I really do believe centers should be directed by student choice.  My student's learn time management, discipline, and self-structured learning.  My 1st graders love centers and I love them because I can do guided reading groups during that time and the centers reinforce topics we have learned in class.  The BEST part about choice centers are that they are differentiated.  The high level students can elaborate on each center and expand their learning and the lower level students can do as much as they can and are able to practice concepts they might not have down yet. Find someone on your grade level that feels the same way you do about centers and work with them.  I teach with another girl on my track and we work together on coming up with new center ideas.  Basically is makes half the work for the both of us!  Ashlee...YOU ROCK!

Click HERE for centers board download!  Click HERE for planning sheet download!

Here are the basics:

*There are 15 centers (or more, or less-depends on you and your class)

*Centers are placed around the classroom in bins and are labeled with a picture.
An example of the center bins placed around the room.
*A matching picture is placed on the board (center board) so the students know what centers are available (sometimes you won't have some centers running each week).
Center Board

*Each center picture on the center board will have either a green dot or a red dot next to it.  EACH DAY-The students must do 2 green dot centers (example: spelling, wordwall, math) before moving on to a red dot center (star center, file folder games, art, puzzles).  This motivates the students.  -A student does not have to move on to a red dot.  They can continue on green dots.  Think of the green dot centers as "must do" centers and the red dots as "can do" centers.
*In order to go to recess that day, the student must at least complete one green dot center that day. Remember the expectations are for each day.  They are expected to complete 2 green dots before they go to a red dot THAT DAY, not each week.
*If a center only has 4 bag (example: bag of alphabet cards), then only 4 students can use this center. You will indicate this on the center board above the green/red dot.  You will simply write a 4 above it.  This tells the students that only 4 students can go to this center at one time.
*Centers are independent in my classroom.  I teach them what independent work looks like and sounds like.  If they have a question and I am with a reading group, they are not allowed to interrupt the group.  They must ask the center inspectors.
*Center Inspectors are 2 students who know what to do on each center.  They can answer simple questions students might have (How many words do I have to write on this, how do I glue this...? etc).  They also check the centers at the end of the day and let me know if I need to make any copies or need more supplies for any centers.

Frequently asked question:
How do you make sure the students are doing the center correctly?
Each center has a way that I can check their accountability.  Every center is hands on, but after the hands on part is completed, the student needs to document what they did on either a worksheet or in their center journal (Usually just for green dot centers).  The center journal basically has 20 pages double side of handwriting lines in a folder.  For example, in spelling center this week, the student will write the spelling words in rice. When they finish, they will write the spelling words in their center journal.  If the student has to write something in their center journal because there is no worksheet, I will put a star next to the color of center it is red/green. When the bell rings to go to recess, the students will clean and make sure their centers are on their desk.  I check the center off just by glancing at it.  If I check them off, they put their center work in the "center basket" (just a drawer).

How do you get started?
Remember, choice centers are all about procedure.  The students need to be trained.  I train them for about 3 weeks before I even start the centers. 

When do you change the centers?
Every 2 weeks.  I introduce on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.  I will intro 4 centers on Wednesday, 4 on Thursday, and 5 on Friday.  Most of the activities the students are familiar with and I always give them an example and show how to do each center.

Do you grade the center work?
NO!  That would be so much work and you really are just practicing each skill and trying to reinforce concepts.  I do make sure the student is doing the center correctly.  I go through each center worksheet/journal after they turn them in to the "center basket" each day. 

What about behavior management?
Centers are a privilege and the students know that.  They practice behaving in the center before they even practice the center.  The students are usually so actively involved and they work very hard on their centers.

What if a student does not finish a center that day?
If it is their 1st green dot, they must try to finish that center while the other students are at recess.  If it is their second green dot, they may go to recess, but put their unfinished center in their center journal folder to finish tomorrow.  Yes, this green dot can carry on to the next day.  If it is a red dot that they did not fully complete, I have them finish 2 green dots the next day before they can finish that red dot from yesterday. Get it? Wow!  That's intense.

Does everyone start centers at the same time?
No.  Centers are stagger started by first having 3 review worksheets that each student must complete before they go to centers (this is where their time management skills will show). The worksheets are usually: 1 spelling review, 1 math review, and one language review that goes along with our them that week (this weeks theme is friendship) At first, it is quite difficult for a few students to manage their time and that is why we practice.  For 3 weeks at the beginning of school, we do 3 workshops and then if they finish early, they get to play a game.  This motivates them to finish and they then recognize what pace they need to keep in order to finish.

Here is my center planning sheet.  Each time I switch a center, I write it down so I can have that idea for next year! The pictures next to the center name are the same I use on the bins and on the center board!

*A huge thank you to Carrie, my sister in-law who helped me start up these wonderful centers that she also did in her classroom.
*A BIG thanks to Ashlee, my partner in crime, for making the centers what they are today!


