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Learning Centers in the Classroom

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Oct 14, 2011

Classroom learning centers are an important part of independent exploration and learning. These learning centers are designated areas, usually at a desk or small table, where structured activities are available to students at specific times or when they have finished their work early. Well-organized and well-run learning centers can be a real asset to the classroom.

Considerations

  • Establish rules for classroom learning centers.
  • Always introduce a new learning center to the class.
  • Start with one learning center, and gradually add more centers as you are comfortable introducing them to the class.
  • Establish a rotation pattern with a time limit for classroom learning centers. Students move from one center to another to give everyone a turn.
  • Set up learning centers to support your themes or units, or simply as an opportunity for free play and exploration. They do not have to be complex or involved.
  • Allow students who finish their work early to go to their favorite learning center.
  • Use a file folder to create a portable learning center. The activity and its rules can be glued to a folder and laminated, then folded shut. Store the folder in a file box, and any materials can be stored in a plastic zipper bag attached to the folder. To use the portable learning center, a student unfolds it and works at his or her desk.
  • Options for classroom learning centers include the following:
    • A designated area in the room
    • An organized station on a desktop 

Math Center

  • Counting
  • Sorting
  • Weight (materials: scale, weights or other objects)
  • Measurement (materials: ruler, string)
  • Measurement (volume)
  • Story problems
  • Flash cards
  • Tangrams
  • Practicing fact sheets
  • Practicing with timers
  • Calculators
  • Problem of the day

Science Center

  • Growing beans in baggies
  • Magnifying glass (observations)
  • Electricity (materials: battery, light bulb)
  • Magnets
  • Animal models
  • Simple machines
  • Life cycle
  • Sink or float
  • Reactions (simple)
  • Classroom pet (get approval first)

Publishing Center

Considerations

  • Write about a picture from a magazine or calendar.
  • Create a mini book.
  • Create a comic strip.
  • Finish a story starter.
  • Create a bound book.
  • Write a poem.
  • Write a letter, such as a letter to a friend, a fictional character, or a historical figure.
  • Create a greeting card.
  • Write a story on a theme template.
  • Write directions or instructions to a prompt.

Clay Table

Considerations

  • Cover the desk with tag paper or butcher paper, and tape down the edges. Keep the desk away from windows (because of the effects of the sun).
  • Be careful not to mix clay colors together.
  • Make sure that students wash their hands before and after using the clay table.
  • Encourage students to work with clay as a way of increasing dexterity and developing fine motor skills.

Rug Center

  • Board games
  • Building sets
  • Puzzles
  • Teacher’s station
  • Dress-up
  • Animal figures
  • Blocks
  • Dollhouse
  • Electronic games
  • Marbles
  • Jacks

Listening Center

  • Tapes, CDs
  • Books on tape, books on CD
  • Student readings recorded for playback

Painting Center

Considerations

  • Cover the floor under the easel with butcher paper, and secure it with tape.
  • Have smocks available for students to place over their clothes.
  • Use paint containers with lids to avoid having the paint dry out.
  • Establish procedures, especially for clean-up.
  • Have students paint a picture of something related to current learning.

Art Center

Considerations

  • Establish rules for use of each art medium, such as paint, clay, pastels, or charcoal.
  • Introduce a new art medium several times before you use it in the art center.
  • Save paper scraps for the center.
  • Keep paper towels, wet wipes, and other clean-up supplies handy.
  • Allow students to explore and create freely unless they are being asked to create something related to the current unit of study (for example, a state flag, parts of a plant).

Procedures for Use of Classroom Learning Centers

Considerations

  • Establish an order for use of the classroom learning centers.
  • Rotate the whole class through each learning center, using a system such as one of the following:
    • Allow students to sign in, entering the date of their turn. Designate a student monitor to maintain the class rotation through the learning centers.
    • Use a clothespin list to track who has used the learning center and who has not. List students’ names on a poster and place a clothespin by each name. As students complete their turn, they remove the clothespin by their name and let the next student on the list know to continue the rotation. Once all clothespins have been removed, they can be reattached to begin a new rotation.
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