Reading Centers for Emergent Readers

Let’s Talk Centers!

if your first thought was ‘but my student’s can’t read yet!’ this post is for you. Pre-reading skills are perfect to work on in centers. I’m going to share 4 different reading centers that I’m running this week for my pre-readers. Most of my students are working on letter ID, matching letters, and identifying beginning letters. A few are working on letter sounds and sight words, but this group is very much working on gaining pre-literacy, pre-reading skills. Here’s how we are working on these skills in hands-on, fun way!

A quick note- I should add that I’m pretty cheap when it comes to buying materials for my classroom. Everything here is from Target Dollar Spot or Dollar Tree unless noted. I stock up on letters, numbers and sorting trays when I find them.


Letter Matching

One of the first activities we do is letter matching. This is a great beginning skill for students who are just getting started working on letters. I grabbed these divided trays from The Dollar Tree and used a dry erase marker (it wipes right off!) to write letters on the tray. I use letter erasers from The Dollar Tree and have students match them. 

Finger Tracing

For learners who are working on learning or even tracing letters, this is a great tool to have on hand. These tactile letters (similar set can be found at Lakeshore) are raised and have a sandy texture to them. The high contrast allows for students to easily see the letter and feel the letter. I have students use their finger to trace the letter and the immediate tactile feedback helps students who need a multi-sensory approach. 

Upper & Lower Case Matching

Another Dollar Tree find, I grabbed these letter cut outs and gave students a stack of mixed upper and lower case letters. They were to match the capitol to the lower case letter. For an extension, I had students put the letters in alphabet order. This quick, no-prep activity was fun, hands on, and student approved. If you don’t have letter cut outs, try using a die cut machine if you school has one or even index cards with letters written on them. 

Word Building

Once students know letter names and can match letters, starting to put CVC words together using a model is a fun next step. Here I used letter blocks and wrote the CVC word for students to make with dry erase marker on the table. A quick wipe with a paper towel or baby wipe takes the dry erase marker off the table, so it makes it easy to change the beginning or ending sound and make new words. These blocks were found at Target Dollar Spot, but you could easily make some with Duplo legos or other blocks and a sharpie!

Beginning Letter ID

Starting to identify beginning, middle, and ending letter and sound of words can be tricky for students. In this center, I have students use these word wall cards that I purchased at Target for $1. I wrote CVC words and CVCe words on the blank cards and had students sort the words by beginning letter. You could easily do this for the middle vowel or ending sound, too, depending on the skill you students are working on. 

Don’t Be Afraid To Try!

So many teachers are afraid to try centers with emerging learners and pre-readers. Don’t let your student’s levels stop you from starting centers. Reading centers don’t have to be ‘reading’ only! They can focus on the skills needed by students so they are ready to learn to read. Not only are you teaching vital pre-reading skills, but you are teaching students to rotate groups, work in a small group, and practice skills with you and other staff. Even if your students are only able to match a letter or two, keep trying! 


Keep it Simple

Having a set routine of how centers rotate is also helpful so kids know what to do and when to do it. Try having a chime, timer, or visual to indicate when it’s time to rotate. Elaborate isn’t the way to go when it comes to centers. Keep activities simple, hands-on, engaging, and appropriate. Centers reinforce learned skills. Extension activities are always fun to try, but make sure students have the right amount of support so they don’t get frustrated. With a little practice from you and your students, you’ll have emerging read centers up and going in no time!

Jen Koenig, B.S, M.Ed., LBS1
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  1. Love this as I started centers in my self contained severe ASD classroom. Can you share other centers you do?

  2. I love this! Could you share pics of your classroom arrangement for center rotations? I incorporated centers in my self contained 2/3 classroom but it’s more like task boxes that are given to the students.

    • Yep! Check out Instagram – we have a whole highlight of classroom pics saved!


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