Play Centers and Assessment Activities

This blog post outlines monthly play centers, math centers and assessments. The literacy centers are changed weekly.  Our classroom (I share with another teacher) is a  balance of academic structure and creative play.  I find it a great blend and it works well for us.  This structure allows teachers to meet the challenges of the increasing curriculum demands while still maintaining a valuable play-based learning environment.


I only teach two full days a week and every other Friday.  Keep this in mind when previewing the plans.


Incorporating Modeled Writing

On my second day,  the “student of the week” brings in a special object to share.  The students and I generate three positive sentences about this student.  I write these on chart paper and model the writing process (how sentences start with capitals and end in periods, how spaces are left between words).  Students will be helping me spell words as we learn more letter sounds.  Independent writing is encouraged at the “Writing Center”.



8:28-9:00  Circle Time

Phonemic Awareness Warmup Activity

Some of my students are still having difficulty understanding the concept of hearing initial letter sounds.  I have been doing the following activity each morning to help develop this understanding.  I have small whiteboards with each letter/sound printed on it (simple CVC words).  Each child holds the letter and we give that student the sound name.  We discuss the first, middle and last sound heard.  After, we blend the sounds together and discuss what word is made.  We also discuss what letter name makes that sound.  See example below, two students would hold the letter/sound whiteboards.




Connection to Literature and Introducing New Letter Sound

The letter “Gg” sound is introduced through reading the book “Goodnight Gorilla” by Peggy Rathmann.  This book has very few words but is great for having the students make predictions as to what will happen next.

Introducing Emergent Reader – “Zoo Escape” a Simple Retelling of the Book

- Introduce the printable emergent reader “Zoo Escape” to the students. It is a simple retelling of the book. Read the reader together as a shared reading experience.  I display the book on the Smart Board but you can print the sentences on sentence strips or chart paper and place the pictures beside each sentence.  You could also display the story using an overhead projector (which I have done for years).  I also make a copy of the color version for our classroom library.  I copy this on cardstock, laminate and bind it.

-Read the sentences together, pointing to the words while you read. Explain that they will be cutting out the pictures that relate to the words in their version to take home to their parents.  The black and white version goes home with the students.


Color Sample Page of the Reader


Introducing the Letter Sound

1.  Look at the words “good night and gorilla”

2.  Introduce the sound  “Gg” makes focussing on the sound heard in “gorilla”.  Hand out small mirrors (purchased at the dollar store) and have the students observe the following:  where their tongue is placed, what their lips do when making the sound, feel their throat and vocal chords, do they feel air coming out from their mouth?  How do their lips change?  Review the sounds of e, c, a, t, u and q.


Writing Extension – Modeled Writing

The students will watch the video below about the snowy owl on the Smart Board (this is related to our craft activity).  After, we will generate sentences together about what they learned and these will be written on chart paper.  The completed sentence will be added to their craft project.  My assistant will scribe what the students say.  Next week, the students will be given mixed-up words from the sentence they generated.   They must recreate their sentence using a model.  After, they will read the sentence to my assistant.


Video on the Snowy Owl 



9:00 – 9:40 Play Centers
Craft – Cutting Assessment – Owl
4-5 Students assigned to “Craft Center”.  My assistant works with them.

Since we are talking about animals in winter, we decided to take this craft idea from the “Friendship Theme” and turn it into a snowy owl instead.  We made a few modifications to it.  This will be used as a cutting assessment for the report card.



Guided Reading With Emergent Reader “Zoo Escape”
4-5 students will be reading the black and white emergent reader  “Zoo Escape” with me.  The focus will be on tracking words, cutting and pasting the picture that corresponds to the text. This integrates a comprehension component into reading.



I will also be assessing each student after they have completed the emergent reader.  I will be assessing students to see if they can identify initial sounds, as well as, corresponding letters.  I will point to the pictures found in the link below and they must tell me the sound they hear at the beginning.  After, they will place the letter card on the picture that represents that sound.  This assesses their phonemic awareness ability and alphabetic knowledge of related letters.  These are related to letters we have already learned.




Rest of Class at Play Center with Parent Volunteer

Each month we change the Play Centers.  I have outlined the changes below.  The rest of the students will be at the play centers while my assistant and I work with a small group.


1.  Sand remains dirt - Plastic animals have been placed in this center.  The students can dig winter homes for the animals.


2.  The “Housekeeping Center” has now become the “Big Dollhouse Center”.  We have a large dollhouse with furniture, boys and girls dress up dolls to go into the dollhouse.


3.  The “Big Blocks” has now become a “Winter Home Building”.  The students make winter homes for the stuffed animals located at this Center.


4.  Computers – I have downloaded the  Smart Board activities outlined in the Literacy Centers on individuals computers and the students can work on this.


5.  Paint Easel has stayed the same.


6. Playdough and Lego


7.  Creative Craft Center - Paper, cards, tape, scissors, glue, all types of decorations and odds and ends are placed here


8.  Water Table – Plastic animals have also been placed here with a styrofoam blocks used as icebergs


9.  Science Center – The students can feel the furs and other objects related to how animals protect themselves from the cold.


