Welcome back to Week 5 of 7 Habits of Highly Effective Math Workshops: Know Where to Find Inspiration! Now that you have a handle on the basic structure of math workshop, and you know how you will track your students’ progress, you actually have to start planning the activities for the different centers. This is the part really concerned me before I started math workshop. It just seemed like so much extra work! I have learned two things: (1) it’s not that much more work than the normal planning, and (work smarter, not harder. First, what kind of things work well in centers?
Types of Center Activities
- Simple Games: Games for center activities need to be simple enough for kids to be able to play them (after you have introduced them) by themselves. You will be busy with your own rotation (Teacher Time), so you won’t be able to answer questions on how to play the game. Also, games work really well that can be played with minor variations across several concepts. For instance, matching games (like Concentration) are great because the kids already understand the rules.
- Simple Activities: When I am looking for a simple activity for a center, I always start with some basic math supplies: dice, numbered cards, and dominoes. By using a combination of these items, I can usually come up with at least one (if not several) activities for each concept taught. For example, if we are studying simplifying fractions, I will have the students draw two cards. The larger number is written down as the denominator and the smaller number is the numerator. The students have to simplify the fraction if they can, or write why they think it is already simplified. Super simple, but the kids like it because they get to play with dice, cards, and dominoes. Other great supplies are poker chips, popsicle sticks, bottle caps, and clothes pins. Let your imagination (or Pinterest) go wild!
- Simple Math Card Games for Kids by Coffee Cups and Crayons
- Math Games with Dice by Rachel K Tutoring Blog
- Math Games with Cards by Rachel K Tutoring Blog
- 17 Dice Games for Kids (That Teach Early Math Skills) by Danya Banya
- 40+ Resources for Dice and Everything Dice Related by KB… Konnected
- Teaching Math with a Deck of Cards by The Tutor House
- Math Facts Bottle Caps by FlapJack Educational Resources
- Simple Centers (with Poker Chips) by The Organized Classroom Blog
- Task Card Sets: If you could walk into my classroom, you would immediately know that I am obsessed with task cards. I have a whole wall full of them. A great activity is to have students work individually or in a group on a task card set. I have made several task card sets that are differentiated, so you could even give each group a set on its own level! Take a peek into how one teacher uses task cards during math workshop: Math Workshop, Task Cards, and a Freebie by My Journey to 5th Grade.
- Technology: This one obviously depends on what type of technology you have available in your classroom, but if you have it this is a great way to use it! You can have your students play on math apps with iPads, games on computers, do activities with QR codes, or even play interactive games on the smartboard (if you ’t be using it). Check out some of these lists of different apps:
- 25 Best Math Apps for Kids of All Ages by Kids Activities Blog
- Free Educational Math Apps by Free Homeschool Deals
- 10 Free Math Apps for Elementary School Kids by iGameMom
- Notebooking Activities or Journals: Along with math workshop, we also do interactive math (and language arts and writing) journals. The activity center is a great place for kids to work on these. You can read more about how Reagan Turnstall uses math notebooks during her math workshop in her post called The Math Journal Component. It completely depends on how your journals are set up, but here are a few ideas:
- Have students do the cutting and coloring for foldables in the center. Then you can have them assemble the journals as a whole group later.
- Explain the entire journal before centers. Then have the students cut, color, and assemble the journal in the center.
- Have the students use a previous journal entry to complete a separate assignment.
- For journals with a more written response, have the students complete the entire journal in the center.
- Basic Fact Practice: I would highly suggest having several activities or games ready for practicing basic facts. These are great for substitute lesson plans, days where you didn’t get the center laminated and cut, or just having them in the rotation of activities. Either way, kids can always use more practice.
- Student Created Centers: Sometimes I let my students be the creative ones for centers. Sometimes I give each student an index card and have them write a word problem on the card. Then they write the answer on the back. The students switch cards and try to answer each others’ questions. You could also have the students create matching games for each other. Having them create the questions forces them to understand and analyze the concept being taught. Another great way to use this concept is to give students an answer, and then have them write the question. To see an example of this, read What’s The Question by Elementary AMC.
- Group Work: Another great activity for center time is to give the group one problem to discuss and solve together. A great example that I just purchased is from Runde’s Room. It is a Math Problem Solving Collaborative Activity for 4th Grade Common Core. Basically, the students all solve a math word problem on a sticky note. Then they share their sticky and create a group answer that is the best of all their answers.
- Reading Literature: There is so much literature out there that directly relates to math that you could never read it all to your class. Use a center to have your kids read some books that relate to the math concept you are studying. Check out my Pinterest board on Math and Literature.
Where to Find Inspiration for Center Activities
The possibilities are endless when it comes to activities for your kids in the center rotations during math workshop. However, as I said: work smarter, not harder, by knowing where to look for inspiration.
- Your Own Classroom: Chances are that you already have some center activities in your classroom, even if you have never done any type of centers before. Many things that you use to do whole group instruction can be modified to use in a small group center. Also, my school’s math curriculum comes with some math center games and activities. You just have to find some that fit your classrooms’ needs. Also, depending on your curriculum, the teacher’s manual sometimes has suggestions for activities.
- Walk Down the Hall: Some of my best inspiration comes from the other teachers in my school. One of the great things about collaborating with other teachers is that you can also share resources. For instance, you can trade center activities for the day, and suddenly you have a new activity with no laminating or cutting involved!
- Teacher Pay Teachers: I have loved using TpT for a long time, way before I started selling on it. I use a lot of free (and sometimes paid) games and activities from TpT. Just search the concept you are teaching and you might be surprised at what you find. For instance, check out my free Equivalent Fraction Puzzles. TpT is full of amazing activities for you to use!
- Pinterest: Hi! My name is Becca, and I’m a Pinterest addict! Pinterest is a great place to find inspiration for your centers. I would suggest starting several boards to collect pins for centers when you find them. Make sure to write your own description so that you can remember what you were thinking. For instance, if you find a cute activity for practicing basic addition facts, you might need to write a note that you would need to modify it to practice multiplication. It may seem like overkill, but perhaps it would be helpful to start a board for every chapter (or main concept) that you teach. If you don’t want these showing up on your profile, you could always make them secret boards.
Check out the rest of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Math Workshops Series: