Do you use centres in your primary classroom? I LOVE centres!
They can be awesome.
When you have centres in place that run like a well-oiled machine, you can easily pull small groups of students to work with, while being confident that the rest of your class is engaged and practicing important skills – independently. This helps you ensure that you are teaching your students EXACTLY what they need to know, and you’re not wasting their time or your time.
Centres can also make differentiation a snap, if you have different “levels” of activities for both centre time and time working with you.
I feel like by now, most teachers are aware of how valuable centres and small groups can be. However, centres can be a challenge to implement, especially in maternelle. They take time to teach and prepare, there is sometimes a lack of quality French resources, it can be hard to make sure your students are working responsibly and independently while you pull a small group, and it can take a lot of organisation.
It has honestly taken me a few years of trial and error (lots of error haha) to get my centres running exactly how I want them. I figured some other teachers may be able to learn from my experiences and mistakes, so I will be sharing how I start and run centres in my kindergarten classroom over the next few weeks, along with some of the resources that I use!
Today’s post is all about what to do in the first few weeks of centres – how to get started. But before I get started on this blog post, here are a few things you should know about my classroom centres:
– I do not currently do Daily 5… but I did start with Daily 5 four years ago when I started centres, so you may notice a few similarities.
– I prefer to have my students work in pairs rather than groups. This means that I need to always be sure to have enough centres going for the number of student pairs that I have. I currently have 17 students, so I run eight centres at a time (with one group of three)
– I do prioritize the students that I am working with during centre time. If a behaviour is happening that is not productive in another group, I generally don’t address it until AFTER I am done with my group. It is important to me to give my attention to students who are doing the RIGHT thing, rather than wasting their precious time with me disciplining others. The exception to this rule would be if someone was in danger (obviously), or if one group was distracting other groups. I have developed a pretty good filter and pair of blinders over the years that I pull out when necessary ;)
TIP #1: START WITH CENTRES THAT THEY ALREADY KNOW HOW TO DO
In my opinion, it helps a LOT to start the first couple of weeks with “centres” that are activities that your students already know how to do – activities that don’t require an explanation. When my principal passes my classroom during centre time the first few weeks, I am sure that it looks like my students are just “playing”. But guess what? That is what they already know how to do!
Remember – 5 year-olds cannot sit and listen for very long. You have probably about 5-7 minutes to explain what you want them to do before sending them on their way. Do you want to spend those precious 5 minutes when you are starting to establish centres by teaching them procedures and expectations, or teaching them an activity that they are probably not ready for yet?
There is no way you can expect your brand new, 4- and 5-year old students to sit and listen to you explain how to do 8-10 different activities.
So, start with what they know!
Here are some examples of what I get my students to do during the first week of centres:
|Looking at books|
|K*nex (or other similar building toys)|
|Stamps (free play)|
|Lego (free play)|
|Free play/costumes in the “kitchen”|
|Play doh (free play)|
|Colouring (I provide a couple of colouring sheets and various types/sizes of blank paper)|
Other examples could include puzzles, beads & pipe cleaners, Wiki Stix, blocks, etc.
TIP #2: BUILD THEIR STAMINA
Doing the same activity for an extended period of time is HARD. Start small! Our students need to build their centre “muscles.” The first day, we practice staying at the same place for just five minutes. When that is easy, we build.
Right now, we are over a week in, and on Friday we succeeded at staying on task for 11 minutes. It is better to leave them wanting more than having them complain that they are bored/done with the activity- trust me!
(Bonus tip – to help with this, try and group your students who are excited about everything and have great attitudes with those who may need a little more encouragement in order to have fun. You will want to avoid grouping students who are prone to frequently whining “I’M BORED!” together…)
I use www.online-stopwatch.com to help my students know how much longer they will be at their centre. We like the circle one, because they can see how much yellow is left. My students know that they must stay at their station until the timer rings. If you have one or two students off task or telling you they are done, be sure to redirect them and point out the timer. If you notice more than a couple students who are having a hard time staying focused, stop the timer, note how long they made it, and try to build on that the next day.
You may have days that regress and they can do less than they did before – that’s okay! Building stamina for centres is like building stamina for anything else…I know that when I am training for a race, some days I just can’t run as far as I could the day before. It doesn’t mean I have regressed forever! It’s all about the big picture ;)
TIP #3: USE THIS TIME TO TEACH PROCEDURES AND EXPECTATIONS
As I said above, your students can listen to you for about 5-7 minutes at a time. This means that before each centre rotation, you have the chance to teach them something new. In the beginning, teach them procedures and expectations! Before I send my students off to their first centre, I bring them all to the carpet and teach them something new to try. The very first thing I teach them is that I expect them to stay at their station. I explain that there are lots of times during the day that they can choose where to go and what to play… but this isn’t one of them. This is a chance for them to use my special toys and play with my special games, and there aren’t enough for everyone at a time, so we will be working in groups of two.
In the beginning, I just write their names on the board beside the activity I want them at, and I announce to them what they will be doing. Teaching them how to use the centre board is another lesson for another day. I send them off for one rotation…and then we regroup at the carpet again. We talk about what went well (or what didn’t), and I teach them another expectation or procedure. The second one that I teach is what voice level should we be using with our partners.
While it can be hard not to feel frustrated when six students ask you to go to the bathroom at the same time on day two when you don’t plan to teach bathroom procedures until day five, it is important to take the slow and steady approach. Try to be patient and only expect them to practice what you have preached!
The rest will come.
Here are some more routines and procedures I teach in the first few weeks (one at a time):
– Working on our stamina
– Cleaning up properly (I show them how to clean up each different station. Each station is its own mini lesson)
– How to come directly back to the carpet once they have cleaned up
– How to help a friend clean up if they notice they aren’t going to make it back to the carpet before the timer goes
– What to do if they need to go to the bathroom
– What to do if they need help (ask a friend, find who did that centre yesterday, etc. – i.e. NOT asking Mme Andrea!)
– What to do if they find a ripped or torn book
– How to find their centre (see below)
– How to know where to go for their centre (see below)
Once all of these procedures are mastered and become second nature, I start to add in “real” centres one at a time. These are, for the most part, the centres that we will be doing all year long. The specific activities within each centre may change, but the centres pretty much stay the same. For example, we will learn how to listen to a story using the stereo – that centre will stay for the year, but the stories that we listen to will obviously change.
I hope this post helps you with your first week or two of centres. Remember to think about what it is you really want your students to know…and then use those precious minutes before each rotation to teach them those things! Later, once your students are little experts and understand all of your expectations, you can use this time to teach them new centres and activities. It will be much easier to do so once their behaviour is on track. But for now – start small, start short, and start with what they know!