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How Centers Support Explicit Instruction in the Primary Grades

Science of Reading, Small Groups & Literacy Centers, Small Groups & Math Centers

Written by: Krys Warstillo

If you’ve been in any PD lately you’ve heard the term “explicit instruction” thrown around a lot. With the big push for Science of Reading (SOR)-aligned curriculum explicit instruction is getting a lot of buzz lately. For good reason, too. It’s an effective teaching method for both ELA and math. But… how do centers fit into explicit instruction? In this post, we’re talking about the importance of centers and how they support explicit instruction by offering valuable opportunities for practice and differentiation.

What’s Explicit Instruction?

So first, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. What’s explicit instruction and why is it important? This Understood.org article is a great and pretty detailed read but basically, explicit instruction is a teaching method. Students are taught in a direct and structured way. Students are given clear instruction with lots of opportunities for practice. Explicit instruction has been shown to increase student proficiency and confidence. For us educators, it provides touchpoints for data collection so we can fine-tune our teaching as we move through standards.

The Importance of Centers

Explicit instruction is obviously a very important part of your ELA & math blocks. Our students are learning so many of the basic skills they’ll lean on throughout the rest of their schooling. That doesn’t mean that it’s the only type of instruction that should be going on in your classroom. Centers do some important things for both you and your students.

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Importance of Centers for Educators

For Educators, centers provide an opportunity to work with individual or small groups of students. While the rest of your class works independently on centers you get to provide the individualized attention that your students need.

Also, centers give you the chance to easily differentiate. Here’s a quick example of what that looks like in practice. Let’s say I have a group of 2nd grade students. A couple of them are still working on mastering r-controlled vowels while a second group is ready for multi-syllabic words. You can have the 1st Grade R-Controlled Phonics Center below available for your first group of students.

The second group of students can be given the 2nd Grade Multisyllabic Vowel Team Center. This way everyone is practicing skills that they need instead of a one-size-fits-all situation. Centers require a bit of prep at the beginning but they’re reusable and once they’re all set, it takes zero extra effort to grab the center that fits the skill.

Importance of Centers for Learners

Centers have a few benefits for your learners. Centers give students the chance to practice & explore at their own pace, socialize with peers, and give them a sense of choice/control.

Extra Practice & Pace

Some students just need more practice than others to master a skill. Think about students with special needs or English language learners. Extra practice is vital to them. Centers give all of your students the opportunity to practice, practice, practice until they master a skill. They can work at their own pace and since so many centers are self-correcting they get immediate feedback. For example, the Telling Time Math Puzzle can be used as a center for students who need to keep practicing telling time. As they work through this time to the hour puzzle, once they begin to feel confident they can move to the half hour or to five minutes.

They get to practice in a low-pressure setting since the puzzle (instead of an adult or peer) gently lets them know if they made mistakes.

Try a Math Puzzle

Socialize & Learn

Adding in review games as centers gives your students the chance to work on those all-important social skills while working on literacy and math. With a game like Race To The Bottom students can build fluency while working on sportsmanship. They get to work on how to constructively critique someone if an answer is incorrect. There’s a winner and loser and they get the chance to work on how to handle being in those positions.

Read here if you’re interested in learning more about the importance of social learning routines.

Choice & Control

Much to the chagrin of our little learners, they don’t have a ton of control in their lives. Something as simple as choosing between the Part-Part-Whole Center and the Missing Addends Center provides them with a sense of control that creates additional buy-in from your students. They’re working on essentially the same skill but making that simple decision can increase engagement because THEY picked it.

Centers Are Important But…

Let’s be real, centers have the potential to take a lot of time. To avoid that, remember that “doing centers” doesn’t mean handing kids an activity/worksheet and hoping for learning to just *happen.* Small groups should be made with intentionality. Student accountability should be built into activities. Centers should be chosen purposefully. Students should be able to work independently without much redirection. There has to be a procedure for everything. Seriously, EVERYTHING. (Yes, there needs to be a routine for how to roll dice, don’t ask me how I learned that lesson…) Centers take solid classroom management skills but when centers are done well, WOW, they are so effective!

For more information on Math Small Groups & Centers or Literacy Small Group & Centers click one of those links. We’ve got a ton of detailed walk-throughs on how to set up, organize, and run small groups and centers. The importance of centers is something our Lucky Little Learners Team believes in and if there’s any other way we can help you succeed, feel free to reach out!

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Welcome, I’m Angie!

Hello there! I’m Angie Olson- a teacher, curriculum developer, educational blogger and owner of Lucky Little Learners.

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