Learning Centers: From Shared to Independent Practice
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What do the seven blind mice do on Sunday? On Monday? Students find out in this recurring lesson that uses independent literacy centers to help students become proficient in completing activities about the stories they read. Although this lesson uses Seven Blind Mice as an example, the framework is adaptable to almost any text. Students begin with a shared reading of the selected text. Then, in subsequent lessons, students are introduced to each type of learning center in which students are asked to read, listen, and write about the text, create lists of words that contain the same beginning sound as a word from the story, and assemble sentence strips about the story. Each learning center is modeled in a large-group setting, and students are given the opportunity to role-play or engage in guided practice before being expected to work independently.
Writing Center Response Worksheet: Students can use this sentence frame to help them write about activities they do on their favorite day of the week.
From Theory to Practice
- Instruction away from the teacher needs to be as powerful as instruction with the teacher.
- Learning centers are small areas within the classroom where students work alone or together to explore literacy activities while the teacher provides small-group reading instruction.
- Independent activities should create excitement about reading and writing and actually require students to interact with print while reading and writing.
- We need to set children up for success—the instructional activity must be within reach of the learner.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- Chart stand to hold chart paper or pocket chart
- Clipboards for read/write the room
- Multiple copies of Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young (Philomel Books, 1992)
- Pocket chart
- Sentence strips
- Tape recorder
- Taped version of the text selection
- Various pointers (purchased or hand-made)
Prepare for the lesson plan using the blank lesson plan outline/template. Because of the complexity of language in the text Seven Blind Mice, it may be a read-aloud rather than a true shared reading for the first couple of repetitions, depending on the level of your students. Develop your five-day lesson plan accordingly. As mentioned earlier, any book can be substituted and the same procedure followed to introduce the various learning centers. You would just need to design the centers to correlate with whatever text you select.
- Big Book center
Collect a variety of pointers. An easy one to make is simply a dowel cut to about 12" in length with a purchased eraser (the kind that fits on the end of a pencil) stuck on the end. Stir sticks that are not too pointed or made of glass also make good pointers, as do bubble wands. Provide highlighting tape or "wikki sticks" as well.
- Listening center
Gather five copies of the book (available through Scholastic), and have either an older student or an adult record the story on tape. An audio version of the story is also available through Scholastic. Remember to punch out the little tab on the tape to prevent students from recording over it.
- Writing center
Copy the Writing Center Response Worksheet on paper, similar in size to a Big Book. Be sure to photocopy at least one copy of the worksheet per student.
- Read/write the room center
Provide clipboards, paper, pens, markers, pencils, etc.
- Pocket chart center
Prepare individual strips listing each day of the week, each color mouse in the story, the ordinals "first" through "seventh," and what each mouse saw.
- Listen and participate in a shared reading experience
- Apply literacy skills within the context of shared reading and independent activities
- Develop the ability to work independently of the teacher
- Develop oral expression skills while sharing their experiences at the learning centers
- Develop and apply concepts of print through teacher modeling during shared reading and independent practice during the learning centers
Instruction & Activities
Follow the lesson plan outline that you developed (see lesson plan outline/template) for the actual shared reading portion of the lesson. On each day after the shared reading, a different learning center will be introduced to the whole group, modeled, and then practiced.
Day 1. Big Book center
After the shared reading, introduce the Big Book center by modeling appropriate behavior and practice in this center. Allow individual students to come up, choose a pointer, and lead a shared reading of the story. Show students how to properly hold the book and turn the pages. Have them locate any high-frequency words focused on earlier in the lesson. Explain that the Big Book is now a center they can visit during the designated center time. Encourage students to take turns using the pointers and highlighting tape, and to read to each other or conduct a shared reading of the story in small groups.
Day 2. Listening center
Following the shared reading, introduce the listening center. Model how to use the tape recorder properly. (It is often helpful to place a red sticker on the stop button and a green sticker on the go button.) Allow several students to practice and then demonstrate for the group. Role-play a few situations where conflict may arise (e.g., more than one child wants to push the button at a time, not enough books for everyone). Brainstorm solutions to these situations.
At this particular center, students will apply concepts of print skills, such as left to right, return sweep, etc., as they follow along with the taped version of the story. This independent practice center also scaffolds the emergent reader with the support of the text being read aloud.
Day 3. Writing center
After the shared reading, introduce the writing center by saying "Each of the mice visited the pond on a different day, didn't they? They each had a special day, and on that day they liked to visit the pond. Do you know my favorite day of the week? My favorite day is Sunday because I can go to my parents. What is your favorite day?" Engage students in a discussion, always asking them what they like to do on their favorite day. On chart paper write, "On Sunday, I can go to my parents." Have students read the sentence aloud together. Sketch an illustration to go along with the sentence. Ask each student to repeat his or her favorite day, while you write the sentence on chart paper helping to form it in the established pattern of "On ________, I can ___________." Use a think-aloud strategy as you write unfamiliar words and repeat the strategy several times.
Show students the blank Writing Center Response Worksheet with the writing prompt at the top. Explain that during center time they will have an opportunity to go to the writing center to each make a page for a class Big Book. Let them know that if they don't know how to spell a word they should write it as they think it should look. (Success will vary depending on how much prior work has been done on building strategies for solving unfamiliar words.) Invite students to also draw a picture to go along with their sentence. Depending on the level of your class, you may decide to have students work with partners rather than individually at this center.
Day 4. Read/write the room center
After the shared reading, have students look at the word Seven on the front cover of the book. Ask students to say the word together, and to tell you the beginning sound. Ask them to think of other words that begin with the same sound as seven and record the students' response on chart paper as they say the words together. Have students look around the room and find things in the room that begin with the same sound as seven. As each student finds an item, have him or her come up and write it on the chart paper. Repeat this exercise a few times.
Let students know that the read/write the room center is the same, except that they will record their words on a paper attached to a clipboard. Distribute the clipboards to a few students. As a class, choose another word from the book and have the students with the clipboards look around the room to find one item that begins with the same sound as the chosen word. Have them write the word on the clipboard paper, read the word to a friend, and then pass the clipboard to the friend. Repeat the procedure. This activity can now be a learning center.
Day 5. Pocket chart center
After the story has been reread, distribute the prepared sentence strips to students. Ask them to read their word aloud. Tell students that you are going to reconstruct the story together. "What happens first?" Through questioning and referring back to the book, develop an oral retelling of the story while putting the distributed sentence strips in order in the pocket chart. The final chart will look something like this:
Go over the pocket chart together orally. Tell students you are going to remove the strips, and they can put it back together in the pocket chart center.
Access the Madison Metropolitan School District: Concepts of Print for additional ideas on teaching students concepts of print.
Student Assessment / Reflections
The main form of assessment for this series of lessons is teacher observation and anecdotal notes about students' reading and writing behaviors and independent work skills while at the learning centers. Gather the class back together at the end of center time to talk about what they accomplished at the centers, how well they solved problems, how they behaved, etc. This class discussion will give you a lot of information and also assist students in developing self-monitoring skills. To assess students' understanding of concepts of print, rubrics and checklists are available at:
- Assessing the Student's Concepts About Print
- Concepts about Print Scale Assessment for Child Observation Project
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