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Literacy Centres COVID-style

The lead up to la rentrée has been full of uncertainty and vague details about the logistics of day to day details. One of the big logistical issues I've been grappling with is how to continue to run a second language program that develops oral language through games and collaboration. Most of the centres I usually put out involve hands on materials and students playing together. With the new distancing and sanitizing policies that will be in place come September, this makes both of these things very challenging or outright impossible.

You may be asking why not just put centres on the back burner for this year. For early literacy learners and especially for those learning in a second language, centres have some major benefits:

- activities can be easily differentiated to allow for multiple entry points

- they encourage collaboration and teamwork

- it's easy to integrate technology (i.e., boom cards, iPads) with limited devices

- research shows students are more engaged in learning during centres

- allows for more personalized instruction with small groups

So the question then becomes how to effectively run centres while still adhering to all the safety guidelines. I know I will be tweaking as we go - flexibility is the key to this year I think! Even so, here are a few ideas I've come up with to at least start off the year based on the centres I usually do in class.

Travaille avec Mme

Small group instruction is KEY during early literacy. This is where I do my guided reading groups and any small group learning (e.g., focusing on specific reading strategies, working on blending sounds, etc.). I normally try to keep my small groups pretty small, so this one doesn't actually need to change too much! My small groups are usually 3-4, so instead this year, I'm going to aim for 2-3 because there is enough space at my guided reading table for that many to be distanced. I will be putting a white board and marker in each student's individual supply bin, so they can bring that with them.

Collaborative Games

This is a biggie! Collaborative games are one of the best ways for students to develop oral language. There is often a clear sentence structure that students can practice and the engagement level is high. My plan is to use games where students can each have their own game board. Each student will have their own 'wipe and write' plastic sleeve in their bin and so game board can be used without the student ever needing to touch the actual board. An example of this is this Initial Sound Race where students take turns spinning and identifying the initial sound. The first student to land on and identify all the pictures on their board wins. Each student in the small group can have their own board (maybe even double sided, so they can play with two different boards throughout the centre).

For board games, these can be easily modified to be played in a physically distanced way. Each student can have their own board (either in a plastic wipe and write sleeve or laminated) that could then be sanitized between groups (see below for more on how to manage this). I'm planning on putting a some math manipulatives and a dice in each student's individual pencil box, so they can simply use that while playing. This way students can still play as peers but remain safe and distanced!

Études de mots

Oh man, this is a hard one for me. I LOVE using hands on materials during word work to increase student retention and keep engagement high. This may be challenging this year because of the need to sanitize everything between uses and some materials being difficult to sanitize (e.g., wooden letters, stamps). There are still a few things that can be done rather than just paper and pencil. Some things include building words out of Playdoh (each student could have their own container in their bin), writing words in the sand or dirt outside, building words out of sticks or rocks. Students could collect these during outdoor time and then use them during centres, if you're inside the school for centres.

While this activity does involve paper and pencil, it is one of my students' favourite étude de mots activities. We call it 'les mots magiques' where students write the word in white crayon and then use markers to colour over the hidden word. So simple but a big hit!

High Engagement High Reward Paper and Pencil Tasks

While maintaining some hands on activities is still important, there will be some need to increase individual paper and pencil tasks. For me, it's important to seriously assess what students are getting out of the activity and their ability to do the task independently. Using paper and pencil tasks that students are going to love and still be learning is essential to keeping literacy centres running smoothly. These Cherche et trouve sheets are a great way to work on reading themed vocabulary words. Students love I Spy so this is an easy way to work vocabulary without students getting bored. The most important thing is to ensure that the task is effective and won't result in students interrupting Small Group Instruction because they're bored or finished in 2 minutes :p

Lecture à soi

In my district, they have stated that book distribution can still take place within a classroom setting as there has been little evidence that there is any virus transmission through paper. I'm still planning to have approx. 3 books (a levelled reader, an easy reader like Éléphant et Rosie that's still fun, and a high interest trickier read) in their individual bin. The bins I use are pictured here and I got them from Dollarama! Students will keep the books in their bin for the week and then they will sit over the weekend before I re-distribute on Monday. PS - These labels are a FREEBIE on my TPT store.


Even in a Covid free era, I would often add in an iPad centre where students worked on Boom Cards or Lalilo for phonics or vocabulary. While this can still be done this year, all devices would need to be thoroughly sanitized between uses. As I usually have students do a 'minds on' independent activity for the first minute or two of my small group instruction, I am planning to sanitize the iPads during this time. I'm only planning on doing two centres a day, so this would only entail ONE sanitizing time while centres are actually happening, so it seems doable to me. I know that is totally dependent on your class and your centres, so you do what works for you! :)

Sanitizing Materials

While I'm trying to cut down shared materials completely, that may be extra hard in Grade 1 or Kindergarten based on the type of programming that is necessary to effectively teach students at this developmental level. My current plan is to run two centres per day over 3 days. Pre-COVID, I did 3 centres over two days. My thinking is that if there is a centre that needs to be sanitized, I'd have enough material that students from 2 groups could all have their own individual materials. Then, I could sanitize everything at the end of the day before the next day's centres.

Obviously, this is a time commitment on the teacher's part, so I'm still planning to have minimal shared materials. The materials I would use need to be easy to sanitize like these plastic ice cubes (from Dollarama) that can be easily cleaned and sanitized.

If students were playing a collaborative game with a paper in their wipe and write plastic sleeve, I will ask them to take it out at the end of the day and leave it on their desk. The paper can sit for two days before the next day of centres, as I'm currently planning a Mon - Wed - Fri centre schedule.

To sum it up

This is a year to be flexible and adaptable, so I'm sure this plan will change many times and there are probably many flaws that will come up as I actually implement the plan. This may not work for you or your specific province's guidelines (I teach in Ontario), but hopefully it gave you some ideas to help keep your literacy centres alive!

Stay tuned...

Next week, I'll be talking about how I'm planning help my students transition to Grade 1 and building community in a physically distant society.

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