15 literacy center ideas for elementary teachers


Whether you’re new to literacy centers or you’ve been doing them for a while, it’s always fun to get some new ideas and kids definitely enjoy some variety.  Here’s is a collection of centers I’ve had success with for word work, writing, reading, spelling, and grammar:


Magnetic Words

There are lots of possibilities for using magnetic words in a center.  I keep them spread out on cookie sheets.  Students grab a cookie sheet and they’re good to go.  Here’s what they can work on:

*sort out the nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, etc.
*make sentences and identify the naming part and telling part (subject and predicate)
*find words with specific phonics patterns
*find rhyming words
*write poems
*make similes and metaphors


literacy center ideas for using magnetic words, perfect for 1st and 2nd grade classrooms


Letter Manipulatives

I’ve had a lot of luck with finding letter tile games at thrift stores for cheap. It doesn’t even matter if all the pieces are there because you just want some tiles! You may want to divide tiles into baggies for individual students.

*Making words activities – Students manipulate tiles (or magnetic letters) to build words. I like to have students pull out 10 letters at a time from their baggie and then use these plus other “free” letter patterns that I have chosen to focus them on a particular phonics skill. Then they build and record as many words as they can. We they can’t find anymore words they draw ten new letters. Grab a FREE generic making words recording sheet HERE or get the whole set with featured letters chosen for phonics review HERE.


Making Words Literacy Center ($) This center is simple to use throughout the year. Recording sheets feature different letter patterns to help students review phonics concepts

*Stamps – use letter stamps an ink to practice spelling words, sight words, or phonic patterns
*Beads – letter beads can be strung into words on pipe stem cleaners to practice sight words, spelling words, etc.


Tactile and Movement Activities

 *Sand – Kids use their finger to trace sight words in a tray of sand.  You can put the sand in plastic tubs or cheap tin baking pans.  If your containers are small just train kids to write one letter on top of the next.  This activity isn’t about seeing the word in the sand, it’s about the tactile feel of your finger making the letters.  I like to have a little whisk broom handy so kids can clean up spills on their own.

*Sign Language – work with a partner to fingerspell spelling or sight words. See if your partner can tell what word you are making.

*Play-Doh – Students can roll Play-Doh into “snakes” and form letters of spelling or sight words. Another option is to press letter stamps into the Play-Doh to make words (no ink needed!) See more ways teachers can use Play-Doh in the classroom HERE)


*Drawing on Backs – Students work with a partner. They take turns using a finger to write letters of a word on the other’s back. The student who was “written” on tries to guess the word. Some students are not ok with being touched so make sure there is another option available.


Colorful and Artsy

*Bubble Letters – Kids write sight words in bubble letters, this is also fun with other codes.  When we study Egypt in my class the kids write their sight words in hieroglyphics.

*Highlighters – Kids can highlight sight words, words with a specific phonics pattern, or color code parts of speech in text. See a ready-made parts of speech highlighting pack HERE.


Parts of speech highlighting activity ($)


For more ideas see Literacy Center Ideas – Part 2!

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Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun is a former teacher with 8 years of experience in the classroom and a master's degree in early childhood education. She designs engaging, organized classroom resources for 1st-3rd grade teachers.