Starting centers in primary grades can be very overwhelming. These practical tips for starting centers can help make the transition seamless and enjoyable for everyone!
Keep it Simple!
First, keep it simple! I cannot stress this enough! Start simple, you can add the fluff later. There are countless ways to set up and conduct centers, but the best method is simplicity. Keep the purpose of your centers in mind when planning them!
Why use learning centers?
What are the benefits of using learning centers in the classroom?
- Enable you to easily differentiate learning
- Provides you an opportunity to directly target instructional needs of individuals with the potential to quickly close learning gaps
- Provides time for practice – practice is essential for learning all skills
- Social skills – students working together in small groups helps develop significant social skills
- Appeal to a variety of learning styles
- Increase student engagement which leads to increased learning
Grouping Students for Learning Centers
While planning for learning centers first decide how you will group your students for your centers.
Here is a list of ways to group students for learning centers:
- Similar academic level
- Learning styles
- Skill or Strategy
This design for grouping students for centers gives students the freedom to choose which center they will visit during their designated center time.
When developing centers for your classroom you create them based on your student’s current interests.
Students are grouped for centers based on their current academic levels. Activities are differentiated at each center to accommodate a variety of levels.
Students are grouped for centers based on their individual learning styles.
Skill or Strategy:
Students are grouped for centers based on a particular skill or strategy they are currently working on academically. For example, students who need more sight word practice are grouped together to practice sight words more frequently. While students who are in need of letter-sound practice are grouped together to focus more on practicing letter sounds.
Here is a fantastic free form from TpT to help you plan your learning centers.
Now that you have determined how you will group your students it is time to decide the types of activities you intend to use and where they will be located in your classroom.
Take a close look at the arrangement of your classroom. Select areas that will be most practical for small group work.
Providing each student with a book bin to store books on their level is a must for reading centers in primary grades! These are perfect for two low prep centers Read to Self and Read to Someone! Student’s just grab their book bins, get comfy, and dive into a great book, on their reading level!
Do you have space that you can dedicate to specific centers daily? If so great!
Another practical tip for starting learning centers is that if you find you have little space to dedicate to permanent centers, consider grab-and-go centers! I do recommend dedicating a space to hold the materials for your grab-and-go centers. You can store materials in various containers that students simply take to designated areas in the room and complete the activity contained. Then, they return the container and ‘grab’ the next activity.
We, teachers, have bags! Pull out those old teacher bags, the kiddos love them! If not Walmart has their blue bags for just a few cents. The Dollar Tree also has some neat bags too!
Place materials for that particular center in the bag put a number on it, and you are all set!
Centers ideally are utilized for providing students with a variety of opportunities to practice skills they are learning. Never use centers to introduce new concepts. Students are very familiar with the basic game of memory, if not it is very easy to teach to even the youngest learners! This classic game is great for practicing most skills. Below the kiddos are practicing doubles facts in a Math learning center. Memory is perfect for all word work activities as well!
A great practical tip for starting centers is to consider the materials you already have on hand in your classroom to help you decide which activities you would like to incorporate into your centers. All those games and materials you have collected over the years that only have enough room for 2-X players? Now is a great time to put them to use.
Remember to gradually introduce the ‘activities’ you intend to utilize in your centers during your whole group or in a small group you will be instructing first when starting out. If you plan to have students use stampers and stamp pads to stamp out sight words in centers, you should practice how to use the stampers first with the whole group. Once you get your centers started you can start teaching new activities when students come to you during center time!
Also, if you plan to use a particular form in a center, use it several times during whole group/direct instruction. This will save you a lot of time once you begin your centers.
Time and Transitions Tips
Once you have determined your grouping, you will want to focus on how much time students will spend in each group and how they will transition between groups. Ask yourself the following questions to help determine the time students will spend at centers and procedures for transitioning:
- Will students be required to go to all centers daily? How much time will they spend at each center?
- Will students only be required to go to ‘some’ centers daily?
- Can students choose the centers they go to? Or will they be assigned?
For ease of organization and implementation, I tend to have all my students go to all centers daily. I provide them choices within some centers.
For Kindergarten students I had a set rotation. I kept a chart for where students began their center time, after that we ‘rotated’ in the same direction daily. This kept transition time to a minimum.
There are endless ways to display and organize transitions for centers. Currently, I use a PowerPoint that is easily edited for my center transitions.
The chart next to the TV has each student’s ‘number clip’ denoting which ‘group’ they belong to. Group 1 goes to the Teacher Table first, Group 2 starts at the Sight Word Center, Group 3 grabs their book bins, finds a comfy spot, and reads, Group 4 goes to the Word Work Station.
You can find the PowerPoint, Literacy Center Rotation Slides, that I use for organizing my group transitions at Creatively Teaching First on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Teach Expectations and Routines
Do not forget to teach expectations and procedures and practice them frequently! These are key to successfully implementing centers in the primary classroom. The Daily 5 has some fantastic insight into how to set up centers and teach expectations!