Setting Up Centers/Stations

What’s Here

This page will show you how to set up centers or workstations around your classroom even if you have limited space. You’ll see photos from one of my classrooms and discover links to other teachers’ sites to learn more ideas.

Workstations for Each Subject Area

View from entrance

View from opposite corner

Many teachers say they don’t have room to have center areas of workstations, and I certainly don’t think it’s necessary. I’ve had some very spacious classrooms over the years, but only tried having separate areas one year. (I liked to re-work my approach to center every year and always tried something different.)

During the 2005-2006 school year, I had 7 workstations in my classroom: Reading, Language Arts, Writing, Technology, Social Studies, Science, and Math. You can view a full classroom tour here (click on the 2006 PDF). The classrooms at the school were not particularly large and none of the other 7 third grade teachers made room for separate center areas for that reason. However, this was an arrangement I wanted to try, so I really prioritized my space and made it work!  I know that many of you have rooms smaller than this one, but I hope you’ll be able to glean some ideas. Basically, I kept all my student desks in the middle of the room and used the perimeter for workstations.

I separated the classroom into 7 areas because of the way centerjobs (formerly called workjobs) were run: each week, the children completed one task each week for each subject, so I maintained a separate place in the room for each.  (The Cornerstone book explains how centerjobs are run: you can see an example workjob sheet here.  Essentially, students were given a week to finish their centerjob tasks which were differentiated and assigned by me, and if they finished early, they could choose from other center materials in each area.)

I kept all of the supplies for each subject in the corresponding area so that I always knew where to find things.  For example, in the math area, I kept all of the manipulatives, centers, etc. whether we were currently using them or not, keeping the current ones out on the shelves and the others hidden away.  This way, if I was looking for something specific, I didn’t have to search in two or three parts of the room.

Reading Area

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This area includes the CD/cassette player and book bins.  Since I had limited shelf space for a class library, I kept all of my fiction books here, and stored all my non-fiction books in the corresponding area in the room (i.e. animal non-fiction in the science area, historical non-fiction in the social studies area.)  There was a table here in the reading area that seated 3.  Inside the cabinet, I kept all of the reading area supplies and centers that were not currently in use.  The pocket chart, purchased for about $40 from an educational supply store using a gift certificate, held centerjob activities and thematic books.

Language Arts Area

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When kids worked in the language arts workstation, they could sit at the desk, on the floor with the clipboards, or pull chairs up to the shelves (no more than 3 children at a time in the area).  Above, you can see a ‘Pairs of Pears’ homophone display to the left of the window: it is explained on the 2004 PDF from the Classroom Tour: My Rooms page.  On top of the shelf I kept a little blue organizer that I got for free from Highlights magazine.  For this picture, there were dictionary practice pages in it for language arts centerjobs (which I called workjobs at the time).  The kids chose a page that was appropriate for their level using a color-coded sticky dot system.  The worksheets were in plastic page protectors marked with a sticky dot that corresponded to their reading group. Kids wrote on their own notebook paper to save photocopies.

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The tall shelf separated the Reading and Language Arts areas.   The shelf underneath holds some dictionaries (more are in the Writing Area), Word Power books, and magazines, which were used in both the Language Arts and Reading Areas.  The bottom shelf held picture books.

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Writing Area

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If I wasn’t doing the workjobs/centerjobs, it obviously wouldn’t have been necessary to have separate areas for reading, language arts, and writing. However, it worked perfectly because I was able to give three different literacy tasks to students each week (one focusing on books in the Reading area, one focusing on grammar/spelling/word work in the Language Arts area, and one on writing craft in the Writing area).

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I set the Writing area up so two pairs of kids could sit side-by-side when they edited their papers.  There was a little shelf underneath the air conditioner controls that held writing ideas for kids who were done with the centerjob and ready to have free choice time with the Writing center activities.  The shelf also held thesauruses, highlighters, crayons, etc.  A larger shelf was on the left side of the area and held dictionaries, class-made dictionaries, various types of paper, pencil sharpeners, and so on.  The centerjobs for the Writing area generally consisted of responding to writing prompts and going through the complete writing process independently or with a partner to supplement the whole-class instruction and teacher-student editing process that occurred during regular classtime.

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Science Area

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Because we only used our science textbooks a few times a month, I usually kept them on the shelves and had helpers pass them out when we needed them.  (This saved precious space inside students’ desks.)  When I took this picture, we were in the middle of a science unit so most of the textbooks were in use so you only see a few here.  Other materials for science experiments were kept within easy reach, as well–this was during a force and motion study, so I had blocks for ramps, toy cars, spring scales, yardsticks. etc.

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Social Studies Area


Our social studies textbooks were kept on the shelf here for the same reasons the science books were not stored in students’ desks.  I also kept wipe-off maps, National Geographic books, map activities, etc. on the shelves.  During this school year, I taught the special education inclusion class and had a part-time assistant; she sat at this table and kept her belongings in this area, as well.  On top of the US map, you can see a current events board: more about that and social studies activities on the Social Studies page.

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Math Area


I probably had more materials for math than any other subject area, and was fortunate to be able to borrow these extra shelves from a first grade teacher.  (If you’re wondering how I got some so many shelves in this classroom, let me tell you, I went room to room and begged and borrowed from other teachers. We were only assigned ONE shelf per classroom in this particular building, which was a modular unit, so finding and moving all this furniture from the permanent school building was no easy task. I collect classroom furniture like some people collect stamps.)

