Centers Need Routines

How often do you find yourself changing your centers? Do you ever feel like your centers aren’t flowing well enough? Do you find that your students struggle with knowing what to do when they use the centers? Are you constantly getting interrupted by your students during centers? I understand. That’s why centers need routines. I hope to be able to solve some of your center problems today.

Types of Centers

Here are some of my favorite centers:

  • Reading Center
  • Writing Center
  • Reading Games
  • Math Games
  • Technology

I will go into more detail in this post below.

Set Up

Think about how you want to set up your centers. Do you have a lot of space to make designated areas for most of your centers OR do you want most of your centers to be movable? I like to do both. I have a designated Reading Center space where there is a book shelf and lots of books that are easily accessible. The rest of my centers are in tubs which allow for flexible seating as well as independent OR group work. Tubs can be taken off the shelf and students can work on the floor or at a table. However, I have trays that stay on the shelf and the students just take what they need and go.

Picture of how I set up Centers with tubs.

Reading Center

My students always knew which bookshelf to get the books (this shelf is separate from the centers shelf). In the bookshelf I used books that interested them and that I read to them during the month. Then I had a tub of easy to read books and class books next to the bookshelf. I also had some stuffed animals in a tub so they could read to the stuffed animal if they chose to do so.

Writing Center

I had a tray on my Centers shelf that could hold three types of papers

  • Write the Room Paper – clipboards were in another tub to the side of the shelf
  • Writing Center Paper that goes with the writing picture sticks (in a container on the shelf)
  • Labeling Paper that also goes with the writing sticks

When students used the writing center they always knew where to go to get the paper. I changed Write the Room weekly and the Writing Center monthly and added lots of picture sticks to keep their attention for the month.

Reading Games

I had three tubs called Games that were usually phonics based activities. I have created 6 different activities that would follow a consistent pattern but get changed out monthly with different skills. I would only put out 3 activities at a time but if they know how to use all 6 activities you can mix and match the activities with the different skills and themes all year. During the month of September I teach them how to use each activity. Here is an example of one skill (with 6 activities) that could help you set up a consistent routine. Click the picture to see it in more detail.

Here are the activities in each product:

  • Color By Code
  • Roll and Write
  • Clip It
  • Sound/Word or Picture Reveal
  • Skill Game – letter, word or sound practice
  • Spinner Game

I have seasonal themes and for each theme I have Letters and Sounds, Phonological Awareness, Short Vowels and Numbers 1-120.

Try these games for FREE:

Below is an example of a game that can be played all year using different skills and different animals themes. Click on the link to see the bundle (the products to purchase have many different skills).

Beat the Animal Reading and Math Games

Click on the picture to go to the Beat the Puppy FREEBIE!!!!

Math Games

I also like to have easy to play math games. What do I mean by easy to play? I mean you don’t have to teach them how to play the game every week or every month OR games that have minimal explanation. You can always change the skill or theme but keep the same directions.


If you have access to ipads use tubs where the ipads can live when not in use. For ipads the routine that is the most important is how they are to access and put away the ipads and how they access any passwords or logins. This can be challenging for teachers. One trick I used was to have a container for each ipad (I had 1 ipad for every 2 students). We stored the tubs on the bottom shelf with the charging side out so that it was fast and easy to plug the charge cords in during the day.

Also, I used an index card with the student’s name and their login and password for any program used and stored them in the tub with the ipad. If there were multiple logins and passwords I would color code them so that I could say “This week class, when you use your ipads, you are going to use the red login and password.” It helped alleviate the confusion when you use multiple apps or sites. In September we practiced and practiced. It also helps to have technology leader in each group who can help students with technology and login issues.

Now what? What do they do on the ipad? Something new but very fun is Boom Learning. There are many of these products on Teachers Pay Teachers. Here is an example of one of my Boom products – just click the picture for a better look at what is there.

Not Finished

What do you do with unfinished center work? Some teachers have individual folders to put in work that is not finished. However, I like to use one large tub that stays on the center shelf called “Not Finished”. Before we go to centers each day I hand back unfinished work. It’s very simple. If the work is finished there are only two places it could go – if I’m not grading it then it goes directly in their backpack. If it’s a “Must Do” center or seat work activity then it goes directly into the “Finished” tub which I keep on our counter. This is where they put ALL notes to me and finished work throughout the day (not just at centers). I like having one simple place to keep it ALL.


Centers can be so much fun OR it can be a nightmare. That’s why centers need routines. The key to making it productive and fun is to set up a consistent routine once students go to the centers so that students know what to expect and can be independent. Also, keep in mind that the skills you put into the centers should have been previously taught. Games should be consistent in structure and easy to explain.

If you want to see how I teach other routines check out my

Importance of Phonological Awareness Routines

Happy Teaching!

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