So often, teachers want to know how do I start my groups? How do I teach them to do what I want them to at the center? How do I get them to listen?
The first 6 weeks of guided reading are the most crucial for setting up consistency and routine. This is when you are teaching them HOW to be in centers. You are NOT pulling any groups at this point.
Jan Richardson has an amazing schedule for those first 6 weeks. This is what I live by. If you have been following this series, you will already know that I make my groups heterogeneous, so the actual grouping does not matter those first few weeks. Just make sure they are groups that will behave well together.
The first step is to find 5 centers that do not actually require any learning or knowledge. These are TEMPORARY centers. This was the hardest part for me to get past. It is that realization that I am going to allow them to play for 30 minutes or so every day during reading time. It seemed like such a waste of my ever so precious time. But I promise you it is SO worth it! This 30 minutes a day will set you up for real uninterrupted learning for the rest of the year.
The centers that I use are: coloring books, puzzles, building blocks, pattern blocks, and unifix cubes. I know lots of these are math tubs, but I am killing two birds with one stone here, because they get time to play in the math tubs before we begin math centers! You could also use a play area if you are a lower grade that has imaginary play centers.
Here is the schedule for week 1:
Week 2 I introduce my first center. This is usually an easy center like listening center. I do not teach the center whole group. I teach the center to each individual group. Before splitting into centers, we go over the rules that we learned from last week. Then I sit with the group that will be doing the literacy center. I explain how to take out the center, how to complete the center, and how to put the center away. Meanwhile, I should be able to simply monitor the other groups during this time.
Week 3 I introduce another center. Again, I usually try something easier such as word work. Students can use the words that we have been reviewing from the previous year (or their names if they are Kindergarten).
I review the rules and last week's center with the whole group before splitting into centers. Then, I spend about 2 minutes with the group that is doing Literacy Center 1 just to make sure they remember how to do everything. Then I travel to the new group that is learning Literacy Center 2. We, again, go over how to take out the materials for the center, how to complete the center, and how to clean up.
One other tip: I usually save my library center as one of the last centers that I introduce. I know that this may seem silly to some because it is such an easy center. My reasoning for this is that I want to get to know my students before introducing them to my books. I want to know their reading levels so that I can help them find good books. And I want them to really understand how important it is to take care of our books. Saving it for last builds up their anticipation of it and helps them to "cherish" it a little more. They realize that it is special to me and so it becomes special to them.
After your fist 6 weeks, students will be ready to begin doing 2 and 3 centers a day. They will also learn how to do other centers. You can introduce more than those original 5 through mini lessons. You can also add new activities to each center that you can introduce through mini lessons. For example, in word work center, you may just begin with stamps. Then you will add in stencils and play dough later.
These first 6 weeks are the time when you are training your kids. Think of it as boot camp! Show them the ropes and keep it consistent!