10.  Writing Center - Students complete the sentence…Gorilla is by the _______(trees).  They must print the word trees and and draw them.  We will also discuss the concept of perspective in drawing when completing the activity.


Gorilla Writing Activity


9:40 – 10:15 Get Ready and Go to Gym


10:15 – 10:35   Bathroom Break and Snack 


10:35 – 11:20 Literacy Centers

Circle Time

Review the letter “Gg” sound.  On the Smart Board together do the “g, e and q” similar spinner activity as displayed in the video.  If you are a member and do not have access to a “Smart Board” use the printable version of the game instead found in “Zoo” theme unit on the bottom of the web page.

Note:  The video demonstrates a similar activity; the one specifically for letters Gg, Ee and Qq can be found in the “Zoo Theme” .  The printable version of the game can also be found in the “Zoo Theme” bottom of the web page.  A spinning top is used.




View Activity on YouTube but Only Related to Letters Gg, Ee and Qq



Letter Formation

Introduce the correct letter formation of “g”.  Students practice in the air, on each other’s backs and in the palm of their hand.


Literacy Center Time

Center 1 – Alphabet and Print Awareness Center – Parent Volunteer Monitoring

Many of my students do not know all the names of the alphabet letters so this Center will be devoted this.  I am going to start with seven letters to begin with (Aa – Gg).  This is a partner game.  The students take turns spinning a top and identifying letter names (same as the video but only using the paper version and a spinning top).

Note:  If you are a member you can access these games which are found on “Zoo” theme web page.


Letter/Sound Spinner Game

Letter/Sound Spinner Game

Center 2 – Phonemic Awareness Center – With Teacher

I will be assisting the students to help them determine what sounds they hear at the beginning of each word.  These will be the review sounds “g, e, and q”.  The students will be taking turns spinning a top and choosing the correct letter that matches the initial sound of the picture they land on (printable version).  I place the printable version in a pie plate to control the spinner.


Center 3 –  Printing Center

Students will be practicing forming the letter “Gg”.  The students will be practicing printing the letter “g” in the salt trays and then on the white boards.  They can also print the words cat, cut , quit, get and egg.  The next day, they will be completing their printing book.  The version I use is found in the link below:



11:20 – 11:55   Circle Time 



My school jurisdiction has access to BookFlix so I will be showing “Good Night Gorilla” and other books to the students on the Smart Board while I assess their math knowledge.  My math assessment will consist of 10 manipulatives with two attributes.  They must count, sort and form a pattern using these.  They must also print their name.


Circle Time Alternative

-Calendar, count days on calendar, count how many days they have been in school, add this many straws to the 10′s cup.

-Sing “Days of the Week” display video on Smart Board.

-Sing and view animated alphabet video and have students pay special attention the the letter “Gg”.


Animated Alphabet Song Video


-Sing “The Apple Tree”, “Extraordinary Egg”, “Cool Clouds” and “Queen’s Feet” and “Groovy Gorilla” action songs found in the “Alpha Tunes CD”.


Rhyming Activity

I place a picture of a gorilla on the Smart Board.  The students take turns coloring (scribbling out) the rhyming part of the picture I am talking about:


1.  I rhyme with rose, I am the gorilla’s (nose)

2.  I rhyme with buy, I am the gorilla’s (eye)

3.  I rhyme with sand, I am the gorilla’s (hand)

4.  I rhyme with heat,  I am the gorilla’s (feet)

5.  I rhyme with south, I am the gorilla’s (mouth)

6.  I rhyme with farm, I am the gorilla’s (arm)

6.  I rhyme with bed, I am the gorilla’s (head)

7.  I rhyme with share, I am the gorilla’s (hair)


Rhyming Smart Board Activity Download

11:45 – 12:00  Bathroom Break 
12:00 – 12:25 Eat Lunch
12:25 – 1:00  Lunch Recess
1:00 – 1:40 Play Center Time
Groups switch from this morning.

1:40 – 1:55 Bathroom Break and Get Ready for Recess


1:55 – 2:45 Math Concepts and Math Tubs 

I have downloaded different patterning activities from the Smart Exchange.  We will do these together first.


Concept – Patterning

I have bought different beads at the dollar store for the students to make a patterned necklace; before we do this I want the students to practice making patterns.


Note:  Math tubs used were mentioned in previous blog post.


Distribute math tubs (manipulatives).  The students will be creating patterns using the different math manipulatives.  After, they must explain their pattern to me.



2:45-3:10 Bathroom and Get Ready for Dismissal


3:10  Bus Students Leave


3:15  Walking Students Leave

Are curriculum outcomes developmentally appropriate?  Post your comment!!!

