3rd Grade Literacy Center Ideas

Switching literacy centers in and out every week is such a headache for teachers! This post shares 3rd grade literacy center ideas that work with any curriculum and last the entire school year!

PLUS–you can grab some free printables at the end of this post!


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What Are Literacy Centers?


I LOVE using literacy centers in my upper elementary classroom! When it comes to upper elementary, some people also call them literacy stations.

After years of being frustrated with the process of setting them up, I came across Debbie Diller’s book Literacy Work Stations: Making Centers Work.

She defines a literacy center as:

“…an area in the classroom where students work alone or interact with one another, using instructional materials to explore and expand their literacy.”

-Debbie Diller

She goes on to mention that literacy centers should give students a chance to practice all of the ELA skills such as reading, writing, speaking, grammar, and working with words or letters.

I highly recommend Debbie Dillers books about literacy centers for upper elementary classrooms. Literacy Work Stations and Practice with Purpose are two of my favorites. She also has other books on establishing centers / small groups in the classroom.

Using Debbie’s definition, your centers can be in fixed locations around your classroom or they can be flexible.

I prefer flexible stations that allow students to work anywhere in the classroom. This impacts the type of center organization systems I use.

What Should Be Included in a Literacy Center?


With the above details in mind, I realized some important aspects about 3rd grade literacy centers:

  • Students should have the option to work collaboratively or independently.
  • The centers should allow literacy practice, but can be flexible enough to use with any curriculum.
  • These practice centers will NOT be graded.
  • Students need to have FUN!

In addition to these, Grade 3 literacy stations should include the ELA skills also mentioned above such as reading, writing, word work opportunities, and grammar.

That is how I came up with the literacy center ideas for third graders that are featured in this post.


Before I Introduce the 3rd Grade Literacy Center Ideas


Teachers are busy! You may not have time to read the full post.

If that’s the case, you can bookmark this post and come back to it later, which is fine. Or save it to your favorite Pinterest board.

But if so, remember that I have all these literacy activities available in my store.


Feel free to click the image shown above OR click HERE to see the full set.

That way you won’t miss out on the main reason you came here.

Now without further ado, let’s look at some fun ELA activities for our Grade 3 kiddos.


Reading Centers for 3rd Grade


The goal for reading centers in my classroom is to give students choice and keep them motivated to read.

To meet this goal, I offer lots of reading materials such as comic books, chapter books, audio books, and magazines.

Our Magazine Scavenger Hunt usually ranks at number one! I’ll be honest, I love it too! Here’s why:

Click the image for more details on these magazine scavenger hunts.
  • I never have to change this literacy center. I only change the magazines throughout the school year.
  • Students get to practice reading all sorts of articles, which builds their non-fiction reading skills.
  • They get to practice identifying non-fiction text features.
  • It’s 100% student led!!


For all these reasons, magazine scavenger hunts rank #1 on my list of 3rd grade literacy center ideas.

It’s such an easy and fun way to get your kids reading more.


“I Spy” Look in a Book Reading Center


Another engaging 3rd grade reading center idea is the “I Spy” Look in a Book reading center.

Students can use ANY book of their choice!

As they read, they look for parts of speech that we’ve learned in class. Then they fill up the grammar chart while they continue reading their book.

This picture shows an example of the Pronouns Look in a Book. My students also work on nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Click the image for more details on this literacy center.


To make it even more engaging, I give my students magnifying glasses from Dollar Tree or Amazon so that they feel like “word detectives” as they look for the different parts of speech.

Plus, this is another center that I do not have to switch out!

It is easy for students to learn and use without my help, and it works all year long in our classroom.

This activity evens works well with a sub because you do not have to leave lots of instructions for this. Students get to practice independent reading really well with this option.


How Do You Make Reading Centers Fun?


Since we’re on the topic of reading centers for your 3rd graders, let’s talk about FUN. 🀩

Let’s face it, if students are bored, they will not stay engaged during center rotations.

