Who loves classroom centers? *Raises hand* Classroom centers can be fantastic and versatile spaces within the classroom. They can offer student choice, movement within the room, and provide enrichment, extension, and reinforcement. They can also allow for interaction between content areas, technology, and hands-on experiences for students. The content, supplies, and types of centers will vary depending on grade level. For example, preschool centers will include centers like dramatic play and art, while upper elementary grades will most often include content-based centers like math and writing. Whatever your grade level, whether you teach preschool or grade 5, here are some of my favorite tips for classroom center management.
1. Avoid traffic jams.
Limit the number of visitors per center at a time. This also challenges students to try new things when their preferred center(s) aren’t available. In each center, I placed a visual with the center name. Next to the center name, I placed a numbered name tag chart, with attached velcro. I printed these on colored card stock and laminated them. Some centers were only open to one student while others would be open for three to four students at a time. I placed the other side of velcro on the back of these coordinating student name tags (which I also laminated). Students placed their name tags at the center of their choice, and when the number cards were full, the center was no longer available. This worked amazingly well in both my preschool and second grade classrooms. Also, strategically space centers throughout the room and create flexible workspaces for students in different areas. Students can also work at their desks!
2. Create resource-rich workspaces.
Make sure students have access to everything they will need at their center. Set up areas with supplies, resources or reference materials, digital devices, clear instructions, and opportunities for partnered or independent work. It’s great to offer students several activity options at varying levels. But students should have everything they need at the center in order to be most efficient.
3. Set very clear expectations.
And stick to them! With your students, establish very clear guidelines and determine what the consequences will be for not following them. This includes behavior, noise level, working habits, and clean-up expectations. What are the expectations for students if they have questions, but you’re busy? “Ask three, then me” is a great routine to put in place. Here is an entry with several additional suggestions. Also, one of my expectations was that students should complete an activity before moving on to a new activity.
4. Provide a checklist, choice board, or extension menu.
Set up a system for students to track their work to prevent them from starting a lot of activities that they don’t finish. One way you can do this is by giving them a weekly or daily checklist listing their “must-do” activities and several “can-do” activities. You can also use a tic-tac-toe choice board. Check out these great posts about choice board creation.
5. Model tracking and organization.
Coach your students to track and organize their center work. Each of my students had an individual folder. They put their “to-be-completed” activities in the front pocket. Completed activities were hole-punched and put in brads. They loved seeing their folders fill up, and we celebrated this together!
What’s worked in your classroom for classroom center management? Do you have additional ideas or strategies to share? Please add them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!