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Home » Blog » Literacy » Small Groups & Literacy Centers » Essential Literacy Centers In First Grade
Written by: Krys Warstillo

When we look at our 1st grade students we may sometimes think they're too young for centers. It's a lot of independence and personal responsibility for some of our littlest learners! So why have literacy centers in first grade? Research shows us that centers provide opportunities for student choice with routines that build stamina, and independence. Literacy centers are a great way to provide differentiated and targeted practice of reading and writing skills. Bonus? They free you up to work with small groups or give student one-on-one support.

So now what we've covered the WHY of literacy centers it's time for the WHAT. What are the best literacy centers to have in a first grade classroom so kids are building a strong reading foundation? Read on for our recommendations.

Literacy Centers That Work Well In A First Grade Classroom

Our recommendation is to focus on the following five types of literacy centers in first grade:

  1. Phonological awareness
  2. Phonics
  3. Grammar/ Language
  4. Reading
  5. Writing

We've got a full year's worth of center activities for each category.

Here is a closer look at a few 1st grade literacy center activities we include in our set. We hope this will give you a better idea of the types of activities that work well for first graders!

Phonological Awareness

If your students are struggling with their phonological awareness, we'd recommend first pinpointing the PA skills your students need to be practicing. Here's how to find gaps in phonological awareness.

Phonological awareness skills to build centers around:

Level 1 (Syllables):

  • Syllable segmentation & deletion

Level 2 (Onset & Rime):

  • Deletion & substitution of beginning sounds

Level 3 (Basic Phonemes):

  • Phoneme blending, segmentation, addition and deletion

Level 4 (Advanced Phonemes):

  • Advanced phoneme substitution & deletion

Once you know what your students need to work on, you can provide modeling and practice in small groups. Read this Phonological Awareness Intervention post for lots of intervention activities that double as intervention lessons and center activities!

If you could use a brush-up on ways to teach phonological awareness, here's a fantastic teacher training on phonological awareness. 

Here's an idea for a phonological awareness center activity to practice rhyming:

Rhyme Recognition” Phonological Awareness Center

  1. Kids select a card with two images.
  2. They say the names of the two images aloud.
  3. Students sort the cards into piles that rhyme and piles that don't rhyme.
rhyming phonological awareness center for the first grade classroom

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Once your students have the basics of phonological awareness and they’re receiving structured, explicit phonics instruction, your kiddos will be ready for phonics centers!

Offer hands-on activities to practice previously taught phonics patterns.

Here's a center activity for practicing long e vowel teams EA, EE and EY:

“Missing Magnet Letters” Phonics Center

  1. Students place the correct missing vowel teams on top of word cards.
  2. Next, students write the word correctly on the recording sheet.
1st grade phonics center to practice long e vowel teams

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If you’re looking for even more resources, our Multi-Sensory Phonics Activities post has great tips. 


After some whole or small group lessons about parts of speech, sentence structure, or punctuation find the perfect center to continue practicing new skills!

Grammar and language are definitely something they’ll need a lot of reinforcement in. (How many times does a 1st-grade teacher say, “Are there periods at the end of your sentences and capitals at the beginning?” )

Give your students the practice they need in a low-pressure and fun way.

Here's an idea for a grammar center activity to practice nouns:

“Picture Puzzles” Grammar Center

  1. Students read a simple sentence.
  2. Next, they find the picture card that matches the noun in the sentence.
  3. Last, they decide if the noun is a person, place, or thing and write the word in the correct column on their recording sheet.
1st grade grammar center to practice nouns

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If grammar is something your students need lots of support with, find out some easy ways to incorporate grammar into your day beyond center time.


The big one. Even before our little learners have digraphs down they are introduced to things like story elements, author’s purpose, concepts of print, and nonfiction text features. These are such important skills to master as we introduce increasingly more complex reading material.

Our recommendation is to target one skill at a time with your reading centers. This ensures that your students get practice in the exact place they need it.

