Children learn best when they are actively engaged. Implementing centers in the
students become more responsible
students to learn through self-discovery
teachers with time to pull students one-on-one or in small groups to target
specific academic skills, modify and enrich curriculum, and better meet the
needs of individual students
I have taught both first grade and kindergarten and could not imagine teaching
without centers. Every year I tweak and adjust my system to meet the needs
of my students. Over the years, I have worked hard to move away from the
more "cutesy" centers that must be changed out weekly and focused on creating
more permanent centers with open ended tasks. Changing out centers weekly is
just too much work! I select activities that involve students in
practicing reading, writing, and spelling daily. I also choose open ended
tasks that can be repeated with different poems, books, or writing topics.
Remember if it takes you longer to create the center than it takes your students
to complete it, ask yourself if the activity is really worthwhile. All of
us have spent hours coloring, cutting, gluing, and laminating file folder games
and activities that are completed in minutes. So, try to keep this in mind
if you are new to implementing centers in your classroom.
Think about what your goals for implementing centers are:
Students actively engaged
in meaningful learning.
A peaceful working
environment that is conducive to small group instruction.
On this page you will find suggestions for:
Here are some
centers that I have used over the years. I have also tried to include any
materials or resources that have worked well! Some of these centers are
kindergarten focused while others are more appropriate for first grade.
the Room: Students select a pointer to use to read words, poems,
graphs, and any other text displayed in the classroom. I have a tub
located in the Library Center filled with all sorts of pointers.
Some of our favorites include magic wands, fly swatters, sunglasses, word
munching animals, and bubble wands. Sometimes I will attach a list of
words to a key ring and the students must find these words around the
room. Looking for some downloadable worksheets to coordinate with
this activity? Visit my literacy
Write the Room: This center is the same as Read the Room
except this time students write down words they find displayed in the
classroom. Mini-clipboards, writing tablets, and fun pens make this
center very enticing to students! Looking for some downloadable
worksheets to coordinate with this activity? Visit my
literacy boxes page!
Letter Center: In this center, students work with a
variety of alphabet activities. Sometimes students get to play
several different games. Other times, there is a required assignment
for the child to complete. For a first grade classroom, you may wish
to change this center into a word building center. Students can spell
sight words, weekly spelling words, word wall words, etc.
magnetic letters, magnetic boards or cookie sheets, foam letters,
letter stamps, ink pads, alphabet beads, magnetic bingo markers and wands,
word family mats, lima beans labeled with alphabet letters, letter cards
(like the Open Court Alphabet Cards), Wikki-Stix, die-cut letters, letter
Center Resources from Creative Teaching Press
|Language in Motion
manipulatives is a great resource for adding hands-on activities to reading
instruction and center time. It has lots of cheap ideas! Here
are some games and manipulatives you may wish to add to your centers.
Writing Center: Here students may create cards,
letters for friends and family, short stories, mini-books, posters, and
signs. I alternate between free writing choices and
assignments. You might want to add special "thinking"
crowns or hats. I know some teachers have special hats for different
sections of the writing process. For example, a visor for
editing. I post examples of work samples in the writing center to
provide writing choices. This is my writing center from the 2006-2007
school year. My word wall is on a magnetic white board.
Consider asking parents to donate old birthday, Christmas, and Valentine
cards. Parents may also be willing to donate old note pads and
stationary. Paper of all colors, shapes, and sizes, adding-machine
tape, stickers, stamps, ink pads, markers, pens, crayons, pencils,
scissors, glue, children's dictionaries, Word Wall, Mini-word walls in
file folders, letter stencils, staplers, tape, clipboards
Big Book Center: Students are allowed to read a variety of
big books. I write words from the story on sentence strips, cut them
up, and store them in a Ziploc baggie. I put Wikki-Stix on the
outside of the Ziploc bag. I use a clothespin to attach the packets to the
front of the books.
highlighting tape, sentence strips, a variety of pointers,
sight word cards
Letter Books: This center is a basket filled with alphabet
books. I sometimes include alphabet activities to play or materials
for creating individual letter books.
