Getting Started With Centers

Categories: Academics

Let’s Talk Centers.

When talking to other teachers, one theme remains the same: we all wish we had more time. Implementing centers is one of the best ways to maximize your instructional time with students. While most teachers agree the idea of centers sounds great, the idea of getting started in a high needs classroom can be daunting. Between the extra planning, the extra transitions, and possible COVID protocols, many teachers feel overwhelmed at the idea of adding one more thing to the classroom schedule. I promise, centers are the secret sauce to a smooth running, busy, functional classroom! Let’s look at ways to implement centers with easy planning, reducing transitions and keeping COVID safety in mind.

Start Easy.

Centers are a great time to work on skills, but as you are getting started, consider starting with previously mastered skills. This frees you up to work on social interactions, transitions, and establish routines without worrying about teaching a skill. Find a low prep, preferred task that students are excited to do and start there. Once procedures, routines and transitions are smooth you can add in tasks that work on emerging skills.

Don’t Over Think It. Don’t Over Plan It.

Centers do NOT have to be elaborate to be functional. In fact, it should be one of the fastest things you plan for! Pick a skill, pick how you will practice the skill and run with it! If it takes more than 5 minutes to set up, you won’t do it, so make sure your prep is easy. Your students do not care if things are Pintrest and Instagram perfect. Below I used some fake leaves for a sorting and sensory center and a fall coloring page for a center. Easy set up, easy prep and very little explaining to staff what to do and how to run the center. 

Repetition is Your Friend

It’s okay to repeat the same center. In fact, it’s HELPFUL to repeat the same center! Try coming up with an easy to follow routine. I follow this schedule: on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I focus on reading, math and written expression/fine motor activities. On Thursday I focus on fluency, reading groups and data collection, and on Friday I have a fun craft, art project and sensory play. At the start of the month, I come up with a week’s worth of plans for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I repeat those activities every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the month. On Thursday I run a fluency station for math and reading that doesn’t change until students progress, and on Friday I plan a fun activity for the week based on whatever our theme is but keep sensory play the same. This not only minimizes my planning, it helps students show growth over the month of centers. 

Centers in COVID

So many teachers have reported they are unable to do centers due to COVID. With some adjustments, we were able to follow COVID protocols but still use centers. Here’s how:

  • Keep students in the same group as they are in during the day
  • Rotate staff, not students from center to center
  • Consider materials that don’t have to be shared or are easily cleaned between groups
  • Keep hand sanitizer close and sanitize materials before using


Consider ways you can ease transitions for your students. You can read some of my favorite tips here. Don’t give up if transitions are hard! Rather, look for ways you can work on easing those transitions and making them go smoothly. 

Centers give you an opportunity to maximize your time with each student. It gives you an opportunity to take data and see how students generalize skills. Plus, it’s great for you to see how your students interact and gives you opportunities to model social interactions and just have fun! Even making time for centers just one a week is worth the effort! You’ll have a smooth running, busy, functional classroom in no time!


Jen Koenig, B.S, M.Ed., LBS1
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  1. Hi! I love these ideas. Do you happen to have the letter craft shown above for sale in your TPT store? I looked but didn’t see it!

    Thank you! Love following you!

  2. What reading activities do you do with your students on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday? Also your math fluency station. I would love to know! All of these are great ideas and plan on implementing them in my own classroom this year.

    Thank you!


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