Incorporating Centers in Reading and Math

By Victoria Jasztal on March 4, 2010


 For the six years I have been an intermediate teacher, I have always tried to find as many resources as I could pertaining to center rotations. When I choose centers for my students, I strive to find resources that are enriching and delve into cross-curricular areas of study. Here are some ideas that you can incorporate in either your reading or math block.

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In centers, it is important to focus on the five "E's": 

  • ENGAGE: Excellent instruction begins by capturing student interest. This goes for centers as well. Teachers need to find centers that pique their students' interests. It is important for your students to make connections. Honestly, I do not like "cookie cutter" centers that in my opinion inhibit my students from responding in the way they feel comfortable. I do not prefer centers such as "Write a diamante poem about St. Patrick's Day." I rarely limit my students and give them a lot of choices.
  • EXPLORE: I am a huge advocate of hands-on, exploratory learning. In every center, even if there is a comprehension component, I include materials along with the center that students can touch and manipulate. Reference materials are a major component of our classroom as well, from our encyclopedias to thesaurus set to our iPods.
  • EXPLAIN: In your centers, you should witness your students explaining concepts with one another to know they are delving beyond literal instruction. Explaining is a higher-order thinking process. If students can explain concepts to one another, they have mastered that concept and they can further deepen their understanding.
  • EXTEND: There should always be ways for your students to extend what they have learned. Include sorting games like the printable centers at FCRR.org, magazine articles, games intended for small groups of students, examples you have created (such as your own writing), and possibly resources that incorporate technology such as websites, podcasts, and PowerPoints your students can delve into on the computer.
  • EVALUATE: Your center should be revolved around an essential concept, and you should expect some sort of learning outcome, even if students do not entirely complete the center activity.


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Math-Related Centers:

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  • Writing Math Multiple Choice Questions: Using the book Every Minute on Earth, published by Scholastic, students can take fascinating facts from the book and use them in writing math word problems with four multiple choice responses.
  • Analyzing Multiple Choice Questions: Have you ever had your students look at the four or five choices for a multiple choice question to determine what made them correct or incorrect? Recently, my students explained on paper how they came to their choice and why the other choices did not match up to the correct answer. This was particularly interesting to do with problems revolving around algebraic expressions. 
  • Glue and Do Problems: Students can work in Glue and Do notebooks by solving different word problems. This resource I created is an example of five questions I am using in a center this week. Students cut out each problem, gluing them on different pages in their notebooks. They then solve the problems using words, numbers, and pictures.
  • Math Vocabulary Cards: Students will write out important math terms on index cards, either for a unit they are focusing on, test preparation, from a personal challenge list, or because of being interested in learning more about the vocabulary. They can use cards that have hole punches in the top and use binder clips to keep the cards together, if they desire. Students can also use a foldable from Dinah Zike to make a flip book with vocabulary-related terms.
  • Watch Videos Online: An incredible website called Math 5 Live is appropriate for advanced third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students. Students can view these videos individually or in pairs on your classroom computers while in centers.
  • Use MagazinesScholastic's DynaMath is an incredible math magazine for intermediate students. The link I included shows you an issue of the magazine. Any articles from Dyna Math can be used in a center. The majority of the components in this magazine rely on higher-order thinking skills.

Websites and Articles You May Love for Center Ideas Pertaining to Math: 

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Reading-Related Centers:

  • Literature Circles: Students will complete a different kind of literature circles by all contributing to one poster. In class tomorrow, my students will be collaborating together to complete a poster about force and motion (Chapter 15 in Scott Foresman Science). The sections students will be writing on are: Questions to Probe the Mind, Vocabulary, Polaroid Picture, Photo Reel, and Factoids. 
  • Writing Scripts from Chapter Books: In the near future, my students are going to be rewriting an excerpt from a chapter book as a script to emphasize prosody and point of view. They are going to record the excerpt as a podcast, focusing mainly on the dialogue the characters said in that excerpt along with narration. 
  • Comparing and Contrasting: Of course, you can get your students to compare and contrast a variety of topics. Students fold a piece of printer paper turned horizontally into three parts, which then serves as a Venn diagram. In each contrast section, students in my class are required to write at least five facts, and then in the center section, they are required to write at least three facts. Most recently, my students compared and contrasted libraries of yesterday (particularly the Hereford Cathedral Library) with those of today. Yet you can also use math concepts like congruent and similar figures, parallel and perpendicular, and area and perimeter. 

Resources Kids Can Use for Comparing and Contrasting:

  • Videos from National Geographic Kids: Students can compare animals, forces of nature, and other topics
  • Compare and Contrast Natural Disasters: Students can compare and contrast natural disasters of yesterday and today. For example, Hurricane Katrina can be compared with the major earthquake that has recently hit Chile. Scholastic News can be used as a resource.
  • Storyworks Magazine from Scholastic also has a section in their issues titled “Yesterday and Today”. Check out pages 22 and 23 this sensational digital edition of Storyworks to preview this component of the magazine.

PowerPoints:

  • One center that I offered today in class involved PowerPoint presentations. Students were able to play a reading-related JEOPARDY game along with their teammates, navigate through a “context clues workshop”, and read a short non-fiction article about bioluminescence to learn about the skill of outlining. You can gather several types of PowerPoint presentations from the Internet or create them yourself, saving them to a flash drive and then transferring the files to one folder on your classroom desktop or laptop computers.
  • Besides that, you can create a folder with different kinds of pictures so students can create presentations based on concepts in science, social studies and math, as well as other topics they are currently studying in class.

Comments

Thank you, Brittany! What kind of centers do you use in your classroom, and which grade do you teach? The center you mentioned in particular came in handy before state testing, so if "it" has not approached yet, it may work very well with your students' reasoning/analyzing skills.

Thank you for all of the insight on the centers, these are all wonderful ideas that you are using! I particular like the two math centers that focus on creating and analyzing multiple choice questions. That is a great idea and will definitely build skills that they need, especially with all of the required testing these days!

I often lead a guided reading group, but sometimes I do walk around because I want to see what students are doing in each center. By this, I lead mini-conferences to each group working in their centers. I hold students accountable at centers by having a team leader for each group of students who needs to report any issues among group members to me. Also, center work does go toward a general grade in the grade book.

Victoria, Thanks for the post on centers. There are great ideas. I am using the National Geo. for Kids videos in one of my stations this week. Do you lead a guided reading group as the centers are going on? Also, do you have any suggestions for holding the students accountable for their work at centers. I find that some of my students are very engaged, while others do not work independently. Any suggestions on accountability or grading? Thanks, Dana

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