Pocket Chart: No classroom is complete without a pocket
chart! I put math games, language games, poems, and songs in our
chart. It is also a great place for working with punctuation.
The student below is adding pom pom ball periods and pipe cleaner and pom
pom ball question marks. She can also sing and sequence the poem
on the left. I created this activity from a punctuation worksheet.
The worksheet serves as a quick assessment of the activity.
Center: This center can also be called the "Story
Re-telling" center. Here students re-tell stories, poems, or
nursery rhymes using puppets. Students may design their own puppet
or use one from the center. Sometimes, I have a specific puppet for the
children to make.
socks, wiggly eyes, yarn, paper lunch sacks, paper plates, popsicle
sticks, markers, crayons, scissors, tape, glue
Math Center: Here students play math games, work with
manipulatives, and learn through hands-on discovery. I no longer
incorporate a math center during my language arts block. I need that time
for independent practice with reading, writing, and spelling. Instead I
prefer to use a math center time during my math block. Students work
with hands-on manipulatives and play math games which allows me to pull
small groups of students during math time.
problem solving, students enjoy working with the Math Treasure Box.
Students draw numbers, names, and objects and fill in the math story frame to
create addition and subtraction problems.
books are must-haves for designing hands-on activities for your math
Science Center: This is the place for science experiments to take
place! Don't forget to include a variety of books, magnifying
glasses, discovery bottles, lab coats, and science goggles. In 2004, I took a three drawer file cabinet and turned them into investigation
drawers. Students selected an investigation drawer and filled out a
lab report on the activities.
wands, water bottles filled with items to test and graph magnetic vs. not
magnetic, magnetic cars, ice cube tray and magnetic balls
Materials: books on
insects, magnifying glasses, bugs in jars (The kids love to help add to the
collection!)Build a bug set from Costco: includes a book a bugs that can be
put together as real or imaginary bugs (I also have one on reptiles that I
put in the drawers from time to time.)
#3: Human Body
Materials: human body
books, human body apron from Lakeshore, x-rays, rubber glove filled with
popsicle sticks and one with flour
On top of the file
cabinet, I have plants and a bird nest that the kids can observe and examine
with magnifying glasses. The great thing about the drawers is that I
can change them out, but I don't have to change my labels!
tub topics is a great resource for your science center. Consider
adding magazines and books to your science center. Ranger Rick and Zoobooks are
wonderful kid friendly publications!
Click on the
links below to order!
Social Studies: This center is a great place for children to
discover and learn about cultures around the world. Maps, globes,
atlases, travel brochures, and historical artifacts make this center high
interest! I used to have a geosafari globe that the kids can use, but
I wished it had a headphone jack!
Art Center: Each week I place a new activity for the
students to complete independently. This center could also be set up
for free expression by making art materials available to the students.
Provide written instructions for students to read and follow independently!
This is a great way to integrate reading and writing with art.
Here are some great
Easel Painting: Provide students with smocks, various size brushes,
and paint. I also keep watercolors and chalk available.
Sometimes, I limit the number of paint colors and often ask students to
paint a specific thing. However, the easel is generally open for
free paint! In the wintertime, I put out a cup of epsom salt.
The children love to sprinkle their wet winter scenes with the salt
because it makes the picture sparkle like snow!
Fine Motor: In this center, I put out a variety of
activities aimed at increasing fine motor strength. The "Lite
Brite" is very popular and almost always available. You can also put
out a variety of clothespins or tongs and small items for children to pick
up and place in ice cube trays.
Sewing: Each week I place a seasonal shape in the
sewing tub. As the year progresses, the students hole-punch the
shapes and sew them with multi-colored yarn. Paper clips make ideal
and inexpensive needles. I also put out some of the plastic needles.
However, most of my kids choose to stitch without one!
Dramatic Play: Most kindergarten classrooms have
housekeeping areas. I prefer to call mine "Dramatic Play"
because I change out the items according to the various themes we
study. For example, when we studied Texas and Cowboys, I created a
night sky, a campfire, and covered the kitchen unit with butcher paper to
make it look like a horse.
