Accountable Classroom Centers

As I walked into the classroom, it felt like an alternative universe.  I noticed students in various places in the classroom working quietly.  Some were on their own, some in small groups.  

The teacher was sitting at a table with several students working on a comprehension skill of some sort that involved several different colors of post-its.

Instrumental music was quietly playing as background noise.  Each child appeared to know what he or she was doing.

What is involved when deciding on learning centers in your classroom? It doesn't need to be complex. Keeping it simple is easier on everyone, including you.

I realized not a single student was interrupting the teacher.  Or seeing any horseplay of one student with another student.  It was all so real.

Then I woke up.   HAHA.  It was a dream unlike the usual crazy classroom behavior nightmares I normally had in the nights leading up to the start of the new school year.

Although it was a dream, it got me to thinking…how can a teacher really make that happen in a classroom of 25-30 (or more) students?  And still have time herself to sleep instead of prepping it all?

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What is a learning center?

According to Google:  “Learning centers are independent stations set up throughout the classroom where children can go to actually engage in some learning activity. Children choose the center they wish to work in and decide on the amount of time to spend there.”

In my opinion, I like to think of them as a way for students to engage in mini-activities semi-independently while I am able to work with a smaller group of students on a specific skill (that was some serious alliteration – lol).

To me, learning centers and learning stations can be used interchangeably.

Examples of learning centers in the classroom

Learning stations can be as simple or as complex as you like – though I personally prefer simple centers.  They can be based on interest, subject area, leveled learning, or a combination of the above.

It is VERY possible to have center time which has a different center for different animals, and within that center area, there are different activities for math, reading, writing, and technology.  And to take it even deeper, there are leveled mini-readers or enrichment games for the student depending on cognitive ability.   Yes, that can be done if you truly want to differentiate everything in the classroom.

My opinion is that many teachers stress about learning centers way more than need be.  Keep it simple.

If you are prepping centers that are subject based, either choose a story of the week in which the centers are centered around (kind of the point, right?) or use the centers for expanded learning in each of the subjects you are teaching throughout that week (for example the math center might be place value related, science is the scientific method, writing is complete sentences, and so on).

Personally I find it the easiest to break my centers into subject areas – but I do try to somehow correlate those subject areas to the reading skill or story of the week.  Integration of various subjects really helps to deepen understanding of each subject.

A few choices:

-Independent Work at your Desk

-Working with the Teacher

-Partner Reading

-Math Station

-Technology Station

-Listening Center

-Hands On Science

-Social Studies Center

-Game of the Week Corner

-Book Nook (Classroom Library Choice Center)

Of course these are not your only choices.  This list could go on for days.  And you probably wouldn’t choose more than a handful anyway.  I like the ratio of 3-5 students per center at any given time.  So take the total amount of students, divide by 4, and you know how many learning stations you might have in total in any given week.

Where do you get ideas for classroom centers activities?

Learning centers or stations don’t have to take a million years to prep.  If they do, then you are putting way too much time into them.  They should be activities that you can find already prepped for the most part – and can be used from year to year, tweaking when necessary.

The one thing I hear from teachers all the time: “I don’t have enough time to fit it all in.”  Guess what?  This is a perfect opportunity to add in some of those activities – or something more creative.  Or even science and social studies that might get pushed to the side.

I like to use the enrichment or reteaching ideas from a reading, science, social studies, or math series.  There are always TONS of additional suggestions.  It is fine if you pick something science-related to do during a math center.  The key is to correlate it together.

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Here are a couple examples:

Math Topic:  Fractions/Science center option:  Measuring cloud cover

Reading Topic:  The Diary of Anne Frank/Social Studies center option:  Locating Amsterdam on a world map

Find connections between your topics and other things the students are learning.  If you are not self-contained, as the other grade level teachers.  Specials teachers are also a great way to integrate and expand topics the students are learning about in other classrooms.

Remember:  Each center will only need to have 15-20 minutes worth of independent learning in it.  It doesn’t need to be full of complicated directions.  Nor does it need to be just a worksheet from a workbook.  This is an opportunity for students to really explore and connect the learning content in various ways.

What are your biggest classroom centers questions?  Post your question below so I make sure to address it!

Have a great rest of the week,


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