Centers are an extremely helpful tool for the classroom. They allow students to practice skills learned during lessons, but they can quickly become chaos if they are not managed correctly. Keep reading to learn simple tips for managing centers in your primary education classroom.
Always Have a Plan
Before you let students loose in centers, create a plan for managing centers and stick to it. Know exactly where you want students to work on their activities and where supplies will be stored. Consider bins or drawers for materials and specific areas for each center.
Keeping things consistent with location will ensure that students always know where to go. Change things up if they aren’t working and rely on trial and error to find the sweet spot that works, but start with a plan. You’ll be managing centers like a pro in no time.
Model All Expectations and Procedures
Whether you teach kindergarten or upper grades, it’s essential to show students exactly how they should act in their centers. Model all tasks and procedures for them so they understand how things should look. Don’t assume that just because they are in 4th grade, they know what to do.
Model both proper examples and non-examples to show kids what to do. Feel free to get silly so they stay engaged and focused as you speak. They’ll remember the silly ways and know they shouldn’t act that way in centers.
Make Yourself Available at First
As a first-year teacher, I wanted to use the center time to meet with my small groups. This is the perfect time to meet with groups, but not immediately. It takes time to begin managing centers effectively. Eventually, you will be able to Manage Centers While You Teach Small Groups, but give it time.
During the first few weeks of using centers, make yourself available to model, answer questions, and redirect as needed. As students get the hang of things, you can incorporate small groups more. Whatever you do in small groups, ensure an opportunity to walk around the room and check on centers to keep kids on task.
Some days are chaotic, but being prepared for centers shows students that you mean business. If you rush to gather materials while they sit on the carpet, they have time to get bored and goof around. Managing centers involves being prepared each and every day.
Prepare your materials the day before (or the week before if possible). Have everything organized and ready for the day of. Make sure they have all the materials they will need, from pencils to paper, to scissors and crayons, as soon as independent center time begins.
Smaller Groups are Better
Depending on the size of your class, you may be tempted to have large groups, but this often leads to lots of noise. Smaller groups provide less time for being off-task or for arguing. Managing centers means preparing for all scenarios and reducing the size of groups is a great place to start.
I recommend using groups of 3 to 4 students, depending on the activities you will be using. The group sizes may vary based on activities, absences, and other circumstances, but keep numbers in mind as you plan.
Use Centers for Practice
Centers are a time to practice skills that have already been taught. Don’t use this time to introduce new skills. Students will be confused and won’t know what to do. You will have to make yourself 100% available, making managing centers a headache.
To avoid frustration, keep the centers simple and make sure the activities given are independent. Kids will appreciate that they can figure them out independently and apply their knowledge after a lesson.
Provide Task Cards
Task cards (or I Can Statements) are a great addition to centers because they show students what their objectives are, and they are great for administration. If the principal walks in and asks a child what they are doing, they have the tools in front of them to answer the question confidently.
These cards are a great reminder of how to stay on task if students start to lose their way. They are also helpful in providing instructions so students know how to get started. The key to managing centers is ensuring students can be self-sufficient as much as possible, and cards like this help.
Change Things Up Often
Kids get bored quickly, so plan to change your centers periodically. You might consider changing them weekly or every other week. This will all depend on your specific class and their needs.
It may seem overwhelming to change things often, but they don’t have to be significant changes. A change can involve adding a different writing utensil to a word work center or a different location for their writing station.
Keep the same centers all year and rotate through them. Use write-the-room once every month so they look forward to it, or incorporate rainbow writing at the end of each month. This keeps things consistent but also different all year long.
Hold Students Accountable
While some center activities may just be a game, others may require a recording sheet or some way for you to see that students completed their work and worked diligently. As often as possible, provide a way for students to report what they have done, so you know they were working hard.
If there are centers where this just isn’t possible, consider walking around the room throughout the learning block to make sure students are on task. Ask them questions to get them thinking and double-check that they are making the most of their time.
Create a Plan for Early Finishers
You will definitely have students that finish their tasks well before the center time is over. Provide a fast-finishers basket or a task to complete if they are done early. Some of these ideas may include reading a book silently to themselves, organizing their desk space, drawing a picture and illustrating it if applicable, or completing a task they missed earlier in the week.
Providing an early-finishers station or plan will help diminish behavior issues that could arise if they have nothing better to do. This is an easy step in managing centers and ensuring everything runs smoothly.
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