Creating Centers in the Classroom – Part 1

As we (AIMS Research Associates) have been working in classrooms, we have worked with centers of four to six students per group. In classes of 25 to 35 students, this has allowed us to become familiar with the mathematics of our students by seeing behavior up close as we present math tasks. I thought I would share ideas for setting up centers.

First, it does not have to be done all at once. One strategy is to pick a center you want to become an independent center. Spend time learning the activity as a whole class. The amount of time spent teaching the center will vary by grade level. For example, a kindergarten teacher may need to spend an entire week before the students are ready to do the task independently, where other grades may require less time. Once your class is prepared to do this first center on their own, spend a day with the students working in centers.

If we allow the other centers to be playful and without very many instructions, we can transition into independent center work more smoothly. This structure will give you an opportunity to teach the students the process and procedures for center time. Eventually, you will want to have a teacher ran task, but don’t feel the need to rush into this. The teacher can be roaming the room, focusing on management and developing expectations in the beginning. If students get a clear understanding of how to function in centers very early on, it will save a lot of time throughout the year as the centers run smoothly. Don’t be afraid to take some time and work out the kinks. Expectations and structure are important parts of this process and getting those things nailed down will be a tremendous help in the long run. My collegue, Beverly Ford will be digging in to some more details as well as giving tips for setting up expectations and structure for centers.

Now we can spend more time as a whole class learning a new center that you would like to become independently run. Spend the number of days you feel is necessary for the students to do the task on their own just like you did with the first one. Once the students are ready, have a day of centers again. Use the two tasks you have taught them, and fill the others with playful, easy to manage tasks as you did on the first center day.

Continue this rotation of working with the whole class to teach a task, and then having a day of centers, weaving in each new task as students are ready to do them independently. Focus on setting clear expectations and teaching the structure of center time during the first few experiences. Once you have enough meaningful independent centers and the students know the expectations well, you can now turn to running a teacher-led center rather than worrying about managing all the other centers. It can be helpful to group students with others who are rouhgly on the same level of understanding so you can modify the tasks to be more meaningful for each student depending on their understanding. We’ll explore some of that in the final part of this series on centers.

This process is just one way to get started. How have you set up centers in your classroom? Let us know; we would love to hear from you!

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