Learning Centers in Classrooms

Collaborative and Differentiated Learning Happens in Centers

Woman standing confidently in classroom.

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Learning Centers can be an important and fun part of your instructional environment and can supplement and support the regular curriculum. They create opportunities for collaborative learning as well as differentiation of instruction.

A learning center is usually a place in the classroom designed for different tasks that students can complete in small groups or alone. When there are space constraints, you can use a display as a learning center with activities that children can take back to their desks.

Organization and Administration

Many primary classrooms have "center time," when children move to a specific part of the classroom. There they can either choose which activity to pursue or rotate through all the centers.

In intermediate or middle school classrooms, learning centers can follow completion of assigned work. Students can fill in checklists or "pass books" to show they have completed a required number of activities. Or, students can be rewarded for completed activities with a classroom reinforcement plan or token economy.

In any case, be sure to have a record keeping system that is simple enough for the children can keep themselves. You can then monitor their progress with a minimum of attention--reinforcing their sense of responsibility. You might have monthly charts, where a monitor stamps completed activities for each learning center. You could cycle through monitors each week or have monitors for each specific center who stamps students' passports. A natural consequence for children who abuse center time would be to require them to do alternate drill activities, like worksheets.

Learning centers can support skills in the curriculum--especially math--and can broaden students understanding, or provide practice in reading, math or combinations of those things.

Activities found in learning centers could include paper and pencil puzzles, art projects connected to a social studies or science theme, self correcting activities or puzzles, write on and erasable laminated board activities, games and even computer activities.

Literacy Centers

Reading and Writing Activities: There are lots of activities that will support instruction in literacy. Here are a few:

  • Laminate a short story into a folder, and give prompts for students to respond.
  • Laminate articles about popular television or music personalities, and have students answer Who, What, Where, When, How and Why questions.
  • Make puzzles where students match initial letters and word family endings: example: t, s, m, g with the ending "old."

Math Activities:

  • Puzzles matching problems and their answers.
  • Color by number puzzles using math facts to come up with the numbers.
  • Board games where students answer math facts on the spaces they hit.
  • Measuring activities with scales, sand and different size measures such as cup, teaspoon, etc.
  • Geometry activities where students make pictures with geometric shapes.

Social Studies Activities:

  • Combine literacy and social studies activities: Write and illustrate newspaper articles about: the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the discovery of America by Columbus, the election of Barack Obama.
  • Matching card games: match pictures to names of historical figures, shapes of states to the names of states, capitals of states to the names of states.
  • Board games based on historical eras, such as the civil war. You land on "Battle of Gettysburg." If you're a Yankee, you go forward 3 steps. If you're a Rebel, you go back 3 steps.

Science Activities:

  • Centers based on the current content, say magnets or space.
  • Place the planets correctly on a velcroed map.
  • Demonstrations from the class that they can do in the center.