How To Conquer Work Centers

Work centers can be such a hit or miss for teachers.  So many times I hear these horrific stories about how chaos set out the second work centers begin.  Well, let's get to the route of the problem? 

Do students know where to go during work centers?
Do student's know what's expected of them during work centers?
Are your work centers organized?
Is student work/tasks ready when they arrive to the work centers?
Is your work center routine consistent?

Today I'm going to share some tips for a seamless work center rotation system.  With a little planning, organization and set up your can be implementing efficient work centers in YOUR classroom in no time!

It might sound like such a silly questions?  And you are probably thinking "of course they know where to go."  But do they really? Do students know where to go and when to go without multiple verbal prompts?  Think about it...if you have 10 students and only 2 of them independently transition without any verbal cues, that means you have 8 students that require at least one verbal direction.  Do your aides chime in too?  If so, that can be easily 20+ verbal commands of telling students within a minutes time.  Even thinking about it overwhelms me!  They can hear:
"go here"
"come here"
"Sit there"
"Switch with susie today."

This can be EXTREMELY overwhelming for students and even staff too.  If this process is not streamlined you are already setting students up for failure from the beginning.  Students should be arriving to work centers calm and ready to work.  Sometimes this requires some redirection to your staff as well.  Staff may need some friendly reminders to cut the verbal reminders down to a simple gesture or cue as well as give the students a chance to be successful on their own.  Now, of course, I know there will always be SOME students that require the extra help, whether its physical or verbal, and that is OKAY!  But save those cues for the students that require them.

This is where I like to use visual work center rotation cards.  The cards help act as a cue for students without ANY verbal redirection by staff.   Each student has their own "working card" that has a color table schedule on the bottom.  For example, below the student would go to the blue table first, then red, then yellow, than green.  This work center card can be edited to create the colors you use in your classroom in addition to the number of tables you use! Take a look and you'll see what I mean:

Of course each table should be clearly labeled in your classroom as well.

In addition to the tables being clearly labeled, it can make things easier if the tools and supplies are also labeled.  I recommend storing all of your "table tools" in one caddy that is clearly labeled for yourself or instructional assistants that run that work center rotation for you!

Here is a video showing how my students transition from table to table during work centers.

In a perfect world, your students will transition to their first table with zero challenges.  When they do this, do they know what is expected of them at the work center?  We want to set students up for success and set clear expectations.  Depending on your caseload, student needs and individual behaviors you can consider using different visuals to help keep students supported.  Here are a few visuals I have used:

 These can be taped on student desks or table spots so they cannot be removed.

These can be stored in your table tools caddy to pull out on an as needed basis.

Depending on your kiddos they may be a little chatty.  Many times I visit a classroom to offer support for behaviors and one of the most obvious recommendations I make to the staff is to reduce verbal redirection.  If a student is being loud, and 3 adults tell them to be quiet, the overall voice level of the classroom is too high and thus stimulating.  I always try recommending using non verbal cues such as these voice level visuals to help prompt students to be quiet.  Of course, some students will require a verbal prompt.  However, not ALL students need to be "shhhh'd" :)

What is the realistic expectation for students?  Do you token students individually?  Do they earn clips at each center like my work center rotation system?  If so, set expectations up from the beginning.  My work centers always worked on the principal of first work, then play.  Students would earn clips at each work center and turn it in for their preferred reward.  Whatever method you choose, keep it consistent for your kiddos!

Work centers should be efficiently organized so that you are not scrambling around during work centers to grab materials or tools needed.  The obvious things should be kept nearby: student work, student work cards, token boards, timers, visuals and table tools.

Each center in your classroom should have a table tools tote.  In this it is beneficial to store all of the materials you need to manage work centers.  Its important to have staff help you keep work centers clean and organized.  Staff expectations should include managing materials and putting things away.  When students are on break or down time, staff can be utilized to organize centers, tidy up where needed and set up for the next round of work centers.

Here is a sample of my table tools I used in the classroom and recommend to teachers I work with:

Depending on your class set up and student/staff ratio you may not be managing all of the work centers.  Some classrooms will have independent centers and some will have staff managed centers.  No matter what the case is, the centers should be planned for in advance.  Nothing is worst than sending kids to an empty table and telling them to wait one minute while you go digging in your file of extra worksheets.  I liked to plan out all of my centers a week at a time.  I would scribble my notes on these activity guides and store at each center.  My staff could see what was expected and could help with setting up centers to streamline work centers.  My routine was fairly repetitive, so I could jot down something simple like "writing journals" on my activity guide and my staff knew what this meant.  This type of relationship takes time to build and something to be cherished.  In the beginning, you may need to type detailed plans for each activity so your staff know what is expected of them!

I have whatever the students are doing ready before they arrive.  Depending on the center or day, students may walk to the table to gather their work folder, work on an adapted book while a peer is doing 1:1 or dive right into a worksheet.  Here are a few examples of "ready" work centers from the past few years:



Everything has a place in your classroom.  Keep everything organized so staff knows what to do too!
 Work centers can be as effective as you want them to be.  Are you going to do work centers daily?  Are there going to be the same rotations?  Are all students going to participate?  In my opinion, work centers should be CONSISTENT daily.  With work centers embedded into your daily schedule students will come to expect the rotations and will thrive on consistency.  My philosophy on centers is that the ROUTINE should remain consistent every day.  Students should be grouped and visit work centers in the SAME order EVERY day.  With that said, your time may fluctuate depending on specials.  Some days you may have PE or Library and this may cut your work centers short.  No problem!  Instead of 20 minute rotations, cut it down to 10 minute centers.  Students will still have the same transitions but simpler or shorter work tasks at each center.  This helps to build routine and consistent within your day.  Students will THRIVE on routine.
Transitions should be smooth.  Students should know when they are going to transition to the next table.  Having a color coded card will help them know where to go, but knowing when is another thing!  In my work center Table tools I include different visuals for students to help with transition.  Visual cue sticks to help cue students to clean up, one more minute, next table and ready to work.  These can reduce verbal cues during a hectic transition.

 I was a fan of projecting a large timer on my white board so the entire class and all of the staff could see how much time was left!

Here are some of my favorite finds on amazon (affiliate links) that I use to color code my work centers to help make things run smoother!


Here are some more of my favorite finds on amazon (affiliate links) to help manage work centers.


No comments