might ask students to match rhyming words or beginning sounds.  Students can also create rhyming flip flap books or practice writing beginning or ending sounds to match various pictures. 




Phonics Phones


This box contains two phonics phones.  These are elbow shaped plastic plumbing pipes.  You could purchase various parts to create the phone, but the larger elbow shape works great!  The students use them to hear themselves read!  They love them and it helps keep the noise level down.

Letter Sort

This tub changes throughout the year.  In the beginning of the year, I fill it with foam letters and have students sort the letters by various characteristics.  Later, I use the tub for ABC order activities.  Basically, this is an alphabet  center designed for first graders!


Build a Sentence

This box contains plastic word tiles I purchased at Walmart.  Students get to make sentences with the tiles. Then, they write and illustrate two of the sentences they created.  I also have flip charts that I will add to the tubs.  The flip charts focus on capitalization and punctuation.  Sometimes, I will add scrambled sentences written on either sentence strips or index cards.  Students love working with a partner to put the sentences together.  I heard recently that teachers have experienced trouble finding the word tiles at Walmart.  So, here is a link to purchase some different manipulatives from Amazon:

Build A Word


This box contains phonics tiles purchased from Walmart.  Students use the tiles to build words with specific sounds.  I use a work sheet from Frank Schaffer that allows me to program specific sounds.  Students then use the tiles to build words using those sounds and record them on the worksheet.  My teacher friend Karen has  created custom worksheets for this box. Click on the link to download her worksheet!  Build a Word  This could also be a word family word work center where students could create new words using specific families.  Here are some resources from Amazon that would help set up an instant word work center.  Word work centers are great because a student can always re-visit this center to build new words or spell words with a new spelling focus. 


This box contains fine motor and handwriting practice activities.  Items range from handwriting practice worksheets to ziploc bags of finger-paint of hair gel to practice letter formation.  Sometimes I will fill the tub with salt or sand and allow students to practice writing letters.   Other activities include: creating tactile letters, using pipe cleaners, wikki sticks or playdoh to form letters, and watercolor handwriting.  I recently purchased alphabet stencils at Big Lots for $1.  There were three different stencils in the bag.

Magnetic Letters

This box contains a variety of small and large magnetic letters.  Students use the letters to build words on a metal filing cabinet in our classroom library.  This is a great center for building vocabulary.  I like to include lists of words that pertain to specific units.

Sight Words

This box contains activities for sight word review.  Students may use letter stamps to stamp words from the word wall.  The box also contains sight word cards and a fly swatter.  Students lay the cards on the floor and smack words as they read them.  From time to time, I will also include Sight Word Bingo or "Bunny Bowling."  I picked up a mini-bowling set at Easter last year.  I wrote a sight word on each bunny bowling pin with a sharpie marker.  Students read the words on the pins they knock down!  The Word Wall is a great resource for this center.  Students can practice words by choosing a cheer card and chanting and spelling words or they can play word wall bingo.

Listening Center

This box contains two inexpensive walkmans from Walmart.  I keep two or three different books with tapes in the box.  I use a larger box for this activity. Sterlite makes sweater boxes that are just the right size for books and worksheets!  There is also a picture of a student listening to the sound/spelling stories from Open Court on a walkman.  The kids love to look at the mini sound/spelling cards. The box also has foam letters for spelling words.

Listening Report Form


Read Around the Room / Write the Room

Students may choose a special pointer to read words around the classroom. They can write the words down on a paper on a mini-clipboard, hunt for words with special sounds, or wear silly glasses to read words on the word wall. 

Read the Room Report Form  Hunt for Sounds

Teacher Resources

If you are looking to learn more about how to set up centers, literacy activities, or independent work time, check out the following books listed below.  Debbie Diller's book Literacy Work Stations is very detailed in providing information on what to include in each center.  She gives great ideas on storage, management techniques, and some reproducible forms.  She has now written a new book, Practice with Purpose for students in grades 3-6!!!  It is finally catching on that students in upper grades need independent work opportunities as well!  Primary Literacy Centers is a great resource for fine tuning an existing center system or creating an entirely new one.  This book is filled with lots of reproducible report forms and helpful information for updating and creating new and engaging activities!  If you are struggling with management techniques, check out The Daily 5.  This new book has simple routines for setting up independent work time.  Their technique is wonderful for teachers who feel overwhelmed by the idea of incorporating centers.  It is also very helpful for setting up classroom time that gets children spending more time reading, writing, and spelling in the classroom. 

Click on the books to order them now!  If you purchase it directly through this link, you will help our classroom earn gift certificates to purchase books for our classroom library and other classroom resources!


I love these books!  These books contain full color pages that you just tear out and assemble to create high quality and engaging centers.  They make them for all grade levels and are a quick and easy way to set up independent learning activities!

This is book is so helpful for setting up centers fast!  The activities cover a wide variety of reading, and spelling skills.  They are simple to assemble!

Looking for a workshop on literacy centers?  Visit my workshops page and download a handout!

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© Mrs.McDowell

Updated 06/12

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