Grade: Elementary
Subject: other

#560. Primary Learning Centers

other, level: Elementary
Posted Sat Aug 8 09:25:55 PDT 1998 by LuAnn Lawhon (

LuAnn's Centers: a slightly different approach
This format was used in a first grade room. We called the time for centers "Workshop."

PART ONE: Overview!
Here is what I put in the parent handbook:

Workshop Goals:
1. To give children a chance to make their own choices.
2. To allow children to work at their own rate of speed.
3. To provide a wide variety of activities for the children to complete.
4. To include both small group activities and individual activities.
5. To provide activities that meet the varying abilities of the students.
6. To give children a chance to work independently.
7. To encourage children to try new things.

During workshop.....
1. Each activity has a specific academic goal.
2. Children keep a written account of what is accomplished.
3. Children may earn "pennies" for completing tasks during workshop. These pennies can later be used to "buy" prizes from our class "store."
4. Not every child will complete every task offered at workshop.
5. Some workshop choices are changed biweekly. Others are offered in a numbered sequence and are available at all times. (These are called "jobs.")
6. Children receive "Planning papers" for recording their work. I keep detailed records of workshop behaviors. Children who are able to make choices easily, stay on task, complete their work, and record what they have done will continue to work independently during Workshop. Children that have trouble with these skills will be assigned workshop tasks.

The Room 101 Workshop is a complex system, but it works well with most children. I spend a great deal of time and effort on workshop plans. I firmly believe that this method is best for meeting children's needs, but I do realize that parents may have questions. Please feel free to call me! (phone number entered here! End of parent handbook!)

PART TWO: the centers:

1. The art center is probably the most traditional center, in the early childhood sense. It is filled with materials. All materials are on well-labeled shelves. (I use a lot of those partitioned "floss organizers" available at craft stores. Small balls of yarn fill one. Wiggle eyes, sequins, beads, foam shapes, and other small glue-able items fill another.) Because of space limitations, children select materials here and work at their desks if projects were small. At other times, we borrow a table from another center to set up "big" paintings.

Clean-up in the art area is sometimes tricky. With some classes, I had children "sign up" before entering the art center. They were then held responsible for making sure the area was clean at the end of workshop. Depends on the class!

2. Computers are a center.
(Note: Because my room is the "computer graveyard" for the school, we have five different models: Apple IIe, Apple IIc, Apple GS, Apple SE, and one Macintosh LC II. The LC II is the only computer anywhere NEAR the quality of those the kids will use in the lab, so kids learn computer SKILLS on the Mac. Word- processing programs and drill exercises are used on the other four computers, which are only "booted up" by me!)

3. The Library is also considered a center. Encyclopedias were very popular with the first graders. Storybooks, easy readers, and plenty of nonfiction make this a very popular area. Our reading series has little eight-page stories, so plenty of extra copies are available so the children can read to each other right from the start!

4. Math Centers are located at a table, with a shelf full of manipulatives nearby. Gameboards are very popular here. We also use some "Box It and Bag It" activities.
Math center ideas are published at:

5. The Reading Center is also located at a table. It generally includes some kind of group game. (cards, gameboards, bingo) I also put the SRA kits here. Some first graders like them!

6. The Science Center / Social Studies Center is really a wheeled cart! It's labeled according to the activity offered! Some activities are for free exploration. Other activities can be taken to desks. (see my posting of science centers at

7. Jobs are a set of specific, goal-oriented tasks. These are placed in numbered boxes in a specific area. They are completely self-contained lessons which are completed on an individual basis. This is where I challenge my advanced students. Other students never do "jobs" at all.

Jobs come from every academic area. Some of the science center projects appear in "mini" form as jobs. Box it and Bag it Math games may appear as jobs. Matching, following directions, coin-counting, classifying, and tallying are skills that are reinforced through jobs.

PART THREE: Making it work
When it's time for workshop, each child makes a plan on a Planning paper. The simplest planning paper is a color-coded map. Each center a large color label, and the planning papers are given to the child already-colored. (I color these myself. Getting everyone off to a good start is worth the extra effort!) To plan, the child simply circles the area where she/he will be working.
(This worked well at the beginning of first grade, and in kindergarten. Older children would not need such a simple beginning!)

Later in the year, we use a different Planning Paper. It is a list of the seven choices available, with a ruled space next to each choice. A child makes a plan by writing the day on the space next to his/her choice. Once plan is made, the child goes right to the activity. When workshop is over, the child returns to his/her desk and puts a check (or writes a comment) on the planning paper. (This format is an elaboration of the High Scope "Plan-Do-Review" sequence and I strongly recommend it.)

We have a reward system tied in with workshop. It all SOUNDS very structured and complicated, but it isn't! Some children have a hard time dealing with choices. Others will simply play at the same thing every day. The rules help everyone to learn during workshop. The biggest goal of workshop is to teach the children to become responsible, accountable learners. So...

PART FOUR: The reward system
1. Each day that a child follows workshop rules, a "penny" is earned. I stamp it right on the planning paper. If a really fine effort is shown, sometimes I even stamp two!
2. The "pennies" are saved through the entire two-week period. THEN, when a new planning paper is due, we convert the pennies to the child's "bank." (Of course, instead of stamping five pennies we do a nickel, etc..)
3. We have a regular class "store," and children can spend their money during indoor recess, or during our "Friday Fun" reward session. They can also write me a note to spend their money, but we don't "pull out the store" during workshop or class time. It's a lot of fun, and the kids REALLY learn to count money!

Workshop rules for "earning" the daily penny:
1. A child must write the day correctly. (we have a large calendar available always. Early in the year, I also write the day on the board. This is for first grade.)
2. A child must stay on task and not disturb other children. (I use "time out" during workshop, and if one time out is not enough of a reminder, the penny is lost for the day)
3. A child must choose a different center each day. "Jobs" can be done more than one day, since each job is different.

PS. How do we get by with only seven centers and ten days in the bi-weekly cycle? Actually, our schedule only permitted workshop for four days a week! I also add a "project" here and there, and a child can write "not finished" on a center and complete it the next day WITH MY PERMISSION. (Otherwise, I had kids sitting in the library all week, chatting with friends, or doing nothing but art!)