Center Survival! Three Keys to Success during Independent Centers

Center Survival! Three Keys to Success during Independent Centers

1.  What is your favorite time of the day?
2.  What is the most crucial time of the day for independent learning?
3.  What is the easiest part of your weekly lesson plans?
4.  What needs to be based on routine, routine, routine? now you know the answer to all of these should be center time.  If it isn't, I hope to convince you to change your mind about centers.  If it is, I hope I can give you at least one new idea to think about and maybe even implement.

I cannot emphasize enough the key to centers is routine. From Day 1.  No excuses.

Set-Up and Classroom Management

This is so very important...your room has to lend itself to independence.  The more independence your child has, the better centers will be.  The set-up of your room and materials cannot be overlooked.  When teachers and I work together to make centers work in their rooms, we make sure center areas are clear.  Each center has a table or group of desks and a designated shelf.  To make sure everyone knows about the center areas, signs are hung from the ceiling.  These signs are universal in the room, as they will be on the shelves, the bucket for materials, and the center board for self-directed centers.  Students know where to get and return materials and where the center rotation takes them.

Center Expectations

Expectations are key.  Students must need to know what is expected or they can't give it to you.  It's that simple.  Centers are NEVER the new skills.  If you want centers to be independent, they must be review skills.  If your lessons are the "I do, we do, you do" method...centers is without a doubt the "you do."  The best method for keeping sanity in the room and sanity in your plans:  CHANGE THE PRODUCT, NOT THE PROCESS.  If the ABC center is practicing rhymes, let them do it for several weeks in a row.  Change the rhymes, but let the exercise for rhymes be the same.  If the word wall word center is a "Read It, Write It" sheet, change the words on the paper, but the process is the same. My poetry center is always the same...just a different poem.  OH, and I forgot to mention, my poetry center and art center are ALWAYS the shared reading poem from the week before. They know it, they don't need help.

Center Self-Monitoring

Finally, students must be taught to self-monitor.  Part of this goes hand-in-hand with expectations.  Students will know what to've covered that!  Students will know how to do've covered that.  The last thing you need to do is let them know what to do when they are done. If you have a teacher assistant, students should be taught to raise their hands and get their work checked.  The TA will look over the work, decide if it's done, then tell them to "stamp it and put it away."  That's right.  Let them stamp their paper and let them file it.  They can's part of their job.  If the student did not complete the assignment or if something needs to be fixed, the TA should ask them to check the example and fix the problem.  Don't get in the habit of telling them how to fix it, they need to do it.  If you don't have a TA during that time, then an additional step must be added.  Students should know to "get a book" or add a "fill activity" (something familiar to fill the time until you are done with a reading group).  You pull a reading group while they work.  When you are done with the group, you rotate and check and move to the next group as they move to the next center.

I could go on and on.  I can talk centers all day...but that's a good start.  Routine is the key!


  1. Thanks for the refresher! You got me thinking about some changes for my room to help my students be on task. Again, thanks!

    1. Thanks, Kelly. Centers should be beneficial to everyone. If it's independent for them, you can do guided reading! Win-Win! (You're welcome)

  2. You have no clue how many classrooms I go into that do not have a center set up! I am shocked. Great post!!