How-To Manage Behaviors During Centers Time

Centers are a busy time of day! Students are in places all over the classroom working on a variety of activities. If you have ever associated the word CHAOS with centers, this how-to was written just for you. I’m sharing my 4 steps for simple centers! Look no further!


Centers are the most productive part of the day.

Centers are amazing- really. Students can be working on different tasks so that they don’t get bored, tasks can be differentiated, and students can move around the room. While centers are going I pull my small reading groups and I really thinking all the best reading work and progress happens during this hour of the school day.


How To Achieve Effortless Centers


Step #1 Establish Clear Routines

Remember- good things take time. I teach one center at a time. After the whole class has practiced that center at the same time, I teach a second and split the class in half so that we can practice “rotating” between two centers. The main point of this is so that my students can get used to other students working on a different task than them.


Each time we learn a new center, I model how to complete the activity. When we work on the center I diligently reinforce the expectation so that my students will be able to continue the center even when I am teaching small group. As we are learning the centers at first, I just observe and do not teach small groups. It is so important to be very consistent with expectations at the beginning. If you want quiet centers- stand by that from the beginning.


I also create anchor charts with my class for each new center we learn so I can display them at each center as a reminder.


Step #2 Provide Visuals for Students

While my students are working at the centers, I display a timer on the board. This timer helps my students build time management skills, and allows them to see how much time they have left to work. I only display the current center/rotation on the board so that the visual is very clear. The board shows the center with student names below it and the timer. When the timer runs out, there is a very short cleanup timer, then it switches to the new center slide and my students switch. In the beginning we spend time getting to know this switching visual and rotating quietly too- again, practice.



Step #3 Routines in Place for Students

Consider how you would like students to handle other things (beyond their work) during centers time. Here are a few things to think about and how I hand them in my classroom:

  • Questions- ask 3 then me, assign an “expert student” or similar

  • Grouping- mixed ability and pulled from each centers group OR ability group and make small group a rotation

  • When they need the teacher- create a signal for when students can interrupt small group OR ask students to visit the small group table quietly and you will get their question

  • Early Finishers- early finisher packet/folder, additional choice activities at centers

Bonus Ideas for Classroom Management:

  • Tell your class you are choosing a secret student. At the end of centers time, announce a student you noticed was doing an exceptional job and tell the class what you noticed.

  • Award Dojo points (or similar) throughout centers time. Sometimes I also allow a student to do this job and it’s a big deal! My student with this job borrows my teacher iPad and they are only allowed to give positive feedback with the generic “centers point” label.

  • Create simple tokens or use Target Dollar Spot bracelets and give them to a helper student. During centers or centers transitions, this student can pass them out to students. Praise students at the end of centers, or allow students to exchange the tokens/bracelets for Dojo points, etc.

  • Drop pompon quiet critters on student desks. You can drop them off, or choose a student helper.

  • My students love being able to be a teacher helper, so it is a huge deal to assist during centers time! Be creative!


Be patient.

Centers are a unique part of the day where students are working on a variety of tasks. It takes time to work up a strong routine.


Stay organized.

My students visit 2 centers each day. I use a master class list to keep track of 2 word work, 2 writing, and 2 small group visits per week. Click here to download a free editable class list to keep your students and centers organized!


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