Sunday, November 17, 2013

Library Centers for Kindergarten & First Grade

Center Inspiration

After much debate at the end of last school year, I was able to get 10 extra minutes added on to each of my classes for this year boosting class library time from 35 minutes a week to 45 minutes a week for my fixed schedule.  For me, 35 minutes a week, just wasn't enough to pack in all the awesomeness I wanted to achieve.  It seemed like we would just be getting started into something great when it was time to go. I was thrilled to know that this year I was going to have the extra time to work with my classes on research skills and technology projects while working in more time to allow them to browse the shelves and look at books.  That being said, truth be told, I was completely freaked out about what to do with my kindergartners for 45 minutes.

Did I mention in my former life, I was a high school English teacher?  Four years ago, my first two weeks in an elementary library were a complete culture shock to me. I was used to walking into a room and just saying "get your notes out from yesterday".  Now all of the sudden, there were small little bodies all over the place; the expression "herding cats" suddenly had all new meaning to me.  I had to do weird stuff like clap my hands to get their attention and say things like "put your bubbles in".  (The only reason why I knew to do these things was because I called my cousin Megan, a preschool teacher, and she gave me the magic).  I figured out how to establish routines eventually, but have always struggled a bit with fully engaging the attention of the really young ones.  The prospect of adding ten additional minutes with them was, in short, daunting. 

At my previous school, where I had 45 minutes with older grades only, I had done a lot with centers, and they had worked like magic in keeping the kids moving and engaged. I was hoping that I would be able to introduce centers for my younger kids with as much success. I had been collecting ideas for Library Centers and Short Activities for quite a while on Pinterest, in the hopes that I would some day be able to implement centers again - or at the very least design some "I'm finished what can I do now" strategies, so I figured this was the perfect time to try to put it all to work. Check out the board below or find it on Pinterest [here]

Designing the Centers

As I was setting out to establish which centers to use, from previous experience, I knew it was going to have to be something easy to manage daily and the activities were going to have to be simple to explain and simple enough for students to be self-directed. 

Last year, I had read The Centered School Library by Cari Young, and found that I really  missed centers.  I loved the ideas in the book so much I suggested it to the other elementary TL's in my district for a book study this past summer.  I wish, when I was first getting started with centers a few years back I would have known about her blog.  There is no end to the creativity that Cari has and I would love to be a student in her library!  You can find Cari's blog [here] (the blog moved - her old blog was [here]). You will also find a link to purchase her book on her new site - please don't miss that book if you're just getting started with centers!  Cari is also an incredible resource on twitter, follow her [here].

For my own purposes, I wanted consistent themes to my centers to help establish routines with the little dudes, and I was stuck on what would be appropriate.  I sent out a plea on Twitter to Matt Gomez, a pretty inspiring Kindergarten teacher (follow him [here] and don't miss his blog [here]).  Thanks to his retweet and some great Twitter brainstorming, I was able to settle on these centers for kindergarten and first grade: Read, Retell, Write, Computers, Words, and Explore.  

Center Descriptions

My centers are pretty basic right now, but at their heart they align fairly easily to CCSS, and reinforce skills they're working on with their classroom teachers. 
  • Read - students check out their books and then have time to look at what they checked out or to look at magazines we subscribe to in the library.  I would eventually love to have a listening center associated with this center, but the kids have had such a great time just exploring their own books, that I haven't looked into ordering anything yet.
  • Retell - I bought some very small stuffed animals and for this center the kids can choose to retell a story they know together or they can practice reading and retelling what they read to the animal.  I mostly give them "challenges" like "retell the Three Little Pigs" or "retell a story about Halloween" or "retell the problem of the story we read last week".
  • Write - For this center, I requested a list of Sight Words from my kindergarten and first grade teachers and made portable Word Walls, which I discovered in the Scholastic post "A Kindergarten Writing Center in Action" by Sharon Taylor, which you can find [here].  In this center, the kids use their word wall, that has one page of sight words, and another "themed" page of words to write and draw pictures.  Currently the first graders are writing sentences about Fall, and the Kindergarten students are writing their favorite color word and drawing a picture of something that is that color.
  • Computers - Is admittedly a bit of a challenge.  Currently the kindergarten kids are practicing logging in and out of the computer - if they can successfully log in, then they get to choose a student appropriate link from the library web page.  I think it's good practice with logging in and out and using the library page - but it can be a source of frustration for the kids who have a hard time logging in, on the flip side, they're pretty motivated to make it happen, and I'm amazed at how much they are able to remember!
  • Words - In this center students practice with words.  Right now I'm getting my ideas from The Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) which you can find [here].  Specifically, I'm using the Vocabulary Word Knowledge for K-1 as inspiration for activities (found [here])  , but be sure to check out all the center activities which are linked [here].
  • Explore - Students in the Explore center are exposed to a number of different library resources that deal with a particular theme.  Currently the kids have a basket of "fall" themed books to choose from - I have a variety of things from football, to leaves to how to draw books, to poetry books they can explore.  This center is pretty open, and I think that I can potentially expand on the types of materials they have to explore in the future and would like to add a speaking component to the center.

