Often, the biggest uncertainty for teachers when it comes to math centers is managing student behaviors. You may be struggling with how to keep students on-task during centers or how to handle constant distractions. I get it, If we spend the entire math block dealing with interruptions, we may find ourselves steering away from having centers at all.
Below I’m sharing some tips for managing student behaviors during math centers so that you can successfully implement them in your classroom!
Hands-On 3rd Grade Math Centers
10 Tips for Managing Student Behaviors During Math Centers
Check out these 10 tips to keep your students engaged and on task during math centers.
1. Make Math Centers Engaging
When learning is fun, students are much less likely to disrupt and waste valuable time. Math centers are the perfect time to implement hands-on, engaging activities that get students excited about practicing the content they’re learning during whole group. Consider using task cards, board games, and sorting activities to add easy, low-prep engagement to your math centers. Need some ideas?
These 5 simple hands-on math center ideas are always a hit!
2. Assign Group Captains
Assigning group captains during math centers is like having mini-assistants in each group. A group captain’s job is to collect materials at the end of centers, explain directions in case another student is confused, and encourage group members to stay on task. Group captains can rotate every week or month, depending on what works best for your students.
You can give this special student a lanyard that says ‘Group Captain’. This will encourage them to take their role seriously! Assigning leadership roles in the classroom is one of my favorite classroom management strategies.
3. Assign a Group Behavior Management System
Assigning a group behavior management system for math centers is an effective way to encourage students to stay on task. It also helps display the importance of teamwork by rewarding positive group behaviors.
Each time a group is on task, you can have the team captain add a point to the board for their group.
Give each group 5 marbles at the start of centers. If you glimpse over from your teacher-led table and catch a group demonstrating teamwork & on-task behaviors, students can add a marble to their group bucket. At the end of centers, the group with the most marbles can earn a special prize.
You can assign group points in Class Dojo as well. Consider allowing your team captain to come up and assign points on your SmartBoard.
No matter which behavior management system you use for math centers, think about ways to make it fun for students. Consider making it a competition – which team can get the most points by the end of center time? The students with the most could receive a treat or extra classroom cash.
4. Differentiate Instruction
When students feel frustrated (or bored) with an assignment, they’re more likely to act out. Differentiating your instruction to meet the needs of students is a key component to successfully running math centers. Grouping students according to their level/needs and providing materials that fit their academic needs will help minimize student misbehaviors.
5. Establish & Review Clear Expectations Daily
At the beginning of the school year, we create a list of classroom expectations together. We display them on an anchor chart for us to refer back to throughout the school year. Each day before starting centers, we review the expectations as a whole class and why they’re important.
It may seem repetitive, but it keeps the expectations fresh as students are about to jump into math centers. It always made a huge difference in my classroom and is such an easy way to prepare students to work independently.
6. Create a Bathroom System
If you don’t put a system in place, the bathroom question will be asked several times causing interruptions during your teacher-led group. That’s why it’s important to have a procedure in place ahead of time.
Since I had 3rd grade students, the rule was that they could step out and go if they needed to use the bathroom as long as no other student was out of the classroom.
Another option is to stick a “bathroom light” on the door frame. If the bathroom light is off, students know that they can go to the bathroom. If the light it on, they know that they must wait to go. No matter which system you choose, you’ll want something ready to go ahead of time to help students know the expectation and limit disruptions.
7. Review Groups Activities Before Starting Math Centers
Have you ever sent students off to complete an activity and then only minutes later had them come back not knowing what to do? This is never ideal, but we especially want to avoid it during math centers!
To prevent this from happening, explain and model exactly what students will be doing at each center before they get there! Display directions somewhere visible for students to reference. I also like to include a direction sheet at the actual center. This prevents them from interrupting your teacher-led group and reminds them of what to do once they reach their math center.
8. Have Early Finisher Activities Prepped and Readily Available
There will be times when your students finish their math center activities early. Having early finisher activities ready for them to use keeps those students on task even when they finish up their activity. To set the expectation for early finisher work, have a designated location where students can grab these materials. It can be a rolling cart or a special Early Finisher bin. Be sure students also know when to utilize these early finisher activities!
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9. Provide Students with Space to Move
Center time doesn’t have to be a time when students are sitting in their chairs at a table quietly completing a math activity. We want it to be a time when students feel comfortable and excited about learning. So, mix it up some!
Allow students to sit on the floor or on a bean bag.
Let them take off their shoes.
Or add a large anchor chart paper to the wall so they can record their responses on there!
Within reason, whatever will help them stay engaged and excited about learning during math centers is what we want to do.
10. Have a Prop to Limit Student Interruptions
Having a prop that signals that you are with your teacher-led small group and shouldn’t be interrupted can help minimize distractions as well, and there are many different types of props that you can choose from. Whether you choose to wear a headband, turn on a special light, or even just hang up a sign, students will know that unless there’s an emergency, they aren’t to interrupt your teacher-led instruction.
I hope that these 10 tips help you with managing student behaviors during math centers! Comment below with what systems you use in your own classroom.