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I kept the math materials organized by chapter. The colorful bins to the left were class sets of manips that math helpers could carry around the room to distribute and collect materials and then return to the shelf.  You can visit the Math page to find out more about how I teach math (The Cornerstone book explains how to manage manipulatives), and check out the Organization page to learn about how I store and organize materials and papers.

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Now What?

Get step-by-step instructions for implementing centerjobs in The Cornerstone book and eBook
Main Centers page
Easy & Creative Centers
Ideas for Free Centers
Setting Up Centers/Stations
Check out the free things you can make on the Math Games page
Download the free printable math games kids can play at school or home on the Math Kits page
Visit the main Classroom Tours page
Check out my classroom arrangements from 2003-2009 on the My Rooms page
See how teachers around the world have set up their classrooms on the Other Teachers’ Rooms page
Learn how to set up your rug/carpet area on the Class Meetings page

More Center Ideas on Pinterest


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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Subscribe via email for blog updates, exclusive tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Melanie Ganes June 2, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Hi Angela,
I just wanted you to know that the photos you put on the website are soooo helpful. I always look forward to seeing new pictures and reading the new information.

I have been assigned an ELA and SS job assignment for next year and I am so far out of the loop it isn’t funny. I was wondering if you could help me with time management and how to divide my time to make sure I am making the most of my instructional time for the kids. I am also wondering how to set up my lesson plans because we are a TAP school and TAP requires certain criteria in plans.
Any suggestions?????

Melanie

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2 Angela Watson June 6, 2010 at 12:05 am

Hi, Melanie, thanks for the feedback! You can email me at angelawatson@live.com. Let me know what age groups you’ll be working with, and how much time you’ll have with each group. I’ll see what I can do to help. :-)

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3 Mina Arias August 9, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Hi Angela,I love your website!! I wonder if you can give me any suggestion about organization of a ESL classroom for middle school.Thank you I really appreciate your comments.

Mina

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4 Angela Watson August 12, 2010 at 10:35 am

Hi, Mina! What materials are you trying to organize? Is your challenge the fact that you have different students coming and going all day (your classroom is for pull-outs)?

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5 Cindy Hornosky September 12, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Hi Angela,
Thanks for your website. I’m going back to Amazom to order your book! I teach a multiage class of K, 1 and 2 grades. Any ideas on how to set up my room and centers would be appreciated. I have a full-time asst. and 27 students – 10 in K, 8 in 1st and 9 in 2nd. We just moved into our new school this year. We had been in trailers for 5 yrs. due to the destruction of our schools by Katrina. Trying to organize for 3 grades is difficult.
Thanks for any help you may offer,
Cindy

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6 Cynthia Smith October 31, 2010 at 1:32 am

Hi, Angela
I’m a new fourth grade teacher and was just surfing the net for some center ideas, and ran across your site. It was more than helpful. I got so many great ideas.
Thanks so much.

Cynthia

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7 Angela Watson November 1, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Hi, Cynthia! I’m so glad you found the site helpful and took the time to share! :-)

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8 Andrea Grant August 21, 2011 at 1:18 pm

It’s always helpful to see other teachers’ room arrangements. I glean something every time. Thanks for posting the pics. I really got excited to know that you love shelving. ( We were issued the one shelf as well. What up with that? That’s like saying you should have only one drawer at home in which to put your clothes. ) At my school I am accused of being a dumpster diver to gain interesting pieces (useful ones) to use in certain areas of my room. As of late, I am referbishing old desks and chairs in funky colors. Pretty much now most teachers will email me first to see if I want before passing on to someone else or trashing. Having a cozy center area to complete a task makes an imaginative “learning clubhouse”.

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9 Angela Watson August 21, 2011 at 5:03 pm

You’re welcome, Andrea! Your refurbishing project sounds awesome! I’d love to see pics!!

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10 Tracy Young September 25, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Hi,

I was wondering if you could tell me where you got the Writing Center holder. It looks like a pocket chart of some kind but I have never seen one in the stores. Please let me know as I am tryng to set up a middle school classroom for students that failed the TAKS test so that they can be successful. :) Thanks!

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11 Angela Watson September 26, 2011 at 10:13 am

Hi, Tracy! I got that about 8 years ago from a educational supplies catalog. I’m not sure what the holder thing is called and don’t know the name of the catalog so it’s hard to know what to search for online! I’m sorry I can’t be of more help. :-(

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12 Debby Edwards November 29, 2011 at 10:39 am

I love all that you have to give to other teaches and students. I am still in school and I will be graduating soon. All of this information is so helpful, it is great that you have taken the time to supply this information. How do you set up transitioning from center to center?

Thanks,

Debby Edwards

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13 Carmen Cotton September 4, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Hi Angela!
Love your site! Can you tell me where you got your labels from for your book tubs?

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14 Angela Watson September 6, 2012 at 11:48 am

I downloaded them from Teaching Heart years ago. They are probably still there!

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15 Doris April 16, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Hi Angela!
I love all that you have in your classroom. The classroom design look great, and all space is properly used.

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16 Julie July 1, 2013 at 10:58 am

Hi Angela,
I am happy to have found you and learn about your resources all from a Christian perspective. I am drawn to the blue trifold display seen in your writing centers photo above and have been trying to find one just like it on the internet with no luck. Do you know where I can find one like yours? thanks :)

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