Center Organization and Rotation

Center time really only lasts 15-20 minutes and coincides with student checkout time during their library session. I have all six centers stored in bins and expandable file folders in a "Materials" center in the library.  

Each student is assigned to a table, and I have center signs displayed in the library that I clip tables to weekly.  When the kids come in they immediately look to see which center they get to do.

I glued top-loading page protectors to the outside of legal sized, colored expandable file folders to slide directions into for the Write and Words centers.  First grade center work is located in red folders, and kindergarten is in blue.  This makes it easy for me to see who gets what. The folders are just big enough to fit portable word walls and paper students need to write.

To make it easier, I deliver all materials to students at their tables.  We have been doing this long enough now, that the kids are pretty good about cleaning things up themselves and returning it to the materials center.

At the beginning of library time, I spend usually two minutes telling kids which center their table will be working with and I give some quick directions for each.  Hearing these same directions each week, helps to establish the expectations and routines, which can be difficult because I only see them once a week.  For the centers that are a little more involved - like writing and words, I usually try to sit down with them for a few minutes to get them started.

Introducing Centers to Students

I didn't end up beginning centers with students until about a month into school this year.  By this time, the kids were already accustomed to using centers in their classrooms, so it really helped in making the introduction easier.  When I first introduced the centers, I showed students where to find the center signs ( I still point to those each week), where to find the actual center materials, and then I went over each of the center types.  For the first week, we spent the entire library time working with the center materials.  The next week, I showed them how the center for their table had changed, and we practiced again. It took us about 30 minutes to work with the center, clean up and then hear a story.  By the fourth week, things were really rolling and kids were getting right to work, completing their work and cleaning up on their own in 15 to 20 minutes.  The time investment in the beginning has really been worth it.


Transitions are pretty important for students.  To help with transitioning from center time to library lesson time, I use a lot of cues.  The most effective I have found is using Class Dojo (find it [here]) to not only monitor behavior during center time, but also to award points for students who clean up promptly.  Class Dojo has a built in timer, and at the end of center time, I set it and give students 1-2 minutes to clean up.  I always tell them, that they have 1 or 2 minutes "to get cleaned up and show me they are ready to learn."  They know that means to have everything put away and be sitting with their hands still and eyes on me by the time the buzzer goes off.  It's amazing!

Where I Hope to Go

In the future I would love to include more developed ideas like Cari Young has in her library.  I also would love to incorporate a Maker space where students can gain inspiration from library materials to create!  I also really want to incorporate more technology and make use of our computers better. Currently I only have access to iPads when other teachers aren't using them, so it isn't really practical for me to include them in my center plans.  I will for sure be advocating for more consistent access to iPads so that I can use eBooks in the centers, have QR codes that link students to verbal directions for their center, and design web-based or app-based lessons that help students practice important library and developmental skills.  Currently my 3-5 graders are working through some project based learning (see that post [here]), so there's no time for centers.  Later this year - we may see that center based learning will work for them.  My second graders are working through 9 different activities on an activity sheet, and when they are finished with those, I may begin more of a structured center experience with them - but right now they are really enjoying having the freedom to choose, and they are working so hard, I don't want to disrupt their motivation.

Do you do centers?  If so, how do yours work?



  1. Last year I was on a fixed schedule at a new-to-me school, and the kids had not been exposed to centers in the library, although I have used them for nearly 20 years. To get the students used to the idea, I let them choose their own centers for many months. This helped me to know which centers would be the most popular, and which centers might need a "boost" to motivate students to explore. The main centers I used for K-5: computers (with a pre-selected activity to match lesson/holiday -- I had 9 computers); Big Books w/ pointers; listening centers; yearbooks and magazines; I Spy books; Drawing books; Buddy reading in the castle; "free" reading -- browse and read anything in the library. The Big Book center was suprisingly popular. The K-2 LOVED pointing to the words and reading the books together. I ordered more big books based on that observation, including more nonfiction and older reader texts.

    1. Big Books! What a great idea - we have a collection in the back I didn't know what to do with...I might have to add those into our next rotation:)

  2. Hi Heidi, I'm a SLIS student interested in putting a mini-makerspace for coding into an elementary school library with a fixed schedule. I think blending in your centers approach should allow students time to check out books and do coding activities (even kindergarten). I hope this continues to work well for you. :)

  3. This is very informative post. I am so pleased to have these details here. I am also teaching in Phoenix kindergarten and I am also planning to organize library center for KG and first grade. It is really good idea to make kids interested in reading books of their choices.

  4. I loved how you are using centers in the library but I am interested in knowing what 9 activities you are using with your 2nd graders. Thanks, Sandi email:

  5. I miss your posts from when you were in the library:-) Came across this old one which was super helpful in building my own centers.

    quick question - you mentioned that your second graders are working on 9 activities before doing centers. Did you blog about those 9 activities? If so, can you share a link?

    1. I miss it too! For my work with 2nd graders we would do a mini-lesson related to a reading or library skill together and then they would transition into centers/checkout. Our lessons varied from working with things like locating books to using a dictionary as compared to searching for definitions online, digital citizenship, and Super 3 research skills. During the second half of the year I often transitioned away from centers with 2nd grade and did more lesson extension/independent practice work