When most teachers think of learning centers, they think of “stations” in K-3 classrooms. While that’s certainly a useful application, the early elementary classroom isn’t the only place learning centers can be used to build literacy skills and content knowledge. There are some tangible advantages to including learning centers in the middle school and high school classroom, as well. Students actually tend to be more engaged when they work in centers. The combination of self-directed activity and short, specific task lends itself to the natural strengths of the developing adolescent. Students with special needs, in particular, report that they feel “safer” in these small groups. They are often able to learn from and with their peers while finding it easier to concentrate – especially in inclusive classrooms. Teachers find that learning centers enable them to cover more content and skill development in the same amount of class time. Plus it’s easy to give individual attention and personalized instruction to students who need it.
Getting Started: Literacy and Learning Centers for the Big Kids (grades 4-12)
Here are some tips to get started with centers.
Divide your class into teams of 3-5 students. Consider the possibilities. A class of 19 students could be divided up into: 3 groups of 5 students and one group of 4 students = 4 teams; 4 groups of 4 students and one group of 3 students = 5 teams; or 5 groups of 3 students and one group of 4 students = 6 teams.
You have no control over the length of your class period but you can control the number of centers you create and the length of time students will spend at each one. In general, each center should take 10–15 minutes. One 45-minute class period can be divided three 10-minute sections with a little time left over at the beginning for instructions and at the end for a makeup center.
Once you have some idea about the options, you can begin to develop some plans. And once you create a plan that works for your schedule, you’ll find you can reuse it over and over again. The activities may change but the plan can stay exactly the same.
As you walk from center to center or work in a teacher-led center yourself, answering questions and assisting students as they research and explore activities, you’re likely to find yourself relating to your class in a more natural, organic way. The difficult-to-achieve differentiation will almost feel like it’s taking care of itself as all students fully participate in the activities.
Every content area has valuable tools for learning its specific content. Those activities should absolutely be incorporated into the learning center experience! Centers that involve mathematical reasoning, data graphing, map reading, timeline development or exploration – all are excellent resources for learning center station creation.
Multiple-choice questions are often frowned upon because they don’t usually encourage nuanced thinking. They encourage students to look for one right answer rather than consider the range of subtleties. But what if you took some of your old multiple-choice homework and quizzes and converted them into prompts for argumentation? You could have each student in the team take one answer and explain why it probably is or probably is not correct.
True/false questions can be used the same way. What would happen if students were asked to defend how they know that an answer is true or false? They could cite evidence from text, look for logical fallacies, or examine the implied argument of both answers. Suddenly you have an active learning activity, the kind that works with an adolescent’s naturally developing strengths.
Use your imagination, tinker with what you know, and use your fellow teachers as the worthwhile resources they are. Welcome learning centers into your classroom – you and your students will reap the rewards.
Learn more at Engaging Learners.com