Managing Centers in the Classroom Made Easy



Centers, stations, rotations, workstations, no matter what you call them, they are an important part of our daily routine! Centers allow students to work on meaningful and differentiated activities that reinforce important skills. They often take place while the teacher works with a small group of students (i.e. Guided Reading or Guided Math). Every teacher likely has a different implementation method for centers, but one thing likely stands true across the board: Managing centers can be tough!

Holding students accountable for completing the assignments at a center while instructing a small group can be a difficult task. More often than not, we wish there was a forcefield around our reading table to prevent any distractions during that sacred time. But, that’s not a thing… SO, we have to improvise!

I think 8 out of 10 questions that stopped my reading group sounded something like this: “I’m done with that, what do I do next?” Or maybe it was: “I forgot what I’m supposed to do at Word Work today,” (*motions for student to read the directions on display at the center*) “ohhhh, yeah I’m done with that.” This is not to say that I don’t like answering questions from my students, because that is not the case. This is also not to say that I do not provide appropriate materials for students to complete. This IS saying that managing a room full of students, all very different from one another, working on multiple different things, while trying to run a successful small group is not always easy! Despite having clear expectations in place using our Behavior Scale, it can be tough to get into a good routine when it comes to centers.must-do-may-do-centers

To mitigate this, I began implementing the “Must Do May Do Chart” and that’s when many of my center woes began to diminish. The MDMDC (Must Do May Do Chart) is a very simple chart that can be edited to meet the individual needs of every student. It lists the “Must Do’s” which are things that the student must accomplish by a given date. It then lists the “May Do’s” which are things that the student can choose to do when he/she is either finished with the Must Do’s or is working ahead of the game and has some free time.  The MDMDC helps students become more independent during centers because most of their questions can be answered by referring to their chart!

I prep the Must Do May Do Charts before the week starts, sometimes that’s Friday after school (if I’M the one working ahead of the game) or Sunday evening from the comfort of my house. Oftentimes the MDMDC doesn’t change too much from week to week. Students become familiar with what to expect and slowly you’ll notice you’re not wishing for that forcefield as much! The important thing to remember when planning any type of centers is to make sure what you’re students are doing is seriously worthwhile. Nothing worse than busy work. The MDMDC is not meant to list busy work for students to complete so the teacher can be left alone at her small group table. It’s meant to be used as a tool to help structure your centers in a way that meets the needs of every student and allows you to be one step ahead of the “What do I do now…. When is this due….What do I do next?” question stream. The MDMDC isn’t only useful during centers! It could work wonders during Book Clubs to keep track of weekly tasks and could certainly help hold students accountable when there’s a substitute in the room!

Here is an example of what a MDMDC might include: (this editable template is available in my TpT store)


You can find more resources to help keep your centers structured and meaningful in my TpT Store, like Reading Skill Sheets that can be used with any fiction or nonfiction book! You can grab the FREE PREVIEW here!

Another great tool for centers is the Analyzing Nonfiction through Current Events! If you need an idea for setting up your centers rotation board display for reading or math, check out this resource!Screen Shot 2019-07-04 at 2.35.18 PM

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I hope you’re excited to change the way you run your centers and give the Must Do May Do Chart a try! As always, let me know if you have any questions by leaving a comment here or sending me a message on Instagram @create_inspire_teach! If you haven’t joined the Create Inspire Teach Insiders email list yet, click here to do so and get classroom freebies and exciting announcements sent to your inbox!




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