How to Set Up Classroom Learning Centers

Understanding the Basics of Learning Centers

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Learning centers are places where students can work in small groups within the classroom. Within these spaces, students work collaboratively on projects that you provide, with the goal to accomplish them in an allotted amount of time. As each group completes their tasks they move to the next center. Learning centers provide children the opportunity to practice hands-on skills while involved in social interaction.

Some classes will have dedicated spaces for learning centers, while other teachers who are in classrooms that are smaller and tight on space, may need to be prepared to create makeshift learning centers as needed. Typically, those that have decided Learning Spaces, will have them located in various spots around the perimeter of the classroom, or in small nooks or alcoves within the learning space. The basic need for a learning center is a dedicated space where children can work collaboratively. 


The first component of creating a learning center is to figure out what skills you want your students to learn or practice. Once you know what to focus on you can determine how many centers you will need. Then you can prepare:

  • The materials needed for each center and place them into separate folders or baskets so they are ready for the students.
  • A list of rules and behavior expectations to present to the students before the centers begin.
  • A sign for each center so the students know which center to go to next.
  • Clearly stated directions for each learning center. It is best to laminate the directions so by the time the last group gets to the center it will still be in one piece.

Setting up the Classroom

Once you have prepared the learning center activities now it is time to set up your classroom. The way you choose to set up your classroom will depend upon your classroom space and size. Generally, all of the following tips should work with any class size.

  • Groups should consist of a minimum of three students and maximum of five students. This gives children the opportunity to be able to complete tasks on time, and be able to move around the classroom freely.
  • Use all areas in the classroom for centers: Rugs, reading areas, and even outside the classroom door. If you're tight on space, you might group desks together to create individual work areas. These are all examples of a good set-up if you are teaching reading groups or doing a mini-lesson while the students are participating in centers.
  • Organize the materials for each of the learning centers in baskets, folders or totes and place them in the specific learning center space. This will ensure that all of the components of the activity are organized. This also makes it easy for you to clean up and store materials, especially if the activities happen often. 
  • Assign each student to a group and center, then have them rotate through centers as scheduled. You can also assign each group or center a color so the children know where to go to next. Use a countdown clock to help students better manage their time. 
  • After each center is completed, allow time for the students to place the center materials back for the next group. Have a basket where the students put their completed center work. This makes it easier for you to have all of the completed work in one place.


Take time to present the rules and directions for each learning center. It is important that students understand the expectations of each center before letting them go on their own. This way if you are using center time to work with individual students you will not be interrupted.

  1. Point out or physically bring the students to each center when explaining the directions.
  2. Show students where the directions will be located.
  3. Show them the materials that they will be using in each center.
  4. Explain in detail the purpose of the activity they will be working on.
  5. Clearly explain the behavior that is expected when working in small groups.
  6. For younger children, role play the behavior that is expected in the centers.
  7. Post the rules and behavior expectations in a place where students can refer to them.
  8. Tell the students the phrase you will use to get their attention. Depending upon the age group, some younger students respond to a bell or hand clapping rather than a phrase.