Ready to calm the chaos in planning your center rotations?

4 Simple Tips to Manage Reading Centers for Engagement

An important part of having reading centers in your classroom is to manage your reading centers. Think about this scenario. Have you ever spent all weekend getting your center activities ready to go cutting them out, laminating them, and organizing them just to have Monday come and chaos ensue? You might be sitting there thinking, where did I go wrong? You might be thinking, I had all the center activities organized and ready but my students aren’t staying focused. They don’t understand the activities. They keep interrupting your small group time.

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#1: Manage Reading Centers with Routine  

One thing we all know students strive on is routine! When it comes to centers, this is no different. I always like to set up my centers in a circle rotation around the room. Then, I have students move from each one either clockwise or counterclockwise. This helps me manage reading centers because then students are not running into each other. Having a steady flow of traffic from one reading activity to the next is incredibly important. 

Beyond having a routine for rotation, I always keep my groups together. While some teachers like to pull students for small group instruction, I find having students up and down from small group instruction and other reading center activities to be distracting. Plus, then students are constantly getting off task which can lead to chaos. 


While having a good rotation routine for your centers is the most important routine you can have, you should also have a routine for other things that might pop up during your center time. Having a plan for what students should do if they have to go to the bathroom, need supplies, or anything else is important to eliminate interruptions you might get. 

#2: Choose the Right Activities

When I set up my centers, I like to have at least five centers that students will go to including the center that is my center where small group instruction will take place. Then, at each center, I have 10 to 15 minute activities that students can do independently. This is all about my framework.  However, I didn’t always have this skill. 

When I first started doing centers, I would spend a long time searching for activities to put into my centers every single week. I spent so much time prepping and thinking they were going to be perfect just to have students unable to do them independently. What did this lead to? So many questions and interruptions at my table. Therefore, students at my table weren’t getting the small group instruction they needed or deserved. 


This was not an effective way to manage my reading centers. However, then I developed my Easy Centers Framework™ and in doing so, I created center activities that followed a simple pattern with similar styles. By having simple patterns and similar styles, my students knew exactly what to do every single time. While this might seem like my centers would be repetitive, think again! I am always changing the skills being worked on and the visuals of each center. 

In our year long math and literacy center bundles for kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth, and fifth grade, you will find 10-20 different style games that repeat themselves throughout the months. This really cuts back on the “How do I do this?” at the teacher table. 

#3: Start to Manage Reading Centers with a Rotation Board…Then Ditch it! 

This tip to manage reading centers goes hand-in-hand with tip number 1! While you eventually want your students to have the ability to do the rotation in their sleep, you have to start small. I start with a board displayed at the font of the room that has the center rotations on them. 

Ditch the Board

Then, as we do centers daily, my students learn the routine and it becomes unnecessary. Why? Because my students started in the same spot every single say and then moved in the same directions following the rotations. Once my students didn’t need it anymore, I got rid of it! 

While I didn’t need the big board displayed to manage reading centers any more, I did have a small one for myself at my desk and for subs in case I had to be gone. Then, the substitute would know at a quick glance where students should go so no trickery could happen! 

#4: Organize Reading Centers to Keep Everything Running Smooth 

This might seem like a “duh” tip, but the reality is when I go into the classroom to observe teachers who are struggling with centers, this is the main problem. Now, it’s important to note these are not the centers students are currently working on. Instead, they are the centers that are up on the shelf waiting to be used or have already been used. 

Having your centers prepped and ready ahead of time can help you manage reading centers because you can cut down on the time you spend switching out centers each week. It can also be helpful if you have to make a quick last minute change. Maybe you’re going to be gone and you want your students to work on last week’s skill. If those are unorganized, they become useless.

Prep Reading Centers Ahead of Time!

To manage reading centers, I try to have my centers prepped for the entire month so I can switch them out easily on Friday before I leave. I would also take time on Friday to tidy up and add any supplies needed to the reading center boxes students were using that week. While this might sound like a lot of time, you’ll be able to do this 10 to 15 minutes before leaving for the weekend which means NO PREP for centers during your time off. 


If you do this throughout the year, then you will have a full year of centers prepped and organized for the following year. What a relief that will be to manage reading centers! To help you with this, you can use this free guide to Organizing Math and Literacy Centers.

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It can be hard to manage reading centers if you don’t have a routine, a plan for mishaps, and strong organization. Without these key components, you won’t be able to manage the rest of your class. This will be a problem while you are working with your small groups. However, with these tips to manage reading centers, everything will run smoothly! 

Until Next Time…

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