The Basics of Centers


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Two children looking at a globe

Centers can be an excellent method for teaching students effectively. Working with children in a small group setting allows for more direct teaching and enhanced student response. Centers provide a less intimidating environment for the students and give the teacher the opportunity to focus on specific areas of study. Although centers take a lot of organization and preparation on your part, in the end the work can really pay off.

Any area of study can be taught using centers, but I've found them to be particularly successful with language arts; students can learn reading, spelling, and writing in small groups.

A good time of day to do centers is first thing in the morning when the students are awake and focused. This is also the most convenient time for classroom volunteers, since many of them may be dropping their children off at school. The following steps will help you get centers up and running in your classroom.

Grouping children for centers

  • Divide your class into four even groups. You can divide them by their developmental reading ability, by table groups, alphabetically, or randomly.
  • Name each of your groups. Names can be after colors, shapes, foods, animals, or something related to what you are studying. After each group is named, put a corresponding sticker on the students' desk name-tag to help them remember what group they are in. (This will also be helpful for substitutes.)
  • Remember to keep the groups flexible, and allow for movement among them.

Setting up a schedule for centers

  • First thing in the morning is a great time to run language arts centers. If school starts at 8:30, give yourself 15 minutes to get the students inside and settled, and begin your centers at 8:45. This will allow time to explain the centers for the day.
  • Centers should run for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. This provides for four centers at 18 minutes per center. It is important that your students rotate to all four centers each day.


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