Sand and Water Table: One year my classroom had a wonderful
water table from Lakeshore. I enjoyed putting in colored water,
soap and whisks, rice, beans, packing peanuts, and ice! The
possibilities are endless. I recommend getting together with your
kindergarten team to purchase items for your sensory tables. Then,
you could rotate the materials. I find the storage of these items to
be a little burdensome. Email me if you have any great ideas.
So far, I like those big popcorn cans.
Play-doh: Clay and play-doh is always available to the
students on the supply shelf. I keep trays and a variety of cookie
cutters available as well. Sometimes, I will put out seasonal
plastic placemats instead of trays. Play-doh is also great for story
Keeping track of where
students work during center time can be burdensome. Over the years, I have
tried many different things. Here are some systems that I have used and
cards: With this system, students must wear a center necklace to go to
centers. The necklace is a large plastic clothespin
threaded with lanyard lace. The student attaches his
or her card to the clothes pin and then goes to centers. The
center cards have the same icons that are on the center.
Students color in the pictures of the centers they complete.
This works really well with kindergarten students as the
necklace helps the students keep track of their center card.
on a link below to download some of my center
use the copier at school to shrink the cards. The kids really enjoy wearing them
as necklaces. I also have a date stamp near the center card tubs.
The students stamp them on Monday. The students have required centers
which they must complete throughout the course of the week. Once all of
the required centers are complete they may choose any center on their
card. Fridays they may re-visit a favorite center.
Folders: I have a crate with hanging
files labeled with each students name or number. Each child has a two pocket
folder with brads in the center to keep their center work.
At the beginning of each week, children would put their
center sheet in the brads of their folder.
The center sheet is a page containing pictures of the
centers. As the student completes the center, he or
she colors in the picture of the center he or she worked in.
Folders are carried to each center and any work that is
completed in a center is placed in the center folder. At the
end of the week, students empty their folders, paper clip
their papers together, and turn them in to be graded.
Click on the
links below to download my first grade center and literacy station
Visit my page on
Literacy Boxes for more independent learning ideas. Click on
the honey pot to go!
Here are two great center recording sheets that I found on the web.
I can't remember where I found them, so I am unable to give credit
to the teacher who shared them. Please email me if they are
yours, so I can give credit where credit is due!
are some of my favorite teacher books for center activities! Click on the
books for purchasing information!
These books are helpful for setting up specific center activities.
The Big Book of Everything is a great year round book and a super
asset to a first year teacher. It has all kinds of seasonal
activities and good activities for language arts, math, science, and
Primary Literacy Centers is filled with
great ideas for centers. It includes great teacher tips for
setting up centers successfully and even has a checklist of
materials! It is very helpful for assessing what you already
have and what you might want to add to your classroom. The
book also has tons of reproducible activities and recording sheets
for your centers. The center ideas are ones that can be set up
year round and require little to no "changing" from week to week.
I think this book is often over-looked by teachers. It also
includes mini-lessons that help introduce new center activities!
I am so excited to see that there is a brand new book out! I will be
ordering More Primary Literacy Centers myself! Can't wait to
read it! Simple Centers for first grade is a cute book that has simple
centers that are organized around specific themes such as back to
school, pets, fairytales, etc. The activities generally cover math,
science, reading, and writing. It has excellent Christopher
Columbus center activities.
The mailbox has amazing teacher friendly activities and ideas! If
you have a subscription to "The Mailbox" or "The Teacher's Helper,"
you know how great their resources are. I love their grade level
superbooks! If you are a new teacher or new to a grade level, you
will find these books very helpful! They also have great resources for centers. Here
are a few great books to choose from! Click on the book to
order it now!
We could all use some more classroom management tips
and new ideas for transitions!
book is filled with tried and tested ideas from primary teachers
always has great ideas too!
Debbie Diller has written two wonderful books on how to
set up, run, and organize centers. Literacy Workstations: Making
Learning Centers Work is designed for K-2 classrooms. Practice
With Purpose is designed for 3-6 classrooms. Isn't it nice to see
upper grades included in books about centers? Be sure and
order Debbie Diller's newest book, Making the Most of Small Groups!
