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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

How to Set Up a Writing Center by Allison Demas

Before you is the daunting task of setting up your classroom. You will need to set up a reading area, a meeting area, a math center, a writing center, a science center and every other center in the world. Alas, your room is too small to fit all these centers and your students! What to do? What to do? Make do with what you have.

First, be clear on what a writing center is and what it is not. It is NOT a place where a few children sit and write. It is a central location to acquire the tools for this trade. It should have a variety of easily accessible materials. Depending on the grade level you teach these materials could include folders (one per student), journals, post-it notes, correction tape, date stamps, pens, pencils, markers, staplers and papers designed for particular types of writing work. Your students should be able to get their materials themselves and know how to use them. The point is to make the students independent so that they do not need you in order to do their work.

Since you don’t have to worry about students staying at the center to do their work, you have a certain amount of freedom regarding the physical set up of your writing center. Problems can arise when dealing with the confines of a small room, but with a little creativity you can get past these problems.

You can use stackable drawers or rolling carts as your center. Each drawer or bin can contain the necessary materials for each step of the writing process. When the writing center is not in use it can simply be rolled out of the way.

Another option is to use a plastic shelf unit. Place shallow baskets, all appropriately labeled, on each shelf. Drafting should be on the top left shelf and the other phases should follow accordingly. Writing utensils should also be stored on the top shelf. I recommend plastic buckets or containers, as opposed to metal, because the plastic ones will make less noise if (make that when) they fall to the floor.

You can also try stackable letter trays on a small table. Each tray could be labeled according to its contents, such as “How to” and have the appropriate paper in it. You could have a tray or basket for each phase (drafts, revisions, etc.). By using stackable trays you can take advantage of vertical space and not worry about floor space. If you choose this option, I suggest that you have the desk or table abut a wall, with the backs of the trays facing the wall. This will just provide a measure of security to prevent the trays (and thereby your writing center) from falling to the floor.

Take a critical look at your room and see what might work. Try it but don’t feel that you have to make a lifelong commitment to it. Whatever you do choose to use you must make sure that you find what works best for your students. If the set-up isn’t working, figure out what’s going wrong and change it. Your center can evolve, just as your students and their work will.

Questions or comments? E-mail Allison.


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