Learning centers are an effective form of instruction in the elementary grades. The room is set up into centers where students can participate in a variety of activities. Then students are given the opportunity to complete activities either of their own choosing or with teacher direction at these centers.
Typically, a teacher will set up his room in a traditional manner with an art center, a library/reading center, a computer center, a science center, and so on. Each day, students are given the opportunity to go to the center of their choice and choose what they wish to do. The teacher might set out new manipulatives or place books out based on the theme that is being taught.
A great way to extend learning centers is to provide students with guided work. The students can select the order in which they wish to visit each center, but by the end of a week, for example, they have to complete an activity at each one. For example, say you are teaching a unit on plants; you could set up centers as follows:
Science Center — Students grow their own rye seed.
Arts Center — Students use leaves to create a picture.
Writing Center — Students write a story about planting a garden.
Poetry Center — Students memorize a poem about plants or gardening.
Reading Center — Students read a book such as The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle.
Using centers in this manner requires a lot of organization and planning on the part of the teacher. However, these centers are beneficial because students are staying active, learning by means of varying activities, and working at their own pace, yet they are still required to produce results that are assessed when the unit is completed.