One activity that I love to use in my classroom is learning centers! These are a great way to differentiate instruction, review past material, and keep students engaged. However, centers only work if you have great organization! Knowing how to manage your centers will ensure your students are getting all they can out of centers.
What are Centers?
Centers are activities that pertain to the subject you are teaching or have already taught. Typically you will have small groups that will move around the room together to different “stations” or learning centers. In these centers, there are a variety of activities that help enhance and review material that you have already covered. So, how do you manage your centers? Easy. You use these five fool-proof tips!
1: Choose Activities Wisely to Manage Your Centers
When you are choosing activities for your centers, you want to make sure they are things your students have seen before. For example, if you always use pictures for sequencing, you want to use pictures for sequencing in your centers. If you were to add words to the mix, students might not be as successful simply because they haven’t done sequencing in that way before. In addition to students being successful, you want your students to be working independently so you can be at a teacher-led station. When you introduce new things into centers, you create chaos because students have so many questions and they will interrupt you.
2: Strategically Group Students Together
Not only do you have to make sure you have centers that students can do without your guidance, you want to make sure if you use groups that your students are doing their own work. To manage your centers, you want to make sure you are carefully considering your groups. Now, yes, this for sure means paying attention to who is with who. If Jack and Jill simply don’t get along, you don’t want to put them in a group together. However, you have more to think about than just who can get along.
When you manage your center groups, you have to decide if you want the groups to have students who all perform at a similar level or a range of levels. There are benefits and drawbacks to both. If everyone is on the same level, students might be able to have deeper conversations and they will be able to push each other. In addition, no one is sitting there left in the dust while everyone else speeds ahead. However, you might not see as much growth with your lower-achieving students. If you have a variety of levels in a group, your students can help you teach a concept to a struggling student. The drawback is if the group doesn’t have strong leaders, then your lower achieving students get left in the dust.
3: Expect Greatness to Manage Your Centers
Whenever students are working in centers, they are essentially working on their own. Because of this, you want to make sure you have high expectations for their behavior, how they move from center to center, and how they handle the “unexpected” things (check out tip 4!). Not only do you need high expectations to manage your centers, you want to make sure you practice all of them. This should be done in the first few weeks of school before you start doing activities in your centers. When you create your expectations, you need to make sure they are simple, clear, and consistent. Rules or expectations are not followed if you do not enforce them.
You also want to have expectations about cleaning up your centers. Sometimes centers can have a lot of pieces that need to be replaced periodically. You can use a list of items each center has and designate one person in the group to take inventory at the end of center for whatever center they are on. This will help you keep your centers neat and organized.
4: Plan for the Mishap
I don’t know how your classroom works, but in my classroom there is always something! Someone broke his/her pencil, another student got a paper cut, and here comes the fire drill. We know things that we don’t plan for are going to happen in a day. Therefore, it’s important for you to plan for what you can. To manage your centers, you can have a “fix-it-up” station that has extra copies of what students are working on in a monthly file box, sharpened pencils, and maybe a band aid if needed. By having these things at the ready where your students know they can find them, you will be able to move through your centers without hiccups interrupting the rest of the class.
5: Stay Consistent to Manage Your Centers
Working in centers should be second nature to your students. When they get up to move around the room to the next center, they should know which direction to go. If they break their pencil, they should know where to find a new one. They should also know what they should be doing based on the labels that you consistently use. When you have consistency throughout your centers no matter what subject you are using them for, you are setting your centers and your students up for success.
Centers activities are such a fun way to differentiate and enhance instruction. Plus, students get to move around the room doing a variety of exercises! However, the only way you’re going to get all the benefits of center activities is if you manage your centers in an organized way. Once you are doing that, you can watch your students grow!