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Centers are definitely the trend in education right now. There are a ton of benefits to having centers– they can be easily differentiated, you can work with students in smaller groups, which means they get more attention, and hypothetically students should be engaged because there are many different things that they get to do.
That’s all good, but when you teach music, and you have 500 or 600 or 1300 students who you only see for 45 minutes a week, it can be a different story.
Is it still possible to do centers? Yes! I do centers on a regular basis in my elementary music room, and it is always very productive– and I even differentiate.
Not because I am amazing, just because I put in a little bit of effort at the beginning of the year to get centers figured out. Once they are figured out, it is so easy to implement them on a regular basis.
How do you figure out centers? There are a few decisions that need to be made:
- Number of groups
- Who will be in each groups
- Setting up boundaries
- Number of activities
- What the activities will be
Want some more centers help? You can check out some of my other center blog posts down below!
- Setting up Centers: The First Day
- Super Simple Differentiation through music centers
- Centers Classroom Management with “Bad Classes”
Number of Groups
The first thing you want to decide is how many groups there will be. This helps you determine who will be in each groups, how many activities there will be, etc.
This is definitely a personal preference, but I like to have groups as small as possible. I find when there are more than 5 students at a group, it gets chaotic. I always have 6 groups (unless a class is super small, and I will do 5). Most of my classes are sitting around 24ish kids, so that puts 4 in a group. I find this is be a good number of students, but again, personal preference.
Who will be in each group
Now that you have determined a number of groups, you can start putting kids into groups. The most important thing here is that YOU DECIDE ON GROUPS AHEAD OF TIME. Seriously. Deciding in the moment takes way too much time, kids get disappointed or mad that they have to go to that center first or be with that person… it’s not worth it. Take 5 minutes before class starts and decide on your own. That way when you call students into groups, you can do so quickly and they don’t have time to be upset.
You can determine groups however you want, but I highly recommend using centers to differentiate. In order to do that, you need to group students by their performance on some sort of work or quiz or something. You can read (or watch!) all about this in my post But how do I actually differentiate in the music room?
Rotating through Centers
One of the trickiest parts of centers is the rotation.
How do kids know it is time to clean up? How do you know they are ready to switch? Where do they go?
These are all questions you need to know the answer to. Before the kids are in your room.
I have recently started using timers for centers, and I have to say, it has CHANGED my life. I pull up two tabs on Class Dojo (you could also do YouTube videos). One of them I set for 5 minutes, and the other for 1 minute. The 5 minute timer is for the centers. As soon as it goes off, the kids know to clean up their station. I set the 1 minute timer. If they are done cleaning before the cleaning timer goes off, then the class gets a point.
This has seriously made the biggest difference in the world. I don’t have to try to talk over them to be heard, I am not standing around waiting for them to clean up, and they know exactly how long they have.
I used to ring my chimes and say, “1, 2, 3, 4, put everything down, get off the floor, and FREEZE.”, which I still do sometimes, even with the timer.
Once everyone is cleaned up and frozen, I show each group where they are going and have them POINT to it. This way I know they know where to go and no one is moving while I am giving directions. When I say, “5, 6, 7, 8, hurry don’t be late”, they know to go to the next station and start.
So make sure you know which way you want them to rotate. (clock wise, counter-clockwise, etc.)
Sidenote: I do the pointing thing the first time, and usually the second time they will stand and point without me having to say anything about it.
Setting up Boundaries in Centers
My school is not considered a “good school”. That is, of course, very subjective, but it is still the truth. People who are local are always very impressed when they hear that I do centers with my students…. or they look at me like I am completely crazy.
Getting students to behave in centers can be difficult no matter what population you serve. The magic is to make sure you set up the boundaries very well.
What do I mean by boundaries? Basically the expectation. Where should students be? What are they doing? What are they not doing? We talk about these things every. single. time. Seriously. We talk about the boundaries for a good 5-10 minutes depending on the class.
The conversation looks a little bit like this:
- I tell them what each station is.
- Then I say: Just like everyday in music, we are going to follow directions, be respectful, be responsible, and be a participant (These are our music class expectations and we go over them nearly every day, so they are veeeery familiar!). This may look a little bit different in centers.
- In centers, responsible students stay with their groups– that means you are sitting around the hula hoop– not in it. Do responsible people break things? (No!) Do they throw anything? (No!) Do they wander around the room? (No!) [At this point I will insert anything specific about the items we are using, like not dumping crayons on the floor or whatever] Great! So I will see responsible students sitting next to the hula hoops, whispering to their partners, and taking care of materials. Awesome!
- Being respectful in centers is all about being kind to people in your group. I’ve already made the groups. You may not be with your best friends in the world, but that’s ok. You don’t have to say anything to them. Just make sure you are not saying anything rude. You are professionals today. Can you say professionals? (Professionals!) That means that being a student is your job, just like my job is to be a teacher. Can I tell my boss that I don’t want to work with someone? (No!) Can I say something rude to [insert the homeroom teacher’s name here] (No!) Great. So If I cannot say it to your teacher, then you should not say it to each other.
Yeah. That seems like a lot when I type it. And yes, we do this pretty much every time. If I have a class that’s rocking it and we have had centers before, then I will leave some of that out. But for the most part, I have very few problems with people messing with over people in centers.
And if they do? I have packets of worksheets on stand by, so if they are yelling or hitting or whatever, they sit out the rest of class and do worksheets.
You can read more about classroom management with centers here.
Number of Activities
Next, you need to figure out how many activities you need. Obviously, every group needs to have something to do, but you may repeat or combine your groups depending on the type of activity.
So if you have six groups, you could have six activities. But will you have time for six activities? My guess is no, unless you have really long classes or students who don’t need any explanation of anything.
I have six groups, but I only have three activities. I have found that three is the most successful amount– we can pretty much always get to three.
So I put out two of the same groups. Then I have half of the class rotate on the left side of the room and half of the class rotate on the right side. Everyone still does everything, but we are able to have smaller groups.
I also run one of the groups, and it combines students from both sides. I’ll pop in a picture of my anchor chart to show how I rotate kids through centers. It’s not as difficult as it sounds.
What will your activities be?
Now, FINALLY comes the fun part! Planning what activities your students will be doing.
I have done tons and tons of centers activities in the past (If you watch any of my lesson videos on YouTube, it will give you quite a few ideas), so here I am just going to write a few of the greatest:
- Composing or dictating rhythms (You can get beat charts FREE in the free resource library (more on that below) and get rhythm cards free here!)
- Using bingo chips or mini erasers to put notes on the staff
- Kaboom! (This game works with any concept, check them all out here)
- Feed the Monster (for little people! Use it for rhythm, melody or anything that involves flashcards. Also a FREE download!)
- Matching games (I have matching games for recorder, piano, treble clef, rhythm, instruments of the orchestra, etc in my TPT shop!)
There are a lot more, these are just a few general ones.
If you need to get started, you can check out my FREE resource library. It has lots of resources that can work for centers, like beat charts (in tons of different key signatures!) and rhythm composition cards and more! More resources are added monthly. You can sign up here, and not only will you get access to all of the resources, but you will also get 2 emails per week with useful, practical tips and lessons to take to your classroom!
Have you used centers in your classroom? What would you add to my list of things to think about? Let us know in the comments!