Effective Teaching, Literacy, Teachers

Great Hands-On Literacy Centers for ESL Students

Writing/Literacy centers are pretty common in mainstream American classrooms but how about for ESL students? Hands-on activities are still very helpful and possible for students just beginning to learn English. I just finished introducing all the letter sounds with my students. And we are working on putting those sounds together to form 3 letter words. I do centers in my class once a week usually and the students love them! Here are some of the centers I have done.

For each center I have a picture that helps remind students what they are supposed to do in the center. I also explain each center to the whole class before we begin.

Playdough letters

Let students practice forming different letters using playdough. If you can’t get playdough where you live you can make your own very simply.

Clip the sound

I print off pictures of words we are learning in class and students place a paperclip onto the letter of the beginning sound. For example “map” starts with “m” so students would place the clip on letter m

clip words

Practice writing words

Use a whiteboard, paper or letter tiles. Give students a list of words you have introduced in class and have them practice writing them. To go a step further, you can put the picture next to the word and have them write it.


Puzzle Piece Match Up

Print out the words you are learning and the pictures next to each other. Cut the two apart in different shapes so that they form a unique puzzle piece. This allows students to self-check when they match the picture and word together.



You can use the same set of pictures and word cards and have students play memory. To do this have them line up all the cards face down. They flip over two cards at a time. If the picture and word match then they get to keep the cards. If they do not they have to turn the cards back upside down and continue playing with two other cards.

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