When choosing reading activities, I make sure to use stations that:

  • Allow collaboration and teamwork. Use ideas that can be completed with a partner or trio for students who would rather read with a friend.
  • Have a gaming aspect. Anytime you can turn a reading center into a game-style activity, it will promote more fun.
  • Embrace a variety of reading materials. Another really easy way to make your 3rd grade reading centers fun is to incorporate lots of different materials such as magazines, comic books, chapter books, e-books, etc.
  • Host a Read-A-Thon. Turn your classroom into a huge lounge with large pillows and plush blankets. Push the desks away. Serve simple refreshments and allow students to have a “read-a-thon.”
  • Use reading challenges instead of reading logs. I use reading challenges for each season of the year that have up to 35 reading challenges. My students LOVE filling in their challenge bookmark to earn reading prizes.

These are just a few ways to get students pumped about completing reading centers in your classroom.


House Builder Words for Sight Word Practice


When it comes to word work and sight word practice, I love literacy centers that are portable. Instead of being in a fixed location in our classroom, I want my students to grab their center materials easily and go.

That’s one of the reasons I love our House Builder Words Literacy Center.

Students are very familiar with the game “hangman”, so I don’t have to spend a lot of time introducing this center since there are similarities.


We use a combination of high frequency sight words.

This allows my kids to practice this center throughout the school year with lots of different words.

Even though I don’t grade my centers, I do collect their completed activities to check for understanding.

To keep students focused, I have them write sentences using the words from their hangman game with a partner, which is what I collect.


Popular Game Boards for Word Work Practice


Popular game boards like Scrabble are super easy and one of my favorite engaging 3rd grade literacy center ideas!

Some of my top board grames are:

We use Scrabble, Boggle, and Banan-o-grams for spelling practice. I modify the Headbanz game to build students’ vocabulary word skills.

Instead of using the picture cards that come with the game, I type our vocabulary words on cards and students use the same game board rules and head gear to guess the vocabulary words.

When it comes to making centers fun, mixing game boards with your curriculum really amps up the engagement!

Anytime you can add in a game-style aspect to learning, you will notice more students who are eager to start and stay on task.

For a FREE, exclusive sample of my 3rd grade literacy centers, sign up here to join The Butterfly Teacher VIP Community! Your free printables will be sent directly to your email.



Of course, popular game boards like these don’t have to be expensive. I’ve used materials from The Dollar Tree to recreate these games as a way to save money.

If you can afford to buy the actual game board, it will save you time, but the main thing is that they really keep students engaged with your literacy centers.

Not only that, but each game gives students a chance for collaboration and fun.


Shape Spelling for 3rd Grade Literacy Centers

This spelling activity comes with my 3rd Grade Literacy Centers set. Click HERE or click the image to see the full resource.



Shape Spelling evolved from my 4th grade literacy center Emoji Spelling. Spelling with emojis was such a huge hit with my kids, that I created a “spin-off” version for my 3rd grade literacy centers.


Using shape spelling involves almost no prep, except print and pass out to students. Your students will:

  1. Use any word or spelling list.
  2. Write their words using shapes from the master code list
  3. Switch with a partner to write the actual spelling words after they decipher them from the shapes

It baffles me that this never gets old with my kids! They always enjoy using shapes to practice their spelling words.


Goldfish Games for Homophones, Synonyms & Antonyms


Are you noticing a common theme with all these 3rd grade literacy center ideas? Yep, those important elements that I first mentioned above are woven into each idea.

Which is why I always use some version of the goldfish game in my literacy center rotation.

The pictured instructions keep students on track with partner games. It helps me stay focused with the students who are with me at the teacher table because the rest of the students have these directions right in front of them! Click the image for more details on this homophone game.


Most students understand how to play goldfish: turn all the cards upside down and keep turning them back over two-at-a-time until you find a match.

The partner with the most matches / pairs wins the game.

My students use goldfish games for homophone, synonym, and antonym practice.

But Don’t Your Students Get Tired of the Same Words?!


When it comes to “switching out centers,” the only thing about this word work station that needs to change is the word selection.

I realized that I was having to retype, print, and cut so many “goldfish” cards to keep this center going. But I found an easy way to prevent this much teacher work for myself!

Students create the new cards themselves as a bonus / extension activity! Once they complete the goldfish cards I already prepped, I give them blank templates to create their own set of cards.

Once my students play Goldfish, I extend the activity by having them use their word pairs in sentences. I collect this page to gauge their understanding of the words. Sometimes the sheets are in plastic page protectors and students use dry erase markers to save paper.


This extension activity does come with guidelines to make sure students produce quality goldfish cards, but I’ve rarely had students who didn’t enjoy this part of the game.