Anonymous said...

I would love a copy of your center labels and chart. You can email them to me at I think they are great!!!

Sass Class said...

I would love a copy of your labels and work chart also. My email is Your ideas are great. I just found your blog so am busily reading it at 2 a.m. when I should be sleeping!!!

the kemps said...

I would also love to have your labels and work chart images!
I use stations (aka centers) in my classroom, but always looking for a way to better them. I REALLY want to move towards student choice instead of teacher choice. Thanks for the inspiration!

Ms. Speregen said...

I would also love your labels and chart. This is my first year of teaching and I have learned so much from your blog. Thank you for taking the time to share your ideas!

Kumu said...

I too would also love your labels and chart.
Thank You for sharing!

Elisabeth said...

I just found this post about your centers from your Q and A post! I LOVE this!! I'm really wanting to do centers. The first year I taught, (I began on a sick leave, after a month was hired full time to teach that class) I did the centers that the teacher I was filling in for had. It was a lot of technology.... Leapsters, Leap pads, listening center (walkmans), etc. I found myself spending a ton on batteries and constantly having a center down because we were out of batteries. Another thing with the centers before they could go to the center they would have to complete a packet (this was like 5-6 pages). This packet became very time consuming to grade and then if I didn't check it I had some rush through it and go to their center. Again, this was not my routine, but one the teacher wanted implemented due to possibly coming back. Needless to say my second year I didn't do them. This year is my third year. I am dying to get back into some type of center routine. I really love your idea! I would love the labels and chart they are talking about in the above posts. Is this something different from the documents you have attached above? Also, could you give me some examples of what you do for each of the centers? How long do you usually do the centers/guided reading? Sorry that I wrote a novel here! I'm just really interested in getting a good routine down for centers!!! I love your blog! Awesome ideas!!!!!


Anonymous said...

I love the free choice idea for students especially for the differentiated aspects of it. However, I am also nervous about giving up control, and making sure students are making good choices for centers they need the most need in. I do an adapted D5, and assign certain groups to different centers based on need, for example, my high group wouldn't listen to the story of the week on CD, they would read the story whereas my low group would read along with the CD. I have some questions concerning choice centers if anyone can help. Do students sign-up for particular centers in the morning before reading? How do you keep confusion and fighting over who gets to go to a particular center? I could see my students arguing over who was at a center first if only four are allowed. I am just wandering if anyone has a system for signing-up ahead of time? Also, do you just call the student/group you need for guided reading and the rest of students stay at whatever center they are working on?

Rachelle said...

If you make sure that all of your students know the expectations during centers, then they are fine! My kiddos are very good during centers and if they are not (I check in on them between groups), then there are consequences. I hardly ever have behavior problems during centers. It's all about making sure they know what you expect from them and modeling that.

The students do not sign up for a particular center. There is a stagger start when we do centers. They must complete 3 review worksheets before going to centers. This ensures that you don't have everyone running to a certain center (and it's a great review). Next to each center on the center board there is a number. That is the number of students that can be in that center. There are so many choices that I have really never had a problem with students arguing or confused.

We practice a lot at centers first. For the first 3 weeks of school we go through procedures and expectations.

Hope this helps! :)

When it's time for a guided reading group, I just call that group over and everyone else continues working on their centers.

Feel free to email me any other questions you have!

Anonymous said...

How long do you usually allot for center time? I understand that this is also your guided reading time. Do you only work with one group and the other students are at centers. We do "centers" during our reading group time where I work with a group, my para works with a group and a group goes to centers. These centers are chosen for the students and I only have about 15 minutes to work with each group. Doing centers your way may allow me to work with a group for a longer period if time if it is needed. Thanks for your help.

Emily said...

I would also like a copy of your center labels and anything else you have that would make it helpful to complete centers. I have done centers in my classroom, but do NOT like the way that I do them. I don't feel like the students are actually working. Sometimes they NEVER get done. Their tubs are a mess. Ugh! Would you be willing to share how you go through your procedures and get them set up? It seems like a lot of work to have so many centers. Is there a way I can decrease the load for myself until I get some resources built up?

Thanks for your help. I look forward to trying out your center ideas. My email is

Deedee Wills said...

Thanks for digging deep and linking up!!!! LOL!

Mrs. Wills Kindergarten

Unknown said...

These are wonderful! Thanks for tips and helping me get organized!
Crayons and Curls

Katy said...

I love this! I'm so glad to see another teacher that still does centers this way! I totally believe in student selected activities, and student choice. I'm glad to know there's still teachers that don't do rotations... :) I was beginning to feel like I was an oldie! Thanks for inspiring me to keep going! :)

Kindergarten Katy said...

I would LOVE to have a copy of your center cards ect. Please email me at


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