Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Organizing and Managing Classroom Centers

I use centers throughout the year. I love them. My students love them.

I use centers in the classroom because:

Students can practice math and literacy skills in an engaging way. Skills that have been taught can be reinforced and practiced.

Math and literacy skills can be integrated with social studies and science. One example is our rainforest unit. The students learn about the rainforest and rainforest animals as they practice literacy and math skills.

Children can practice skills thematically. Holiday and seasonal centers can be used throughout the year.

Students work on social skills, too. Centers make great partner activities. My students can choose to work individually or with a partner. Most of the time they choose to work with a partner. They learn to work together to solve problems and help each other to complete each center activity. They’re able to share their understandings with a partner and learn from each other.

It’s easy to prepare the centers. Initially, the centers have to be copied, cut, and laminated. Once that is completed, they can be stored and used year after year. Then, the only prep is copying the recording sheets, and they're ready to use.

Centers also make great “early finisher” activities. I find that the students will choose the center activities over other activities when they complete their assignments.

The centers are helpful during small group instruction. I assign “Centers” to one of the groups. Other students work on math or word work bins or assignments at their desks. I am then able to focus on a group of students for guided instruction.

The students love centers because:

The centers engage the students. They are usually manipulating cards, sorting, pairing, talking with a partner, etc. They are involved in hands-on activities to complete the center activities as opposed to doing a paper pencil task.  For example, a literacy center may have cards that need to be ordered on the pocket chart to make a sentence and then read using a pointer. They enjoy doing this.

The centers get them out of their seats. I have the students work on the floor on our rug area.  They’re able to spread the activities out on the floor. They put their recording sheets on clipboards for writing their answers.

I know that managing centers can be an issue. I thought I’d share how I use and manage them in my classroom.

First of all, I have tried many, many different ways to manage them in my classroom. I’m sure I'll continue to change and improve upon the way I organize and manage them, but this is what I currently do. It is working well with my students this year.

I think one of the keys is to model, model, and then model even more. I continue to model repeatedly throughout the year. I find that the students need review on procedures for taking the centers out, working with a partner, problem solving, using inside voices, putting the centers back when finished, etc. I continue to make notes as I observe the students. We discuss as a class any issues that arise.

I store the centers in large manila envelopes in a filing cabinet.


When I’m ready to use one, I take the centers out and place each individual center activity into a gallon size baggie. I place the instruction card in front. It stays in the baggie. The recording sheets are next. The cards are placed in the back of the baggie in quart or sandwich size baggies.

{front of baggies}


{back of baggies}


I place all the activities in a bin on the floor. It’s near the area where the students work on their centers. This really saves on space. I don’t have an area to have individual containers set out for each center activity. This works as an alternative.


The students take out a baggie. They put the recording sheet on a clipboard. They take the activities for completing the centers out of the gallon baggie. They are responsible for putting the activities back in the baggie, so it’s ready for the next person to use.

I put the center pictures of each card on the pocket chart. The students can see what centers are included in the container.

{pocket chart cards}

The students have center folders. I staple a Center Menu to the inside front cover of the folder. I just use folded 12” x 18” colored construction paper for folders. File folders will also work.

The students put finished recording sheets in the folder. They also keep recording sheets that they’ve started and not completed in the same folder. I correct the recording sheets and stamp or put a happy face on the centers that are completed. It’s a way for students to keep track of what centers they've completed. It also helps to keep students accountable for their time at centers.

{inside of folder - menu of center choices}

I use the menu as a choice menu. I usually assign a number of centers that I want the students to complete within a period of time.

I also like to add tools like counters, alphabet and word cards, 120 charts, and Certificates of Completion, too.

{120 charts, counters, certificates}

I will be using April Showers Math Centers in April.


It’s filled with math activities – addition facts, subtraction facts, place value, true false equations, measurement, telling time, and more - especially created for first grade.

You can click HERE to preview and purchase.

I hope the ideas help you to organize and manage your centers. Let me know if you have any questions. I’d love to help!







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