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
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.
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.
Though I didn’t have access to devices for my students to read eBooks that year, if you do, I encourage you to check out SnapLearning. They have been a longtime supporter of The Cornerstone, and I believe strongly in the value of their digital resources. They provide hundreds of grade-appropriate eBooks, both fiction and non-fiction, which you can assign to your students and send to their devices! The eBooks come with interactive exercises and assignments which you can later review and assess. Best of all, the content is Common Core-aligned. If you want to check out their close reading portfolio (which is an awesome set of interactive exercises), you can request a free trial demo.
Language arts area
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.).
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.