Teaching With Centers

Since making my new Back to School literacy centers, I've been giving a lot of thought to how I'd like to set up the centers in my new classroom.  (I first have to see what it looks like in order to get an idea how I'd like it to function.)  When someone commented a while back that they like centers because it made kids accountable, I remembered thinking about when centers first started appearing in the classrooms (yes, I've been teaching that long). Some teachers, parents, and administrators perceived centers as"just play", but most educators realize the value in play. I have visited classrooms of older students like second or third grade where centers were more like busy work and the teachers there struggled with how to make them more meaningful while not spending hours and hours prepping.
Many teachers use literacy centers while they are giving guided reading group instruction. Some find it difficult to juggle; especially if the activities are not engaging as it leads to behavior problems.

So why teach in a center-based format in your classroom?

According to the University of Jackson, TN, center based teaching is very important for 5 reasons (and I can think of many more).

  1. Children’s Behavior: While it may be appropriate for 8 or 9-year-olds to sit quietly while the teacher stands in front of the classroom for several minutes a day teaching to the whole class, this is an unrealistic expectation for a 3, 4, or 5-year-old. Children this age need to move and explore; denying them such opportunities can lead only to misbehavior and teacher frustration. While the noise level will be slightly higher than a traditional classroom, it is not a distraction for the other children or the teachers. When the children move about the room to choose their learning, socialize, and discuss with one another as they explore and learn at their own pace through the centers, we see these actions as early signs of self-motivated learning.
  2. Efficient Use of the Teacher’s and Children’s Time: Using the centers helps teachers give one-on-one help to certain students while the others are working independently. The children are not left at their desks or tables with nothing to do after they finish an assignment because there is always learning that is available at the centers. It also gives teachers time to float around the room, stopping at centers to extend lessons for children who need a challenge and to give more time for explanation and a quick check for understanding for others.
  3. Children’s Independence: The level of independence the children have in choosing their learning and solving their problems, sometimes with the help of a neighbor or two, gives them a sense of power and control over their world. Children are given this power in these child-centered classrooms.
  4. The Inclusion of Art, Music, and Physical Movement: Although we provide these enrichments, the children tend to really enjoy these activities and through the art, music, and listening centers, they can take advantage of even more time with these favorites.
  5. Academic Learning: Center-based teaching allows information to be constructed as the children explore and experiment with new ideas and materials. In this way, the children gain a better understanding of how things work because they have the opportunity to physically explore them, making them more likely to retain the information they learn and relate it to other concepts.
Center based learning has become a more integral part of learning and more thought and design has gone into the planning of centers; especially for K-1.  As teachers, we are learning how to plan effectively for better learning and retention and it is enabling us to better facilitate the learning of the students.

As children approach second grade, teachers must create centers that are more in depth to expand on the students' growing literacy independence.  A balanced literacy approach to centers is often used.  Here are some Pinterest ideas I found on centers. Click on the pictures for the Pinterest link and more info.

As we turn more towards 21st century learning, our centers are beginning to take the shape of inquiry-based learning centers where students are more in charge of the learning that takes place under the facilitation and guidance of the teacher who constantly assesses new learning and presents new challenges. Teachers are setting up learning centers for many different curricular areas.

I think the more kids know about THEMSELVES, the better they learn; especially in center activities because they understand their personalities and HOW they learn best.  I have created a FREEBIE for my blog readers to grab for the first days of school to help kids learn about themselves, their new classmates etc.  Adapt it as you like.  It's designed to be revisited in May.  I'd love to hear about your experiences with this if you get a chance. Click on the picture to grab the Feebie.

Angela Watson has a GREAT website that helps teachers get organized which improves learning and management. The Cornerstone For Teachers has a whole post on setting up centers for Math, Writing, Science etc.  Check it out!

I have created many writing based and theme writing based centers that you can check out by going to my TPT store, TheWriteStuff or click on the picture to browse the store.

I'd love to hear about your centers. What grade do you teach and what are your thoughts on centers?  How do you keep them organized?


  1. Hi Shelley! Love your freebie and can't wait to have the students compare their Sept drawing to one in May - wonderful idea!

  2. Hi Shelley- Thank you for the freebie (love it!) and for the very informative, thought-provoking post. I have used centers with kindergartners up to grade 6. I use a modified Daily 5 framework. Two of my most popular centers that involve very little prep have been independent reading (read to self) and a SmartBoard/computer center where the students can read digital texts, practice sight words or spelling (SpellingCity), or play a game that reinforces skills we are learning. The listening center and read to a partner was also very popular. I look forward to checking out your center activities! :-) Lauren Teacher Mom of 3

    1. Hi Teacher Mom,

      I bet your Smart Board Center is very popular! I am glad you shared about using Centers with 6th grade. I think it is a great way to get "more" out of your students. It also allows them to "design their own learning" based on the developmental level they are currently at. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Hi Shelley.... I pinned your blog post on Top Teachers...Here is the link! Awesome work!



    1. Hi Anna!

      You rock! Thanks so much!



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