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11 Responses

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  1. I think that any forms (standards, common core, etc.) that we use to better understand education and how it takes place are helpful. I am afraid, however, that admninistrations misinterpret the purpose of these breakdowns through analysis and expect that children will learn if you present material from a factory type, fragmented perspective. It seems we are always trying to tune-up our kids to an expected level of performance. Instead we should be developing individuals’ in their own natural flow with respect to what relates most effectively to them at any given point in time. We are systematically removing childhood from our children and schools instead of supporting the developmental guidelines that we know are appropriate when providing experience for our students at every level, especially early childhood. This is why I use so many of your ideas in my kindergarten. The children enjoy them and they are very effective with all levels of learners. When we talk about curriculum outcomes does it mean that everybody is on the same page at the same time doing the same thing at the same level? To teachers it means that you have taken each individual child as far ahead as you could with the means you had and beginning at whatever level of function the child entered your class. “People” with neither teaching experience nor genuine love of children will expect numbers on test scores to jive with an arbitrary standard that makes them look good on paper to some government requirements. I am not against screening and limited, appropriate evaluations for students, but what we do now just doesn’t mean much in terms of the needs of our students, educational and otherwise. We have chipped away at music, art and intramural programs to give more time to “academic rigors.” Then we wonder why our classrooms and schools show signs of very angry , unstable and uncivilized communities. Instead of supplying our children with those civilizing experiences and chances to respect one another, we would now rather fund numerous and expensive programs to stop the culture of bullying that is rampant in many areas. I’d say that curricullum outcomes are way off the mark if we still foster less recess and arts and more data driven, inappropriate teaching models.

  2. I completely agree with Mary Ellen. In Florida we have taken the “play” out of Kindergarten. It’s up to the teacher to figure out how to incorporate academic activities and at the same time maintain a standard. It’s strange how we are told to teach to each child’s level but than those students are labeled as low functioning and the teachers are made to feel that they are not doing their job. We are left wondering why their are so many behavior issues.

    1. I really appreciate you taking the time to provide feedback. I have noticed that in many U.S. schools that “learning through play” is no longer being incorporated in Kindergarten. I was astonished to learn this. Here in Canada it is still an important component of a child’s day. I couldn’t imagine teaching Kindergarten without incorporating play centers. The children are so excited when we change these each month.

  3. I want to thank you so much for your feedback. I totally agree with you. So much time and money seems to be spent on assessing students for the purpose of retrieving data. This money could be better spent on providing students with resources that engage them at all levels. Children come to school naturally curious and wanting to learn but as they move up in grade levels this love for learning diminishes. The saying “All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten,” I am afraid will no longer be valid.

    I have looked at the common core standards carefully and believe they can be implemented in a fun and engaging approach; however, it is only a guideline that many students may not be able to achieve. I have always geared my teaching towards the needs of my students rather then a set of standard guidelines. To me, it is more important that they enjoy learning and coming to school. Learning naturally occurs when presented in a meaningful and engaging context and is developmentally appropriate.


  4. I am impressed

  5. I have just started teaching kindergarten this will be extremely helpful

  6. I am thrilled to hear this. Just knowing how to structure the day can be a challenge.

  7. I have been teaching Kindergarten for 20 years and am working so hard to maintain the play and playfulness that is so essential to young children’s cognitive growth. This is one of my favorite blogs. It maintains a good balance of assessment, meeting standards, using technology and incorporating play. I appreciate how you keep asking the question; How can kindergarten teachers maintain a playful environment while meeting all the requirements expected of us and the children?
    When I first started teaching K, the idea was to teach academic concepts through students’ play. I would facilitate language development in pretend play. I would bring math skills and vocabulary into the block area. We were outdoors much more doing science; exploring, hypothesizing, classifying… Field trips were easier to take and we would visit local community institutions. The learning was so much richer!!
    Thanks for all the great ideas. I’m glad I’ll be retiring soon or I’d consider moving to Canada to teach!

  8. I appreciate you taking the time to post your comments. In Canada we are slowly moving towards five full-day kindergarten programs but the curriculum is still play-based. We are also moving towards more funded Preschool programs within our schools which are totally play-based. The purpose of these programs is to catch at risk students with language delays. A rich play environment is best suited for these students.

  9. Play is definitely gone from Kindergarten in Florida for sure! My classroom does not have play centers—no housekeeping, no paint, no sand or water, no blocks. I do have learning centers— but they are more academic than play based. I do not think that this developmentally appropriate. Expectations are so high for students in our district; they are expected to read on a level D, know math facts through 5, and place value to 19, write 4 to 8 related sentences(I think that constitutes a paragraph). I just wonder how far back they are going to push childhood. The other thing that is frustrating is they expect all children to come to kindergarten having been in a quality pre-k program, but pre-k is not mandatory and not all children attend.

  10. Wow!! I find this hard to believe. My students are from largely middle class families and for the most part with few problems; the majority of them could not achieve these expectations even if attending a full-day program each day of the week. I am excited that they can print their names legibly, can use scissors and pencils properly, count 10 objects and are just beginning to differentiate letter sounds. They are normal children with a very short attention span. The activities have to be constantly changing and the play centers allow for a balance.
    It sounds like these are expectations within your district. The common core standards did not seem that rigorous. I can certainly understand why you would be very frustrated.

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