Why do elementary kids get to have all the fun?  Why do they get to color and play and move around during class?  Why can’t older students have some fun too?  Well, they can.

I began using learning centers in my high school geography classes many years ago and I will never go back.  I love them so much, I presented about them at NCGE in New Mexico this summer.  After Tuesday’s #worldgeochat, several people were interested in how it all works, so turned my presentation into a blog post.  Hope this helps anyone who is interested in trying it out at the middle and high school levels.

I like centers because there are a great strategy to review or introduce new concepts, strengthen skills and utilize a variety of technologies in class.   Once centers are set up, they run themselves.  This gives me the opportunity to sit and talk with students, opportunities for individual assessment opportunities as well as to diversify and differentiate learning opportunities for my students.  And most importantly, students like them.  


On my end of the year surveys, learning centers always rank high on students’ favorite classroom activities.  They like that they get to interact with their friends and classmates while working in groups.  They love the movement and alternate seating opportunities within the classroom that centers allow.   They also like that they can learn about or review multiple topics in one class period.

Centers 2

So, how do I make it work?  I have 6-8 centers planned, as I like to have 3-5 students in each group.  Sometimes I have one more center than I have groups, allowing students to move from center to center at their own pace.  Other times, I have the same number of centers as groups, and students rotate together at a certain time in a specific rotation.


How I choose depends on the activities, for example, when doing document analysis in US History classes we rotate together as each document is roughly the same length.  In AP Human Geography classes, where activities may take different amounts of time, they rotate as they finish.   Grouping students changes from time to time as well, but I mostly create random groups by handing students cards when they come in the room with a color or number.  This way they get to work with different students over time.

When creating activities, I try to mix it up and have 2 game centers (Cards Against AP Human Geography, Kahoot, Quizlet Live, etc), 2 technology centers (whiteboard, Chrombooks, phones), 2-4 writing/processing/activity centers.  The only time the centers include the same activities are for document analysis.  The variety is what students like best.  I organize my activities in folders, with all the materials needed included.  Students arrive at a center, read the instructions and get started.  What is my role?  I visit and chat with students, asking and answering questions as needed.  This is my favorite part — I get to be social!


Below are examples of centers I have done over the years.

FRQ Practice in AP Human Geography 

  • 4 Sets of 2 repeating centers (20 minutes each)
  • Center 1 — FRQ #1 — all students write FRQ
  • Center 2 — Rubrics, sample essays for FRQ #1– students review rubric, score 2 samples, then score their own
  • Center 3 — FRQ #2 — all students write FRQ
  • Center 4 — Rubrics, sample essays for FRQ #2– students review rubric, score 2 samples, then score their own
  • REPEAT until end of class

Document Analysis in US History

  • Set up a different document at each center.  Students analyze and discuss documents.  Rotate to different center, analyze next document.  Continue until all groups have analyzed each document.
  • Discuss documents together, allowing students to edit and add to their analysis.  
  • Individually have students produce a product — write a DBQ, create a poster, etc.

Test Review

  • Centers targeting topics based on formative assessment data.
  • This can be just about anything — Kahoot, Quizlets, Practice FRQ writing, quiz review, articles with application questions, just about anything. 

The most often asked questions when talking to middle and high school teachers about incorporating centers in their classroom involve student accountability.  I have tried a variety of strategies over the years, but these seem to work, no matter the subject or level of the course.  I am also experimenting with Google Forms for student accountability this year and I’m excited to see how this can streamline the process.

  1. Collect all work and score — this takes the most time, but gives better feedback
  2. Student Response Sheet — holds students responsible for all work, with minimal grading
  3. Use information as basis for quizzes, tests or the formative grades — most impactful for students and can give you a true view of what students know
  4. Google Form for quick question responses at the end of each center– immediate scoring and feedback for students

I hope I have sparked an interest in trying centers in your classroom.  I was so excited Chris took the plunge and tried centers on his first day of school. You can read about his adventure here.  If you try out centers, please let us know how it goes!






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