Here's an idea for a reading center activity to practice story elements:

“Puzzle It” Reading Center

  1. Students read a short 3-4 sentence story.
  2. Next, they match a picture card to each missing story element.
  3. Last, students write the story elements on the recording sheet.
reading center for teaching and practicing story elements

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Search the Lucky Little Learners blog for the comprehension skill your students need to practice for more ideas.


Writing in first grade is both wonderful and incredibly challenging. Students are just beginning to develop some automaticity and stamina and their minds are full of creative ideas.

We recommend offering writing centers that provide the structure and scaffolding your students need. They will feel successful and have the space they need to let their creative juices flow. 

Here's an idea for a writing center activity to practice personal narrative writing:

“My Story” Writing Center

  1. Students choose a story idea card.
  2. Next, they draw their story ideas on the planning page.
  3. Then, students use their drawings to write their story on a paper that provides an outline for organization.
1st grade narrative writing center for practicing writing personal narratives

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How Do You Organize and Store Literacy Centers?

Now that you've got some ideas (and some free literacy center activities), you might be wondering about the best way to organize and story them.

Organizing centers can be intimidating. There are so many teeny pieces! First graders are not naturally inclined towards keeping all those little tiny pieces neatly contained. Having solid concrete routines and procedures will help solve this problem. Read How to Organize Math & Literacy Centers for more in-depth information, or watch the video below for some of our favorite storage solutions!

Lucky Little Learners 1st Grade Literacy Centers

If the idea of searching for and prepping center activities for your classroom feels overwhelming, you'll love our 1st Grade Literacy Centers Bundle! The center activities are versatile and skill-focused. They work perfectly for independent literacy centers, but also are wonderful to have on hand for skill groups, phonics practice, independent activities, intervention groups, and fast finishers. Literacy centers are easy to add to any existing ELA curriculum or program, because they are standards-aligned too!  

Standards-Aligned and Engaging at the Same Time

Literacy centers are organized by skill and standard rather than by season or holiday themes. This means that once you choose which skills your students need some additional practice or reinforcement you can find exactly what you’re looking for. 

Encourages Independent Thinkers

The first grade literacy centers all include direction signs. These help encourage independence and reading skills.

First grade is when students get their first taste of academic independence and that transition can be difficult for both you and your students. Direction signs might need to be read to your students initially but as they become more confident readers, your 1st graders will easily read them! 

literacy centers that build independence in first grade

Easy Literacy Center Prep

These centers come in both full color or black and white. We streamlined building and prepping centers with simple cutting and assembly. Center prep takes a lot of time but these centers were created to be as time-effective as possible. 

lucky little learners easy to prep literacy centers for first grade

Literacy Centers For First Grade

These centers are perfect if you're tired of looking for effective and engaging literacy practice. They keep your students practicing phonological awareness, phonics, grammar, reading, and writing skills with meaningful and purposeful activities. These are engaging, rigorous, and hands-on. Your students are sure to love them!

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essential literacy centers for the 1st grade classroom


  1. Julia Clouter

    I just watched the you tube video about how to organize your materials for literacy centres for Grade 1. However, I can’t seem to find the ideas typed out and the links for all the great storage ideas under the video. I’m especially looking for the one where Angie was talking about the wire basket that had the shelf underneath for work that was not done. She said it was for her tables and that’s what I have in my classroom too. If you can give me a link as to where I can purchase them that would be great.
    Julia Clouter

  2. Morgan

    I’m confused about how you implement this daily. Do students have one activity in one center a day?

    • Jess

      Hello Morgan! There are several options for implementation of 1st grade literacy centers. Some teachers assign one activity/ student/ day, while others set up a rotation system, where kids move around the room to complete different center activities either at a teacher signal to switch, or they are taught to go ahead an move to the next activity once they are finished. Let us know if you have any further questions. Thanks!

  3. Emily Musanhi

    Thanks so helpful


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Hey there!  I’m Angie, owner of Lucky Little Learners. Our #1 goal is to support K-2 teachers.  We provide unlimited access to over 20,000 printables that are aligned to your standards.