Blocks and literacy?

For the past couple of months, I’ve been toying with how to revamp my literacy centers. While my students were enjoying literacy centers, I was in a rut with ideas, and knew that if I kept using the same centers over and over, I’d see less engagement amongst my students. I was talking to a classmate about this time, and she mentioned that she has incorporated blocks into her literacy center. I loved that idea, and this led me to research more to see if there were any connections to literacy, in case I was asked to justify my choice of centers beyond, “I think children should be allowed to play.” Third grade students already have so much that they’re required to do at school that is arguably not developmentally appropriate. This is a huge change from when I was in school. I remember having centers in third grade–we played board games, played educational computer games, followed a recipe to make homemade playdough when we learned about multiplication, built with legos, drew pictures, conducted experiments at the science center, and more! I also remember how fun learning was. I wanted my students to continue to find enjoyment in learning.

Like any teacher looking for ideas, I went to Pinterest. I came across this article on using Tangrams to develop visual perceptiveness in children. The more I read about visual perceptiveness, the more convinced I became that this skill is crucial for students’ abilities to read and write. Through my reading, and clicking on the affiliate links, I learned that:

  • Tangrams can help students with their handwriting (click here!)
  • Students are developing the ability to recognize shapes even if they’re in a different position.
  • Students use visual discrimination, which helps them determine how shapes are different from each other. This is an important skill in reading as they use similar skills when looking at the letters ‘b’ and ‘d’ and ‘p’ and ‘q’.’

I was sold. My students would be using literacy skills when building with blocks or using Tangrams, and most likely, they wouldn’t even know!

I brought out the pattern blocks and Tangrams last week in centers, and I heard a collective “yes!” echo through the room. I looked up and even saw some fist pumping and high fives! If this doesn’t make a teacher smile, I don’t know what does.

As I watched my students engage in this center, I was amazed at how much I learned about them through watching them build. I learned which students have trouble with visual discrimination, and when I look at their writing, it fits, as I often see them flipping their b’s and d’s. Some of these students also struggle with reading, and I wonder if it might have to do with difficulty seeing nuances in letters.  

However, I also saw their creativity shine in new ways. I saw them create patterns, build towers, experiment with how the shapes fit together, make up stories about their creations, and more.  My students love this center, and ask every day if it’s their group’s turn again to build with blocks.

One student created a galaxy.


“A random tower.” 
Pattern blocks.JPG
Love how much symmetry there is in this design! 


“Robot people”

Their enthusiasm with building, the literacy skills they’re using, and the fact that they’re learning through play, has made me think how I can add other centers that they’d view as play, but that would be connected to literacy. I’m thinking a homemade playdough center would bring together reading and math literacy, having a few props or dress up clothes may encourage them to act out, and perform, engaging in storytelling, having them draw what they’re reading during independent reading would be an informal way to assess comprehension as a visual narrative.

What centers do you use with your students?

I’m excited to begin this process of adding more engaging centers to my rotation where my students will learn and engage in literacy through play!


One thought on “Blocks and literacy?

  1. leighahall November 11, 2016 / 11:58 pm

    What a brilliant idea! Although, honestly, I don’t think you should have to justify this at all. They SHOULD be allowed to play. Play is the work of children. And we have forgotten that in our policies. Yuck.

    I liked this because it disrupted business as usual for your students. When you do that, new opportunities can emerge for students and particularly for those who might not participate much.


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