Learning centers help students internalize and contextualize skills in a familiar setting. Using centers has the added benefit of allowing time for the teacher to work with small groups while the rest of the class is occupied with purposeful independent activities. Organization and simple routines will help students use center time productively.

  • Model and demonstrate the activities and tasks multiple times to the whole group. Some center activities will need more modeling than others. As part of the modeling, demonstrate how to clean up before leaving the center. Consider taking a picture of what a “cleaned up” center looks like and displaying it for all to see.
  • Let students know at the outset what they should do if they have a question or need help with a center activity. Encourage students to refer to classroom resources, such as posters, completed samples, and visual directions, when available. In addition, help students build cooperative relationships by having them ask one another for help.
  • To manage the number of students allowed in each center at a time, use entry badges. Determine the maximum number of students who can comfortably and effectively work in each center. Then make that number of badges for the center—for example, five badges for the Housekeeping and Blocks and Building Centers; three for the Dramatic Play Center. Hang the badges in front of each center or keep them in a central location. Invite students one at a time to select a badge and begin work in that center. If you want to dictate who spends time in which center, assign a center to each student by giving him or her that center’s corresponding badge.
  • Establish a signal for when students should begin to clean up a center and another for when they should leave the center and move on to another center or return to their seats.
  • Before students leave a given center, or when they have returned to their seats, consider having each student fill out an exit ticket. This way, the student exercises a level of thinking about his or her learning. The ticket itself becomes an artifact that can be stored in the student’s portfolio and used as part of an overall evaluation or assessment of the student’s growing understanding.
  • Keep in mind that it may take a month or two before learning center routines are well established.
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