I laminate and re-use the best cards to add into our future rotations with this literacy center.

They love seeing their OWN work displayed as a literacy center, and I love how simple it is to set up and keep going throughout the school year!


Using Technology with Literacy Centers



Our school is not one-to-one yet, but our school has two iPad carts, and teachers are required to use these in the classroom at least once a week.

Plus, I personally want more technology integration with our learning activities and centers.

I have been using the Google Apps a lot more with my literacy centers and so far, they have been very effective in helping my kids develop stronger literacy skills.

An example is this Context Clues reading activity on Google Slides. My kids get reading practice that builds up their inferencing and vocabulary in context skills.

Not only that, but it has a printable set of task cards also.

Having both versions allows me to be flexible with my centers.

Some kids will complete these on the computers, while others complete them at their seats.



Students quickly figure out how to drag-and-drop or type their answers without much help from me, which makes this technology center easy to keep established.

So I keep “Technology Time” as one of the center options, but I allow different activities and apps that students can access for literacy practice.


More 3rd Grade Literacy Center Ideas


Some of these ideas are featured in my 3rd Grade Literacy Centers Set that has 10 Hands-On centers with the following:

Click any image in this post or CLICK HERE to see more details about these centers.


These literacy stations comes with these features:

  • Pictured & detailed instructions for students
  • Bonus & Extension Activities for most of the centers
  • Lesson Planning Ideas to help teachers save time
  • Center Labels & Teacher Binder Covers

For a FREE, exclusive sample of my 3rd grade literacy centers, sign up here to join The Butterfly Teacher VIP Community! Your free printables will be sent directly to your email.


How Long Should Centers Be for 3rd Graders?



Planning centers for upper elementary is impossible without considering time frames.

However, when it comes to how long Grade 3 centers should be, it depends on so many factors.

My sweet spot is around 90 minutes, which allows students to spend a minimum of 25 minutes at 3 different literacy stations.

25 x 3 = 75, which leaves you with 15 minutes for transitions, set-up, and clean-up time.

If you don’t have that much time to devote to your literacy block, don’t despair.

One year, all I had was one 45 minute block. Students completed two 15-minute literacy activities with a cushion of 10 minutes for transition and prep.

3rd-grade-literacy-center-ideas-the-butterfly-teacher


Planning Your ELA Stations–Things to Consider

As you plan out how long your centers should be for 3rd grade, keep these things in mind:

  • Amount of total students you have
  • How long your students need to transition (the more you model and prepare them for centers, the less transition time they need)
  • Whether you’re going to use fixed groups or choice boards to manage your centers.

Not only will the answers to these areas help you map out the time-frame for your stations, but it will make center planning in general easier.

How Do You Set Up Literacy Stations?


There are so many details to keep in mind when launching literacy centers.

I wrote a quick guide with detailed answers to common questions about running centers.

This guide also has planning pages to help you set up centers in your classroom.

launching literacy centers book
Click the image to grab your guide!

This guide walks you through setting up centers and details things like:

  • How to choose “groups” for your centers?
  • A breakdown of different time frames and what to do for your literacy block during those time frames.
  • Details on the best ways to differentiate your centers.
  • Knowing whether to switch out your centers each week or not.
  • Options on how to help students choose a center OR setting up fixed student groups.
  • AND MORE!!

I know how overwhelming it can be to get centers going in the classroom when you have a million other things to consider and do as a teacher!

Hopefully these literacy center ideas for 3rd grade gave you some fresh ways to look at centers in your classroom.

I have several more posts that give details about literacy centers. If you still have questions after reading through those, be sure to subscribe to our Butterfly Teacher email community and I’ll be more than happy to help you along! πŸ€—

More helpful posts about literacy centers:



Happy Teaching πŸ™‚

The Butterfly Teacher

4 Responses

  1. I am excited to get these started in the classroom!! They look like the students will really enjoy and get the most out of the time we have reading!

  2. I cannot access using “For a FREE, exclusive sample of my 3rd grade literacy centers, sign up here to join The Butterfly Teacher VIP Community! Your free printables will be sent directly to your email.” Is there another link?

    1. Hi Cassandra,
      Thank you for reaching out; I refreshed the links / post from my end to ensure that each link works. Please feel free to try again. If you still have trouble, send me your email address here: [email protected] and I’ll send your freebies directly. Thanks again! πŸ™‚

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