I love centers. And so did my students. We did math and reading centers almost every day. Centers can be an incredibly valuable time in your classroom—or it can just be a time filler. If students are not producing quality independent work, then it is not a good use of time. Here are a few tips for improving the quality of student work in centers.
Model, Model, Model!
Too often I see teachers rush into centers. They don’t take nearly enough time showing students what they expect. There is so much pressure to be digging into standards that it’s easy to speed through procedures and expectations. The problem? If you don’t take the time NOW, you will waste time every day correcting bad habits.
Show students exactly how you want the center to look. Take time to show students where materials are stored. Show them how they should read the directions. And, most importantly, model what a quality answer will look like. Show them where work should be turned in, and what they should do if they finish early. Model how transitions will happen. Show students how to clean up their materials.
It takes me a couple of weeks to properly train students to do centers independently. But, it is worth every bit of effort from the start!
If your students are struggling with centers half way through the year, slow down and go back to the basics for a few days. It’s not too late!
If the centers and the expectations for the centers are changing every week, students are far less likely to be successful. I kept my reading and math centers the same all year! Once I taught the expectations, I rarely had to revisit them. The topics would change, but the overall center did not. They might do fraction centers one month and measurement the next—-but the overall expectations and directions are the same every month.
A consistent set of centers that don’t change week-to-week will save you so much class time! Consistency also gives students the opportunity to continuously improve because the directions aren’t changing.
Use Centers as a Review
There is the temptation to make centers coordinate with the skills a teacher is currently teaching. I discourage this. If students are just learning a skill, they are less likely to be successful with it in an independent center.
Instead, I like to use independent centers for spiral review. My students might be doing the measurement centers while we are working on fractions. This is ok! They need the review and they are more likely to be successful on their own.
Give Choice in Centers
We all do better on a task when we have some choice! If you really want students to be invested in their center work, make certain that centers have a certain amount of choice. For example, my students can read ANY book that they want during their Read to Self center. They can choose from 9 prompts for their Reading Response center and they can do their independent math centers in any order that they choose. A little choice can go a long way!
If a student is struggling with one particular skill, it’s helpful if they can choose a different center. Now they don’t need to guess or interrupt your reading groups. They can ask for help later.
Give a Rubric or Checklist
Giving students a visual reminder of your expectations will help them to check their work. The rubric can be a simple checklist or a bulletin board with examples. This will depend on your student needs and the grade you teach.
Time for Corrections
Time in the classroom is so precious that it can be difficult to allow time for students to correct their mistakes. However, mistakes are only worth making if we can learn from them.
When you hand back work, can you allow students one day to make corrections? Can they take it home to correct? Can you go over the answers as a whole group? You don’t have to change their grade in the grade book if you don’t want to. But, students will be more motivated if they think they can get extra points or another incentive.
The most important thing is that students are spending time analyzing their mistakes.
I have found that students will work ten times harder if they know they will be rewarded for their hard work. This reward can be as simple as stickers on their papers or a quick note home to Mom and Dad. Celebrating can be as easy as recognizing students or groups that were on task and working hard during center time. I would often congratulate my hardest working group on a particular day. They would beam with pride.
I hope these tips help you and your students to love centers! Improving the quality of student work in centers will make the time super valuable in your classroom.
Looking for some new centers? Check out these options for reading and math!
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Have a Not So Wimpy Day,