4 Literacy Center Ideas for Thematic Units

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Centers are a key part of many elementary classrooms, but you might be wondering how you can keep it from feeling stale and boring.

4 literacy center ideas for thematic units

We recently wrote about the benefits of thematic unitsWe have so much to share on this topic, that we decided to continue with the theme of themes in this blog. Can you tell we love themes? Read on for how to combine thematic units and literacy center ideas.

Our go-to solution for keeping literacy centers fresh and exciting is through thematic units. The key is that the actual center types don’t have to change. (We’ll talk more about the four literacy center ideas we recommend using in a moment.)

However, the theme students focus on within the center changes. For example, one thematic unit might focus on Halloween and then you switch to winter. 

So, how does this help you, the educator/lesson planner, keep things fresh? By just changing the theme, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you do centers (who doesn’t want to save time). You know exactly what literacy centers you will have. It also keeps you from repeating the same instructions week after week. Students get familiar with the routine and academic vocabulary. 

However, students aren’t always writing about and focusing on the same thing – because the theme is changing! One week they might write about their favorite Halloween costume, and the next they are reading about winter sports. It feels fresh, new, and less repetitive. Yet we really know they are getting repeated practice in essential skills!

keep literacy centers fresh and fun by keeping the same centers and changing the theme

Alright, let’s talk about the four literacy centers ideas you can use week after week. Then, just swap out the theme!

Literacy Center 1: Listening Comprehension

We recommend using this listening comprehension station as the teacher station. In this literacy center, students can practice several skills: listening, comprehension, retelling, vocabulary, and more. This will allow you to address several skills at once with students. By having it at your station, you can model fluency with students and also work through comprehension struggles with them – right on the spot. It’s a win-win.

Listening comprehension can take on lots of different formats, like listening to directions or attending to a story readout loud to students. Don’t overthink this station! A simple activity will do. For instance, read a summer themed children’s book or give step-by-step instructions to make a writing notebook they will need for your next unit..

Here’s an example- during Thanksgiving we like to use this Thanksgiving listening comprehension, vocabulary and wh question activities resource. It has listening comprehension stories and  following 1, 2, & 3 step directions. Because it’s part of a thematic unit, each activity is repeated across the themes: Thanksgiving Harvest, Parts of a Turkey, Thanksgiving Day Parade, and Thanksgiving Dinner. Your students will be gobbling it up (sorry- we couldn’t resist).

Literacy Center 2: Vocabulary

Vocabulary is an essential center because it helps develop comprehension. We choose the words for our vocabulary center based on recent literacy skills we’ve taught (e.g. story grammar elements like setting, character).

But, we also want to introduce them to new vocabulary. This is where the thematic unit really helps. If we have a thematic unit on fall, we might include vocabulary such as leaves, harvest, crops, and more. Retaining novel vocabulary can be a tough concept for students, so we like to add some extra practice into our vocabulary literacy centers. Here’s what that looks like –

We use this Fall Comprehension activity in vocabulary centers. In the center, students watch a YouTube video about fall vocabulary. After watching, they match the vocabulary word to the image using a cut-and-glue activity. Lastly, students apply the vocabulary in a mini-booklet. They write out the words under the images. 

Students will also continue practicing their skill-based vocabulary at other thematic centers, such as characters and setting after listening to a fall story. This is expressed through the questions students are asked, such as “What is the setting?” By the end of the stations, students have practiced each word at least three times, and created a reference mini-book for themselves.

Literacy Center 3: Retelling

We talk about retelling a lot in our blogs because it’s such a significant literacy skill! With the ability to retell, our students are practicing sequencing, organizing information, comprehension, working memory and more. It’s also the foundation for more complex literacy skills.

But again, this center can get really boring if you do the same old routine each week. That’s why it’s best to keep things fresh with themes. Also, just mixing up the activity and the intensity of the practice (students working on content that is too low-level are going to get bored and show some off-task behaviors).

Take the Thanksgiving Themes Story Retell activity for example. When students are at this literacy center, they are building from the bottom up. Retelling doesn’t get old because each activity changes, and it slowly increases in difficulty. For example, the first exercise has story retell just based on images. By the end, they are retelling whole paragraphs. We usually pair this center with a retelling video, so students can review the concept any time! Talk about taking charge of your learning.

Literacy Center 4: Writing

The last, and definitely not the least, literacy center is writing. Writing is a huge part of our daily and weekly activities because students need lots of repetition to strengthen their writing. In this station, thematic units really get to shine. You can give students prompts specific to the theme or introduce a new skill using thematic examples.

For example, we practice sentence writing with students using this Halloween Themed Sentence Writing activity. We start by having students watch a YouTube video on how to write sentences. This video can be used with any sentence writing activity, so students can rewatch it even when the theme changes. They, then build from identifying and counting sentences, to actually writing their own sentences from activities in the resource – all of course with a Halloween theme! 

Okay, as you can probably guess – we are pretty theme obsessed. But that’s because we know thematic units can be the simple answer to higher engagement in your classroom. We love making teaching easier, so we have created a Fall Mega Bundle with several thematic literacy center ideas.

fall literacy activities autumn halloween thanksgiving

It includes all of the activities we have already talked about in this blog, plus several more. Our goal is that thematic units become easy for you to prep, and your students can reap the reward! Plus, the majority of our literacy stations also pair with a YouTube video where they are learning or reviewing the key skill. This way your students can be more self-sufficient in stations – and you don’t have your teacher station constantly interrupted. It’s a win-win for everyone!

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