Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: Managing Meaningful Math Centers

Managing Meaningful Math Centers

I feel very strongly about using the guided math and math center framework in my classroom. It allows me to differentiate my instruction, give immediate feedback and teach students to properly use manipulatives. 

Math centers can lead to many classroom management issues if students are not engaged in meaningful activities or are unsure of the expectations and instructions. But when properly set up, this can be the most meaningful time in your math classroom.  I am often asked how I manage this time and what resources I use. I hope this this post gives you a peak into one of my very favorite times during my day: math centers!

I have four different math groups. Therefore, I have organized my centers to include four different centers. Students will go to two different centers per day for 30 minutes each. That gives me the opportunity to meet with two math groups every day for a half hour each. I LOVE having 30 minutes with my small groups! We get more accomplished and waste less time with transitions. I post this schedule so that my students know which centers they go to each day.

I write student name in dry erase marker because I change the groups almost every week based on student need.

I am blessed to have eight chrome books in my classroom. In the technology center, students use the chrome books to complete their math iReady lessons. These lessons are assigned  after students take a diagnostic test, therefore they provides lots of differentiation

Once a student completes an i-Ready lesson, it goes right to the next lesson in their lesson plan. So I never have a student asking, "What do I do now?"

The independent center is the time when students are reviewing topics that we have  already covered and showing me what they know. I often grade these activities.

Every month, my students complete task cards. Sometimes we use my monthly spiral task cards and other times we use cards for specific skills that the students need the most practice with.

This month my students are working on their Game Day Test Prep Centers.

This year, my students have especially likes using my Math Centers during independent center time. The centers mix task cards, sorts and constructed response.

 Each month students are also assigned a math journal prompt or two.

I provide student choice in this center by allowing students to decide which task to complete first. I don't like to waste time explaining the independent math center assignments each week. Therefore, I give my students their assignments at the beginning of the months and they are all due by the last day of the month. 

Students who complete their independent work early get to work on Math Menu tasks.

In the game center, students are practicing math fact fluency with a partner. I put math fact games in binders.

Students grab a partner and a binder and play the games together.

This is the center that can get noisy and distracting if not managed well. At the start of the year, I model the expected behavior. We all practice it. Then for the first several weeks, I picked a math group each day to clip up because they were so quiet during the game center. It doesn't take long before students have formed good habits and don't need constant reminders.

I meet with two different math groups each day. This is such valuable time to me! We spend a lot of time solving problems on white boards using manipulatives.

This is also the time that we complete interactive notebook activities.

As students work on their notebook activity, I observe and assess. I can quickly tell who needs more practice with manipulatives and who is ready to move on.

I think that my math centers run so smoothly for a couple of reasons:
  • I spend lots of time in the beginning teaching expectations and directions.
  • I reward positive behavior and redirect negative behavior.
  • I keep centers very similar every week. Students do have new directions to learn every Monday. The skill might change, but the activity stays the same.
I would love to hear your thoughts about managing math centers!


  1. I love your centers and wonder how long they spend at each. What happens if a group finishes a center early, what do they do then?

  2. I love reading about successful math centers. I really want to move to this type of instruction. My math coach hasn't been any help and none of the other teachers in my section do this. I've been afraid to take the leap on my own. The more I read though, the more ready I get to take the plunge. I'm thinking I should give it a try before this year is over so I can start next year confident and ready to rock. Keep the good info coming!

  3. Fro the independent centers you say you give them the activities at the beginning of the month, do you provide a menu similar to the what to do when your are done menu?
    Also, do you have the games you use in TPT?

  4. Are you teams signs posted on TpT?

  5. Do you have the math fact games for the binders available?


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