Classroom Learning Centers Management Tips

Yesterday, I showed you a cool little way to display your center signs and directions, and today (as promised), I will share with you how I manage learning centers in the classroom.

Collaborative classroom centers can get hairy if they are not properly executed, and if students have idle time or don’t have clear directions/expectations, you will soon find yourself spending most of the centers time reprimanding and redirecting rather than working with students.  Kind of misses the point, right?

Managing learning centers in the classroom can be challenging if you don't have a few specific routines in place.

Student Centered Classroom

Well, after having my center signs and supplies all laid about the room, I will take 5-10 minutes to quickly verbally explain the directions to the students and ask for questions about the centers activities and expectations.

When they actually get to the center, they will see the center sign with the directions, and this will allow for reinforcement of “what to do” for student work once they physically get in the learning space.

The first few weeks, I still allow questions about center time directions just because I like to ease them into it, but after those first few weeks, if they have to ask me how to do something in a center (mainly because they weren’t paying attention when I explained it), they get points taken off of their center grade – see below for more about that.  They learn very quickly to pay attention during that 10-minute block on the first center day of the week.

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Speaking of easing into it, I would suggest elementary educators start out with 3 small group centers the first week (perhaps a teacher-led, a computer center, and a hands-on literacy center).

Then, once students have that center-based learning under control, continue to add a center a week until you get to no more than 3 or 4 students per center.  This is optimal for controlling behaviors in an early childhood setting with various learning styles.

OK – after I explain the learning centers activities for the week to the students, I pass out the centers checklist (see image below) to each student.  It is a half sheet of paper that has all the centers written in on it, as well as the days of the week.

They place this paper in a sheet protector pocket that is within the brads of a two-pocket folder labeled “Centers” (of course).  As soon as they get the paper, they write their name on it, place it in their folder, and get started.

Managing learning centers in the classroom can be challenging if you don't have a few specific routines in place.

Managing Learning Centers in the Classroom

Students begin by grabbing a timer from off the wall that I have on pegs or large pushpins.  They MUST wear it around their neck so that it doesn’t get swung, hit someone else, or lost.

Each child will start the timer, and have 10 minutes to work on a center of their choice that DOESN’T already have 4 students.  If there are already 4 students there, they must choose something else.

They will check mark which centers they have been to each day, and place any work completed at that center in their folder.

If their timer runs out before they are finished, they know to go back to that center the next day.

If students finish the work before the time is up, they must either redo the project to make it better quality, or do more of the same.  Otherwise, you will get students who rush through with poor quality just to be finished.  Students aren’t learning anything if the work is lackluster.

The timers are handy because then I don’t have to call out to change centers.  They are self-managed.

Managing learning centers in the classroom can be challenging if you don't have a few specific routines in place.

This system continues throughout the week, with students making sure to visit each center on their list, including the teacher-led center.

It is here, I will work on a specific skill that most of the class has been having trouble with.  I can also do individualized work if necessary and/or differentiated activities for when the students come to see me.

It is their choice as to which day they come to work with me.

Many will come back several times just to practice my activity again.  As long as the other work gets completed, I am perfectly fine with that.

Towards the end of the week, you will also want to have a sponge activity of some sort for those that have completed all the centers to the best of their ability and need something to do.  Reading a book on their level, practicing handwriting, a bonus listening center, or working on a vocabulary are all good choices that can always take up more time.

Last, I use the Student Centers Checklist to monitor behavior.

I print off a sheet for the week, write students names, and put it on a clipboard next to me at my center.

Students know that as I look around the room, if I see them not on task, I simply cross off one number (starting with 10).  If I look again later and they still aren’t on task, there goes another number.

They get 10 free points just for being on task!

After 1 week of getting marked off for behavior (which I keep for parent conferences as well), they start to shape up and stay on task.  All I have to do is look at them, and cross off the number, and they tend to get back on track very quickly.

Managing learning centers in the classroom can be challenging if you don't have a few specific routines in place.

On Friday, they get points for completing their centers work.

I place the +(however many points they received) on the right of the student checklist for each center, include the points from behavior at the bottom, add them together for a total, and staple it to the work they turned in from their folder.

This equals one grade a week and they adapt pretty quickly to realizing it is important to be on-task to submit best quality work.

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This system for running centers works beautifully for me once the students are trained.  Grab your copy of the freebie templates mentioned above right here!

Managing learning centers in the classroom can be challenging if you don't have a few specific routines in place.

If you have questions, feel free to jot them in the comments below and I will try to get to them asap.  Good luck and enjoy!


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