I love teaching with math centers and creating practical and engaging resources for students to work with in math centers. I get a lot of questions about managing math centers and how I do it. If your management is not strong, then your students will not be thriving and learning in math centers. I wanted to share some ideas and tips for managing math centers in upper elementary that have worked for me over the years. If you are just getting started with math centers, make sure you check out this post with tips on how to get started by clicking here.
My first (and probably most important) tip is to have clear expectations for what the students should be doing and how they should be doing it. I have my students rotate in a clockwise fashion at my signal. They know at my signal to stop and, as quietly as possible, straighten up the center. Then, they stand facing me. I have them face me so I know they are listening and ready to transition. I also have them hold all of their personal center materials in their hands (notebook, recording sheet, etc.) They move one group at a time to the next center and stand until I signal them to begin. Then they know they are to immediately begin working. Time is short for math centers, so every minute has to be optimized.
Another aspect of managing math centers is having clear expectations for the quantity and quality of work you want completed. I keep my centers very consistent so I am easily able to require a good amount of work. Click here to read about what I typically have in my math centers. Before centers begin, I make notes on the board and verbally go over the quantity I expect from them (Example: 10 completed task cards, 12 computation problems from the Roll and Answer center, etc) I make a point of checking the students’ work each day we do centers in the beginning of the year, then I spot check the rest of the year.
This one I have not done as much as the other tips I am sharing, but it may work for you. I have my students in groups of five or six. You could assign super simple jobs to some of the group members (and rotate the jobs out regularly). These jobs will not interfere with the work and will only serve to ensure all students are on task and working. I don’t use this tip as much because my centers are short and intensive (20 minutes) and I have never had a need to use jobs. Here are some example jobs you could implement:
- Materials Manager: Makes sure everyone has what they need to complete a center
- Group Captain: Ensures everyone is working and reports any problems
- Clean Up Crew: Cleans up the center (In theory, you want all the students cleaning up after themselves, but if you have ever seen six kids trying to straighten up a simple station, you know it can get a bit crowded.)
- Group Tutor: My students know to get help from their group members and do so without job assigning, however you could assign a particular student to be a group tutor or go to when other students are struggling with a skill.
This tip I consistently use and keep very simple. Before I started using Class Dojo, I simply had the group numbers written on a index card. I would assign tally marks to the groups for various good behaviors. On Friday, the group with the most tally marks was rewarded a small prize. Since then, I have used Class Dojo to keep track of my group’s points. I typically only assign points during and after group transitions. Here are some ideas for giving points:
- Working Well Together: If I see a group that is really working together and helping each other, I may give them a point.
- Excellent Cleanup: Sometimes, I will give a point to the team that does the best job cleaning up the center.
- Perseverance: If a team works particularly hard on a question or task, I may give them a point.
- Work Completion: I may give points for teams that had all team members meet the quantity requirement or for groups that started working immediately and were on task the entire time.
When deciding what you will give points for, think about these questions: When are my students struggling to behave? What task is causing the most interruption? Give points based on what you want your students to improve.
This is your secret weapon for managing math centers in your classroom. My students love math centers. They literally cheer when it is math center day (I only do math centers 2-3 times a week). So, if a student consistently misbehaves in centers or just cannot get their act together, they have to complete alternate work by themselves at their seat. The alternate work could be a packet of printables, a few pages from the math textbook, or even part of the center the other students are completing. This is one of those things that only has to be done about once or twice. Just enough for the students to know you mean business and are not bluffing. This could even be done on a larger scale with the entire class completing the alternate work, if necessary.
Those are some of my best tips for math center management. Do you use math centers in your classroom? I would love to know your go to classroom management tip for managing them. Let me know in the comments!