Classroom Centers: Center Management Made Easy

What is the one question I get asked more than any other? How do you set up classroom centers?  Center management can be frustrating and overwhelming.  It took me years to figure out a system that worked.  And while it’s not perfect, it works well and is always being tweaked!

Classroom Centers: Center Management For Kindergarten

The key to classroom centers is choice and independence. You will see these themes throughout this post because it’s necessary for successful center management and implementation.

The key to center management and for my students to stay engaged is giving up control! Yes, to keep control, I give up control! You’ll see what I mean and why it works as we get into the details of our classroom centers.

Center Management: The Wheel

Our center wheels are the key to our center management. The wheel is a simple visual way for my students to know what centers/workstations they can choose to go to for the day. It’s kid-friendly. It’s teacher-friendly.

The wheel is divided into 4 sections because I have 4 groups. I use four groups, but you can have as many groups/colors as needed for your class.

The wheel is color-coded, and the groups are color-coded.

The color coding makes it super easy for the kids to know exactly what group they’re in and what centers they can go to! Again… it’s kid-friendly and teacher-friendly. The students have control of their daily learning.

The groups are NOT the same as my small groups. My center groups are skill-based. So I’m looking at data and grouping my students based on what skills they need to work on (sounds, decoding, spelling, numbers, adding, cvc, etc). The groups are fluid and change as needed.

As my students work in centers, I call small groups by the skills that the group needs to work on. For this, I just call the names of the students I want. They leave their center and come to my table. When they finish with me, they go back to their center, and I call my next group.

classroom centers with small groups

Classroom Centers: The Process

Here’s how our center time works. When students finish any independent work or when I send them to math or literacy centers, they follow this routine:

  1. Check the basket. This is where we keep unfinished center work. If there is work in the basket, you must finish it. If someone is using that activity you join them! There is a basket for math and a basket for literacy.
classroom centers routines and procedures

2. Check the wheel. This is where the choice comes in. You find your color on the wheel and you have two choices. You can choose either option. The wheel tells you what your choices are. Mr. Greg is not a wheel and does not look like a wheel so he doesn’t know! Don’t ask him! ASK THE WHEEL!

center management for math and literacy centers

Tionna is in the pink group. She checks the wheel; she sees that the pink group has two choices: tubs and Read To Self/Library.

Then she is free to choose either one of those two centers. She has control and freedom, and she makes choices. Tionna gets to do what she wants and is empowered and engaged. When our students are empowered, they have buy-in. When they have buy-in, their behavior is better!

How it works:

So Tionna goes off to tubs. She can pick any tub in her color. Let’s say she finishes her tub. She can choose to do another tub, do that same tub again, OR she can choose to read. If she reads for a while and chooses to go to tubs, that’s perfectly ok. It’s that choice and the freedom that keeps them engaged and from getting bored at one center.

The students are free to move freely between their TWO CENTER CHOICES. They cannot go to any other choices. The expectation is that if they choose an activity, they must do that activity before they can move to their other choice or choose another activity.

We do not transition. This wastes precious learning time. That is why they have two centers to choose from. CHOICE! And within those two centers are more choices! That keeps them going and engaged. Engaged=less behavior issues. This system also eliminates the early finisher problem. Because technically you never finish centers. You finish activities, but you never finish the center. And speaking of early finishers, when kids finish their work, they go to centers. No need to plan and prep extra stuff or more work for early finishers. Centers are already up and running so utilize them!

Classroom Centers: Math And Literacy Centers

Our literacy center choices are tubs, write the Room, library, sensory bin/lightbox, and iPads.

Our math center choices are tubs, count the room, sensory bin/lightbox, ten frames, and graphing.

The tubs are where all of our science of reading-aligned phonics, sight words, letters, sounds, writing, and sentence practice happens. We also have math tubs which have all of our math skills. The tubs are my favorite center and they are the heart of our centers.

You see the same color coding as the groups and the wheel. So if the center wheel tells you to go your tub and you’re in the pink group, you can choose ANY PINK TUB! CHOICE! Each tub contains 1 activity/game. There is no expectation that you complete all the tubs in your color. There is no order to do the tubs. Students choose which tubs they want to work on. Because the tubs are differentiated, no matter which of their tubs they choose, they are working on skills they need to practice!

When they finish the activity in the tub, they can do it again or put it up and pick another tub!

I also do not care if they pick the same tub each day. It’s their choice, and they have control. (If I see this happening, I might suggest a different tub, but I won’t tell them to get another one!)

When the wheel says to write the room, the kids grab a write-the-room paper from the basket for their group! Typically we have 3-5 different write the room choices they can pick from. For math, it’s count the room.

The baskets used to be on the wall using Command hooks!

So you can see that choice and freedom are the keys. In the read-to-self/library center, they can choose any books to read. CHOICE!

The sensory bin/lightbox center has a lightbox and a sensory bin to choose from. The light table gives them multiple choices to work with!

classroom centers sensory learning

Classroom Centers: Math Centers

I run math and literacy centers the same way, with a few variations! The consistency is great for students and teacher-friendly!

Math tubs! These work exactly the same as the reading tubs!


Math The Room is counting the room. Later in the year, it’s adding and subtracting the room too!

Count the room is differentiated. We can copy the recording sheets on colored paper to match the groups so the kids know which sheet to use. The sheets will have pictures for counting to 10, 15, or 20. We also have these plastic envelopes that we can use to color code the recording sheets.

center management ideas for kindergarten
classroom centers differentiated instruction

Ten Frames: This center contains thematic/seasonal ten-frame cards so we’re always practicing our 1 to 1 correspondence. There are always several different sets of ten frame cards, so they have CHOICE!

math and literacy center worksheets

Graphing: This is a year-long center where students count, graph, and analyze data. They can choose from several different graphing cards, which we change monthly.

classroom centers math and literacy worksheets

A few other tidbits of information for center management:

I only change out centers every few weeks. This works because of the choices. They don’t get to all the different activities quickly, so the whole change in your center’s weekly process is gone. That saves so much time and stress This system literally makes our job easier.

Students are free to work with a friend or by themselves. This is their choice!

Introducing And Teaching Center Activities And Games

All of our TKS centers are designed by me and used in my classroom. This means they’re easy to use and introduce. This also means that once you introduce the different types of activities, students can work independently all year. When creating our centers, we use six activities: matching, spinners, puzzles, clip games, and sorting. Once the kids learn these activities, they will be able to grab an activity and do it, no matter the skill or time of year.



I do not collect or grade the recording sheets.  I am monitoring their work between groups, etc.  The groups are differentiated to the point where the students can be 95% successful as they work!  When they finish a recording sheet, it goes in their cubby and goes home!

Get all of your center activities at tksstore.com!

For more details on centers, check out these posts:

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