Being in education for over ten years, I’ve had my fair share of observing many different types of classrooms. I’ve learned so much about what works from each classroom. With the start of a fresh new year, I’ve reflected on what makes student centers successful.
Today, I’ve put together a list of six qualities of successful centers in the elementary classroom.
Please note that this is a general list of qualities for literacy, math, writing, and STEM centers.
1. Lead by student choice
In successful center-based classrooms, I’ve noticed the teachers allow their students to pick their center and their activity.
First, there are several different ways students can pick their center. They can pick with a hand signal, pick by going, or pick with a visual like a magnet or icon on an interactive whiteboard. This is successful when students stay in that center and work on familiar activities for the given amount of time.
Teachers have also been successful by allowing their students to choose their activities in the center. In these successful classrooms, students work on the activities the whole time. This increases student engagement because students are motivated by their choices.
Choices are typically made with a menu of activities, various games, or bingo boards with a variety of activities.
2. Aligned Activities
In successful center-based classrooms, teachers provide aligned activities.
These are activities that are relevant to standards, skills, and topics being taught. They also might incorporate skills necessary for new content. For example, when observing the first-grade classroom learning about comparing numbers, they reviewed cardinality, so all students mastered number values.
Successful center-based classrooms also provide low-risk practice for new skills. These Simply STEAM Math games are an example of low-risk activities.
3. Variety of Activities
In successful center-based classrooms, teachers offer various learning opportunities for group, partner, and independent work, including different learning styles.
Students are familiar with the activities as they’ve done similar activities with the teacher. These activities are low-risk, meaning students don’t fear mistakes. Providing relevant activities that address different learning styles makes the activities meaningful, and students are engaged.
You can use these interest inventories to discover the learning styles and personal interests of your students.
4. Goal Based
In successful center-based classrooms, goals are evident. Students set goals and intentions before moving into centers, and teachers hold them accountable.
You can do this by reminding students of “I can…” statements. Discuss what that means and how they’re going to demonstrate their learning. From there, students write their goals on a post-it note. They keep these with them throughout center time to serve as a reminder. If students use a goal tracker, they can reference it before they go into their centers.
Also, if you have a mission statement or class quote, reference it before and after centers.
Need a fun activity for teaching goal setting? I put together a fun activity plus a goal tracker. This makes goal setting easy and fun! Click here to get yours for free!
5. Routines are Solid
Keep your centers structured with the same time and familiar activities so students can know what to expect. Have a sound or signal for when students are to start and stop centers.
Keep your center stations and materials organized and in the same area of the room. Create a routine for students to choose their center. Set boundaries for the number of students in one center. Create routines for going to and cleaning up from centers.
Set clear expectations of what a center looks like and doesn’t look like. All of this can be recorded on an anchor chart, and if you’re feeling fancy, take a video of your class in centers and play it back for them. Have honest conversations about what works and what’s not working.
These important conversations will help guide you and your students through creating solid routines and procedures. For tips on adding your math block to your daily routine, don’t miss my post here.
6. Student Accountability
In successful center-based classrooms, teachers hold their students accountable by providing immediate feedback. Avoid sarcasm when providing feedback to your students. They will take it personally and won’t understand it.
Point out positive examples and share your praise with the class. For writing, you may want to share good examples of one skill with the class, or for math, you may ask a student to share how they solved a problem in two different ways. It works! Use positive reinforcement to encourage your students to keep trying.
What are your best tips for centers? Let me know in the comments!