Grouping Students for Centers
First of all, an important part of my system is how I group my students. Learning center groups should be heterogeneous. There should be students who are performing and high, middle, and low levels so that they can provide assistance to each other and model skills to those who need assistance. I also use behavioral concerns as a way to group students. Once I know who will work in a group together, I use colored circle stickers to indicate groups. I place these stickers on my students' nametags so they can easily see to which color group they belong.
Next, I made a chart that lists members of each colored group and then use a clothespin to indicate who will be the leader of the group. I made the chart and laminated it. Then, I typed all of my kiddos names and laminated that. Then, I cut the names apart and use poster putty to affix them into the correct group. I change leaders every Monday. Here is my leader chart:
Next, I set up my centers. I did not have room in my classroom to set up tables or distinct areas for each of my centers. So, I solved this problem by using plastic drawers. Each drawer is labeled with the center number and name. For example: Center 1: Phonics and Word Study. Here are my center drawers:
I made a center rotation chart to help students keep track of which center they will go to each day. The chart lists the names of each center I use and has colored clothespins to match the group sticker colors that were assigned before. Each day at the start of center time, I rotate the clips down to the next station.
I chose a few years back to no longer use worksheets in my centers. I needed to cut back on the number of copies I was making (you know how THAT is), I didn't always have time to check their work (and work that is not checked is perceived as unimportant), and I was never sure what to do about student center work which was not finished.
So, instead of including worksheets in my centers, I use hands-on activities. These are sorts, board games, sequencing activities, partner reading, hands-on story mapping, and matching puzzles.
I organize the activites in the center by placing all materials related to that activity inside of a plastic envelope with a velcro closure. Here is what they look like:
Each center gets 4 or 5 activities. Students go to only 1 center per day. I tried (I really did) having students rotate to 2 or more centers each day, but it was too much for me to run 10-15 centers per week. My students stay in their center for 40 minutes (with the exception of the time they come to guided reading). So, it is necessary to include enough engaging activities to keep them busy for the whole time.
I have made a TON of learning center board games, sorts, and matching games which are being slowly posted to my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Stay tuned....in my upcoming posts, I will describe and show with pictures how I organize these game boards with interchangeable game cards. I have modeled my system after the Frog Learning Game Systems. I have also purchased four of the Frog Learning Game sets (EXPENSIVE!!) to use in my learning centers. They are great and the kids love them!
Please share details about your learning centers or the activities which are enjoyed by your students in those learning centers!
Update 9/2/13 - I have recently updated my literacy centers to allow more autonomy and choice for students. Many things have remained the same. You can read the details of my updated literacy centers here.