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Making the most of Whole Group and Centers

So sorry it’s been a while since I’ve posted!  I’m playing catch up so this will be an unusually long post but I’ll make it worth your while for some freebies!
Back to school is in full swing for most of you now and many of you are dealing with Common Core and the stresses that come with it….mostly the stresses from administration.  I have an added stress because there are 3 new teachers in my grade level and I’m the Go-To gal.  Well, actually there are two but the third is on maternity leave, but still, it is work!  I am mentoring one of them since I am on our Mentoring committee on top of our Language Arts committee as well.  My plate is F-U-L-L!  If you are like me, you are looking for ways to keep students engaged in all areas of learning.  Our district “Police” look for “On Task” classrooms.  They began sticking their noses up at centers, claiming they didn’t keep students engaged 100% of the time.  I’m sorry, but yes, there is always “The One” in every class, but that shouldn’t determine the fate of centers.  We need that time to work with small groups or individual students.  Instead, administration wants us to have more whole group instruction.  Well, how do they know students are not spacing out and getting off task then as well?
I decided to write this post and share what the administration likes about my centers/whole group instruction and how to make it work in your classrooms.  I’ll start with centers. 
I make my centers so there is always something the students can be doing during their 20 minute stretch of time.  Let’s start with Writing.  This is always an area of struggle.  The students may not know what to write or they try to rush through it as fast as they can.  I put at least 1 new writing activity for the week and then 2 writing ideas from the previous week.  Here is what it looks like in the center. 

They are learning about sequencing events so I made a “How To” writing activity with food.  How do you make a sandwich?  My students love this!  You can download this freebie by clicking the picture link below. 

Now on to Buddy Reading:  I want my students to feel important and that they can be helpful with their peers.  I found these handy sand timers on Ebay and I couldn’t see centers without them.  Since our district uses Dibels as our end-of-the-year- assessment, the students need to be able to read fluently in a minute’s time.  So I type up some passages from books and put them in a file folder.  Then partners sit together and test each other.  They love it so much, they stay focused the whole time.

 Word Work can be the loudest at times especially if you have some fun games.  If you haven’t gotten The Yacker Tracker, this would definitely be worth it! 
My kids know if they are too loud and set off the alarm, they owe me some recess time.  They have only set it off once this year…ha ha.  They got it now!  I set up my word work center the same way as writing.  I make sure they have several activities to choose from.  I have at least 1 new center activity and then have some from the previous weeks. 

Here is one we used last week with short o words.  Click the link below to download.
Okay, enough about centers, now on to Whole Group.  I try to have whole group time with only about 10 minutes on the carpet for Direct Instruction.  Then it’s off to their seats for independent practice.  In first grade, I like to challenge my students.  I use the Reading Street program so it has some challenging songs and poems. 
 I type them out and add pictures for support with the more difficult words.  This really builds their fluency and vocabulary!  I then choose words from the passages for them to find and circle during their independent practice. 

You can choose books from your classroom or library to use too.  It may seem like extra work, but doing 1-2 a week is worth it so you have them all for next year!
I hope this helps get you started with your classroom management and student engagement!  Have a great rest of your week!


  1. I love it Stacy!!! I have been thinking about the Yacker Tracker for awhile. I can't stand noise. I think I will add it to my shopping list!

  2. It was well worth the money!!

  3. It's so shocking to me to hear that your district is pushing more whole class lessons. I feel like I'm getting caught doing something wrong if my principal comes in when I'm teaching whole class. Our district is pushing Universal Access (our reading curriculum's form of centers) and Daily 5 a bunch (as long as the curriculum is integrated) and is now starting to tell us that math should be structured like our reading time. Part of me loves it and part of me is stressed by it!

    Your centers look great!

    A Place to Thrive

    1. My district loves my centers because the students are engaged. They are pointing fingers at new teachers which is REALLY annoying! They should not be compared to a teacher who has taught for 10 years. They are learning by experiences! Don't be so quick to judge admin! I have had to help these teachers who end up in tears. So sad:( This is why teachers quit this profession after their 1st year!

  4. Great post Stacy!!
    Living in South Africa, I am so intrigued by the Yacker Tracker - we don't have anything like that in South Africa - wow!!! What a genius idea!

    1. I purchased mine on
      I love it!!

  5. Great post. I love all the examples you shared. The pictures were fabulous. I was totally taken aback by the "Yacker Tracker". This is new to me and I love it. I'm off to google where I can find one. I really want to show this to my college ECE students.


    Granny Goes to School

    1. You will be VERY happy with the Yacker Tracker! I will never teach without it!

  6. Thanks so much for these center ideas and even though lots of people have already said it - I love the idea of the Yacker Tracker! I will definitely be making a purchase sometime soon!
    I am also often annoyed by the opinion that if the children are using centers, exploring the room, making noise while learning, having fun together etc that there is no classroom management and they are just 'playing'(Even from other teachers, Principals and parents!!). It annoys me in this day and age that these enriching activities are less valued than 'traditional' teaching methods that we already know aren't working! Grr...

    I'd love if you would check out my blog! Thanks a mil :)