How do you feel when you hear the words ‘learning centers?’
Does it make you feel excited and giddy or does it make you cringe and want to pull your hair out?
No matter how you feel, I am here to provide 5 easy, solid tips to help you get centers up and running successfully. More importantly, I’ll be sharing ways to sustain them ALL year! That’s the real game changer. So let’s dive right in to 5 easy must know tips now!
Be sure to not miss number 4 because it’s crucial!!
#1 : Organization is a Must
First things first, organization is a MUST because this one component can make or break your centers and their functionality. Let’s imagine two scenarios.
In classroom number one, we have papers strewn everywhere, baskets filled with piles of unfinished work, pages to be graded, and things to be copied. Materials are disheveled and in disarray. The teacher and students may struggle to find the things they need. Centers do not run smoothly because things are a mess.
In classroom number two, imagine neatly organized bins with center materials for every skill. Baskets are color coded for work, copies, and more. There is easy access to needed materials, that are organized AND labeled, all set up for student independence.
Now that you’ve imagined both scenarios, I have two questions. Which of these classrooms is going to thrive with centers for the year? & Which of these classrooms do you most relate to? If it’s the first one, THIS is the importance of organization. Prioritizing neatness isn’t just about looks, but more so about functionality . From the placement of centers to the organization of materials, it all plays a part in how successful your centers will be.
So how do we get classroom number two to be a reality? Start by asking yourself a few simple questions.
Where centers will be located?
Which centers will you have? (literacy, math, or both)
How will you organize your centers?
How long will each center last and how many students will be at each?
How will students access manipulatives and tools?
While these questions provide a great foundation, they are just the tip of the iceberg in this journey. Read through the ultimate guide to getting centers organized and set up HERE!
#2 : Practice, Practice, Practice
Tip number two is putting in the practice. Three of your biggest tools for successful centers are something I’m sure you can guess- Expectations, routines, and procedures. These are going to be the glue that holds your center time together. This will take time, prep, and planning, but most importantly, PRACTICE.
Spending time thinking through how centers will run, before day one with students, is crucial. When you set those expectations, think about your routines, and practice every single procedure, you AND your students will know exactly what to do to have successful centers for the ENTIRE YEAR. Sound a little overwhelming? Don’t worry! I’ve got you covered with the Mastering Classroom Centers For Good: Turning Chaos into Calm A Guide.
You can grab it FREE by subscribing below!
#3 : Activities Built for Success
Knowing what to put inside the centers to keep students engaged is probably one of the most overwhelming parts of setting up and implementing them. You might’ve even thought to yourself- what ARE they supposed to be doing while in their centers? Well, the answer is pretty simple. They can do whatever you want them to! Remember this time is for them to PRACTICE what they’ve been learning. Centers are the perfect differentiation tool and place for independent AND collaborative practice. And when you do it right, you get more time for YOU to do the small group instruction you know you need.
Got a group working on letter sounds? Have them complete a sort. Need to differentiate? Have some students simply sort letters to work on recognition, while others can work on sorting by letter sounds. One activity with two purposes. This activity is built for success.
One thing I’ve found very useful during centers is to teach students how to complete an engaging activity that can work with many different skills, and then change the skill. This could be as simple as a game of Bump. Once they know how to play the game, it can be changed for different skills they are working on, from CVC words or Addition within 10.
Learn all about engaging and fun center activities HERE!
#4 : Hold Students Accountable
One of the biggest frustrations I hear from teachers over and over again about centers is how to make sure their students are engaged in their work and how to hold them accountable for their learning.
This tip is two fold. One, let’s talk about the engagement piece for a second. Raise your hand if you’ve been sitting at your teacher table and seen kids rolling on the floor, putting books on their head, or wandering around the room. I know we’ve ALL been there. There are a few reasons for this. Either their work is too challenging and they can’t complete it independently, it is a task they are not interested in, or they don’t have solid expectations.
Now imagine you are sitting at your teacher table with a group of students and EVERY SINGLE STUDENT is engaged in learning. Sound impossible? I promise you it’s not. With those activities we discussed earlier (engagement), those procedures we set up from day one (expectations), and now accountability during centers, I PROMISE you and your students will come to cherish center time and they will THRIVE.
So how do you hold them accountable? There are a few different easy ways. If you don’t have technology available, I suggest using a SIMPLE recording sheet for each center that students have to turn in. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it DOES need to hold them accountable for what task they are completing. If you do have technology like iPads or Chromebooks, Seesaw is a great tool for accountability. It’s also a great differentiation tool because students can take a picture or video recording of a game they played, OR you can take a picture of a recording sheet and they can complete it and turn it digitally. These are just some simple and easy ideas. You can learn all about accountability during center time HERE!
#5 : First Weeks Facts
All of these tips bring us to our last and probably most important one because it answers a really important question.
What do you do during that first week of introducing centers?
For starters, I personally don’t typically start centers until the second or third week of school. It all depends on the group of primary students on when we will be ready to start. Regardless of the group though, even during those first weeks’ of practice, I AM NOT pulling groups. During that first week we do introduce centers, we typically start by practicing the different center types as a WHOLE class, while I rotate and support. This allows them to learn about the different types of centers there are, how to work in a group, and begin to learn independence during that time. It also gives them the familiarity of the types of games and activities they’ll be using to practice their skills.
We also do A LOT of reflection after practicing so that we can discuss what went well and what needs to be improved for the following day. This is done for both math and literacy centers. After students are starting to get a feel for how centers run, then I start pulling groups, SOLELY for practice. While the groups are at the table, I still support the other centers as needed, but pull back to allow for independence.
These first weeks of practice are CRUCIAL to how the whole year will run. Just remember, I WANT to be there to support you! Centers are a beautiful thing when done right and you will LOVE this time in your day. Let me help you through every step of the way. Learn all about these important steps in the Mastering Classroom Centers For Good: Turning Chaos into Calm Guide. You can also learn more tips and tricks for the first weeks with centers HERE!
I really hope you enjoyed learning all about creating successful centers for the entire year with your students! Be sure to check out all the other tools included to support you in your centers journey. And believe me, it is a journey worth taking! Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! Not only will you get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the Mastering Classroom Centers For Good: Turning Chaos into Calm Guide FREEBIE! You will also have exclusive access to tons of digital how-to videos! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
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