It's about time someone started writing about what we should be doing
during small group instruction!
Take It To Your Seat is a wonderful series of books that makes centers
quick and simple! The book is complete with full color activities
that are ready to be torn out and turned into a center in minutes!
So, what do you do during small group time? Traditional reading
groups have children reading in the round robin format. Research
shows that this is an ineffective practice. Better
teaching practices implement flexible grouping that targets specific
skill areas that students need in order to succeed. Not sure what
else to do? Check out Goodbye Round Robin. It's a small easy to read book that provides new strategies that you can use
instead of round robin. Looking for new ways to teach
comprehension skills and stratgeies? Check out Reading with
Meaning by Debbie Miller. I love this book!!! I learned so
much from it about how I use comprehension strategies ,and it really
helped me better understand how to teach them. She
provides great ideas for charting and creating anchor charts. The
book includes great photos of her classroom and student work. Currently,
it is my favorite teacher resource book! |
Beverly Tyner has
written two books on small-group reading instruction. She uses a
differentiated model and discusses the pros and cons of basal reading
programs and guided reading. Her approach differs from both
models, but strategies could be used in conjunction with either kind of
reading program. She has written a book for K-2 and one for grades
There are many different ways
to organize and implement centers in your classroom. I consider
independent work to be just as important as anything else I do during the day.
Therefore, I avoid using centers as activities to be done after "real" work is
completed. Center time enables the teacher to work with small groups of
students or individuals.
Here is how I structure
center time in my classroom:
Time Frame: 45-60 minutes a day
Activities: Students participate in three rotations during this time
frame. I use a timer to help me stay on track. It is important
to let students know that they should be working the entire time.
Set up your system so that it includes things that students "must
do" and things that students "can do." A student should always
have an activity to be working on. This will help
eliminate "I'm finished! What do I do now?"
Small Group with
grouped based on reading abilities or specific teaching needs for
various reading skills. The groups are flexible so that they
can be adjusted according to individual student needs on a regular
time is focused on:
phonetic sounds and spellings
and re-teaching concepts to struggling students
high achievers by extending reading and writing activities
independently or with a partner to complete centers. Centers such as
reading, writing, and math are set up in specific areas of the room.
Other centers are kept in clear plastic tubs on a shelf. The
tubs are great for small or cramped classrooms because you can
create a wide variety of activities and store them in a small amount
Only two students are
allowed at a center at a time. Also, because there are three
different activities occurring at the same time, only one third of
the class is working in centers at one time.
Students may complete more
than one center if time permits. If you notice that a student
has completed a center close to rotation time, send the student on
to tablework to get started. If they finish tablework early,
it's not a problem because they have options to choose from when
they finish their assigned tablework activity.
Students work at
their seat on a variety of independent tasks, such as
pages or worksheets
sight words or spelling words alone or with a partner
or Research projects
can choose one of the following activities if they finish before it
is time to rotate:
Work: I keep an expandable file on my desk. Students file
unfinished work there to complete when they have extra time.
At the end of the week, I send home any unfinished work home for
Read a book
spelling words alone or with a partner
encouraged to be independent problem solvers. I use the "3
Before Me" rule. If a student has a question, he asks three
friends for assistance. If he still has a question, he can
come and get a question card and set it on his desk. The
question cards are tent shaped cards with big question marks on
them. The child may set this on his desk and continue working.
When I have a free moment, I will assist the child with the
question. This helps the children understand that group time
is very important and should not be interrupted. I also remind
my students that small group gets to be the loudest. Friends
in centers may use whisper tones and generally tablework is
independent so there is no talking unless seeking assistance.
Want to see what my classroom
Click on the picture below
for a tour.
Looking for more
ideas about implementing hands-on activities into your classroom?
Check out my literacy
boxes page! Click on the bear to go there.
Have a question?
Enjoy your visit? Vote for me!
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Originally created in June 2003
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