Monday, June 11, 2018

7 Tips for Managing Learning Centers

Do you need ideas for how to organize and manage your elementary learning centers? Here are seven great tips to help you get started with learning centers in your classroom.

 I know, for many of us, getting centers ready can seem like a never ending chore.  But it's SO WORTH IT....the students are so engaged and happy when they use centers.

I try to make it easy on myself.  Not every center has to be a cutesy TPT product.  You probably have loads of stuff in your closets and drawers in your classroom that you never thought about making into a learning center.  I think there are a couple of key elements to making centers work in your classroom:


Yep, I said it.  The most important thing you can do to make those centers work in your room is to take the time to model what you expect at the center.  It's important to take several weeks at the beginning of the year to show your students all the centers, how to use the materials, the behaviors you expect, etc.  This really sets the tone for how your year will go during center time.


Ok, this one took me a while to figure out.  Way back in the day, I allowed 4 students at a center at a time.  This just didn't work for me.  I found that there was way too much arguing or tattling.  Somebody was always unhappy with something.  They didn't get the first turn, somebody was cheating....I know you know what I'm talking about

So, I decided I would cut it in half and have two students at a center. I felt like they had to have somebody there to work with.  Ok, that worked better.  But there were ALWAYS those few kids who couldn't learn to whisper or talk in a quiet voice.

No matter how many times I reminded them, it was always the same. And I like it QUIET during guided reading (which is when my kids use centers).  And so one day I had an epiphany..........I made a decision to allow one student at a time at a center.

And oh my goodness......IT CHANGED MY LIFE.  Suddenly, the kids were on task, doing the work correctly,  not fighting and it was quiet. It was the best decision I have made in my classroom and I never looked back.

Now, for those of you that are asking "Well what if I put a game at my center? Who are they going to play with?".....I occasionally allow the students have partners at centers.  We sometimes have extra center time in the afternoon....especially on Friday.  That's when they get the chance to play those partner games.  But for the most part, I try to put things in my centers that they kids can work on by themselves.



This is really important.  I know we all get busy and next thing you know it's December and the kids are still looking at the same ratty Halloween books, there's no paper at the writing station, the markers are all dried up at the Art center and the kids are going crazy cause there's nothing good to do!

We've all been there (don't pretend you haven't...LOL).  But seriously, keeping the materials fresh and engaging is so important if you want your students to be on task and really learning. I have a big plastic  storage box for each month and that is where I store my center materials.

I like to set up my centers so they have the monthly holiday theme (Halloween, Christmas, etc) and over the years I have made many activities.  I shop at the dollar store and pick up cute seasonal items to use for counters, containers, pencils, etc. You would be surprised at how excited students get when they see some new pencils or markers at a center! BUT, that being said, it takes time to get to that point.  It doesn't happen overnight.

So take a look in your teacher cupboard and closets.  Do you have games or activities in there that you never pull out?  How about those magnetic letters? Or word tiles? What about your math manipulatives?  All of those things can be used at centers.

NOT EVERY CENTER HAS TO BE A CUTESY TPT PRODUCT or PINTEREST IDEA.  I know many of you are feeling overwhelmed and think if you aren't making everything "Pinterest worthy" than you aren't cutting it as a teacher.  Please don't feel that way.  There are many great activities collecting dust in your file cabinets and closets that you can use at your centers.  Get in there and look around! 😊


I think this is really important to remember.  Never put something at a center that you haven't already taught your students. Centers are not the place to introduce a new skill.  This is when trouble starts.  When students don't know how to use the materials correctly, they get off task and start to just play around with them instead of really diving into the skill.

A good idea is to introduce games and activities during your whole group time before they go into a center.  For instance, a couple of days a week we will play math games during our whole group time.  I often have several copies of games and kids will work in groups of 2 or 3 to play the games.

I monitor this time to make sure they are playing the game correctly.  After I'm sure that they know how to play the games or use the materials......then I put them at the Math center.  I try to do that with all of my centers.  Occasionally it's ok to  put something new at a center that students have never seen before....but always make sure that it is a skill that they have been taught and make sure to show the kids exactly how to use the materials before it goes in a center.


There are lots of ways you can keep the kids accountable at centers.  I think it's important to figure out what works for you.  Some people use a "work board" and move students names each day to determine which center they will attend. This is a really popular method and it may work for you. For me....that was too much work.  I am all about making it easy on me and the my students.
I didn't want to take valuable lesson time or my precious planning time to change out a work board every day.

My students use a learning center log  They are given a log at the beginning of the week and it lasts about two weeks.  Each day they can visit any center on the log BUT at the end of center time they have to check off that center on their log.

They cannot go back to that center again until their log is filled up and they get a new one.  This ensures that kids are not going to the same center over and over......(you know you have that one kid that will go to computers EVERY DAY if they can get away with it!) This is the log my students use.


Now I know you are thinking "What??? Check their work??? When do I have time to do that?".  Remember my motto..... KEEP IT SIMPLE!  At the end of guided reading/center time have your students go back to their seats and lay out everything that they did that day - their daily seat work, their log and any work they completed at centers. 

Quickly walk around and give a quick glance at what they did.  Make sure that they all checked off their log (so they can't sneak back there again tomorrow - LOL) and look to see if they are actually doing the activities correctly at the  centers.  Don't expect everything to be perfect. You simply want to know that when they go to the center they are on task and trying.  That's it.  I don't think it's necessary to grade their work.  If you're satisfied that they are doing what they are supposed to, they can put their work their mailbox or book bag and you are done for the day.  

If you have a student that is continuously off task or not using the materials correctly, have them sit out the next day during their center time. They can use this time to watch the other children and see what center time should look like. 


I know that differentiation can seem like a lot of work, but it doesn't have to be.  It's important to put several activities at your centers so that children of all levels can participate, learn and enjoy themselves.  

I've been working on making monthly activities for each center that are differentiated into three levels - Students who are STRUGGLING, Students who are ON LEVEL and Students who are ABOVE LEVEL. I have them coded with either a circle, triangle or square and the students know which level works best for them.  

Here are a few of my products that I have created for different centers.  Each pack contains multiple activities that are all differentiated to meet the needs of all your students.  Click on the center title to take a closer look: 

         Spelling Centers               October Centers


    November Centers            October Math Centers


           March Centers            December Centers

         Math Centers

So there you have center routine.  It really works for me and I hope you picked up a few good tips that will help you too!