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Classroom Management During Centers

Janelle Cox

Are you overwhelmed with your students’ behavior during centers? Or are you struggling to get students to stay on task?

You are not alone. Many teachers struggling with classroom management avoid implementing centers in their classrooms just for those reasons. Managing centers can be a hassle, but with a few tips and strategies, there are ways to get them to run smoothly. Here are a few ideas.

Teach Center Procedures

Teach students what you want them to do and how it should be done by modeling each procedure step by step. Most of the time, students tend to misbehave and your classroom gets noisy because they don’t know what to do next, or where to go to get help. Think about all of the questions a student may have and make sure you have an answer for them before you begin centers. How to clean up, who goes first in a group activity, etc.

Here are a few general questions and how to answer them.

  • What do I do if I finish my task early? Finish your morning packet then read a book.
  • How do I know where to go next? Once you hear the bell, I will tell each group where they go next.
  • What do I do when I get to the center? When you get to the center find you name, read the directions and complete your work. Tip: Explain each center in detail before sending kids off on their own.
  • What do I do if I need help? Ask someone in your group first, then you can come to me if you still don’t know the answer. Tip: Implement “Ask Three Before Me” this is when students must ask three peers before they can come to you.
  • Where do I put my work when I am done? There will be a basket marked “Completed Work” at the center. That is where you place your work when you are finished.

Keep Groups Small

To avoid a lot of unnecessary chit-chatting, keep the groups to a minimum of three and a maximum of five. The bigger the group, the noisier the classroom will be. When putting groups together, consider behaviors, work ethic, and the attitudes of each student. It may take a few weeks for the students to learn the procedures and expectations.  During this time, make sure you are walking around the classroom modeling procedures, monitoring students, and provide assistance. Once you feel groups are running smoothly, then you can start your guided reading groups, or pull students for one-on-one instruction. If you are going to do this, make sure to plan centers that students can do independently or without adult help.

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Have a Smooth Transition

Transition time between centers tend to be the time when most teachers lose control of the classroom. This is because students spend time waiting for what to do next, and begin to feel stressed and frustrated, which leads to acting out. To combat this problem, it is essential to create a smooth transition in between centers. To do this, use the following tips:

  • Make transitions quick. For example, once students hear the bell indicating that it is time to move to the next center, they must freeze and wait for further instructions. Or, for older students, they can look on the front board which tells them what center they move to next.
  • Provide a verbal cue. For an easy transition teach students a verbal cue such as, when you clap they must clap, or when you say “Give me Five” they must clap five times, indicating all the attention is now on the teacher, and students must wait for further instructions.

Make it Fun

Make learning center time fun! When students are engaged and having fun they forget they are even learning! Create simple, fun centers like a computer center where students play games and review skills, or a game center where students learn while playing a board game. Turn center time into fun time!

How do you implement classroom management during learning centers? Do you have any tips you would like to share with your colleagues? We would love to hear our thoughts in the comment section below.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who draws on her 15 years of professional experience in the education system. As a trained educational professional, she utilizes her experience to provide content and knowledge to the online community. Janelle holds a master's of science in education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for, where she provides educational information and lesson plans for teachers around the globe. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators