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Beginner’s Guide to Setting Up Math Centers

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I love using math centers in my classroom to review skills we’re working on. As teachers, we know WHY centers can be so effective in engaging students and differentiating instruction. But implementing math centers for the first time can be overwhelming! So let’s talk about HOW to get started.

Which Math Centers Should I Use?

There are so many different types of math centers, but my favorite ones are LOW PREP! Getting centers ready for students can eat up a lot of teacher work time, so I try to minimize the prep time by choosing centers that can easily be changed out. That means the content of the center changes, but the directions and procedures remain mostly the same.

Here are some center ideas to get you started:

  • Task Cards: Post math problems on cards around the room. Students use a recording sheet to keep track of their answers.
  • Error Analysis: Have students analyze why a problem is incorrect and word to solve it correctly.
  • Sorting Games: Students can sort using place value, answer value, geometric qualities, etc.
  • Matching Puzzles: Write a problem and answer on two separate puzzle pieces. Students have to find two matching pieces.
  • Simple Board Games: Pair a set of task cards with a game board. As they answer each question correctly, students can move along the board.
image of secret picture math centers

How Do I Prep Each Math Center?

I like to spend a little time upfront laminating my math centers materials. This makes them more durable and uses less paper in the long run. However, it’s totally up to you! Some teachers prefer to just print and use the materials as is.

Next, I use signs so students can find the math centers around the room easily. The directions for that center are taped under the sign or displayed prominently so students can get right to work. These clear plastic sleeves are great for displaying center directions or learning objectives. It’s easy to switch out the page when you change the center and they come in lots of different colors.

image of task cards math centers

Each activity has a recording sheet that students can turn in at the end of the week. This helps keep students accountable for their math center work. You can store copies of the recording sheet with each center. Alternatively, you can make a packet with all the answer sheets stapled together. This may help students with organization and make it easier for teachers to collect center work.

How Do I Run Math Centers in My Classroom?

First, decide how and when you’ll use math centers in your classroom. One option is to have a set time every day for students to complete one center. Students can rotate through all 5 centers in one week. Or, while you work with a small group of students, other students can complete their math centers, making the teacher one of your centers. Additionally, some teachers use centers as an option for early finishers.

Next, decide if students will work alone or in groups to complete their math centers. I prefer to keep groups small, with 2-3 students at most. This helps students to stay focused on the math skill, while also providing support for students who struggle to complete the work independently.

How Do I Store My Math Centers?

There are lots of easy options for storing math centers. I like to use Ziploc bags or small plastic boxes for task cards or game pieces. I keep everything needed for each center in a large, flat bin with a secure lid. Several years ago I purchased 8 of these bins, and they’ve held up so well! Clearly label each bin on thee outside, and it’s easy to grab centers on an as-needed basis. Plus, they pack away easily to be used next year.

For math centers with few materials, you can also use pocket folders to keep each center organized. These are easy to store in a filing cabinet or or the shelf.

image of square puzzle math centers

Need fun, low-prep math centers for your classroom? Check out my NEW math center resources! Each set comes with 10 highly-engaging, reusable centers that focus on one math skill. Grab your grade-level bundle and it’s easy to just print and go!

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April Smith

Curriculum Writer and Online Professional Development Coach. 

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