How to Lessen Student Interruptions During Math and Literacy Centers

“Can I go to the bathroom?” “My colored pencil broke!” “I got a paper cut!” Do these sound familiar? Student interruptions can be more than a distraction from learning; it can also form bad habits. While we know interruptions aren’t any fun, they are a part of everyday life for teachers. So, how do we stop (or at least minimize) student interruptions during math and literacy centers? By tuning in to these great tips!

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Tip 1: Have a System

Whenever you are setting up centers, you want to make sure you have simple procedures put in place so your students know what is expected of them. It’s not enough just to have procedures though. You need to make sure you are practicing your center “route,” how long clean up should take, what the boundaries of each center is, and you need to practice common student interruptions. Having a plan and practicing that plan over and over again with your students is vital. Make sure your students know what the overall framework is in a way they completely understand. Having a system with a plan for student interruptions will be a huge help in your classroom.

Tip 2: Lessen Student Interruptions with Station Destinations

While having a plan is great, there are some things that are out of our control. For example, paper cuts, accidents with scissors, or a simple slip. In situations like this, a student interruption is eminent. However, you can stop the student interruption in its tracks by having a first aide station. In this station, you should have band aids, cotton balls, and some kind of anti-bacterial ointment available. When students have a manageable injury, they can go to this station and take care of the situation. Obviously with bigger issues you’ll need to step in, but for minor bumps and bruises a station would be helpful.

Another station you might want to have is a “leave it” station. At this station you can have a sign for the restroom, the water fountain, and the nurse. You will also need clothes pins with one student name on each one. When students need to leave, you can have them go to the leave it station and put their clothes pin wherever they are going. Before they leave, they can ring a small bell so you know someone is leaving. If being gone too long is an issue, the student can set a timer when they leave. If it goes off before they are back, there may be consequences.

Tip 3: Stay Stocked for Fewer Student Interruptions

One of the biggest interruptions usually has something to do with missing materials. Whenever you set your centers out, make sure you have enough materials for all the groups that are going to reach this station. You can ensure you have all the supplies you need by utilizing supplies list that you can put into your center storage containers. At the end of center time, have your students put a check by the materials they are short on. Although students can give you your list, you always want to double check while you are setting center materials out.

Tip 4: Never Forget Self-Service Help Devices

Just like “I’m missing ______” is a common student interruption, so is the pencil sharpener, dying device, and more. In order to cub these interruptions, make sure you have pencil sharpeners in your printable centers that are going to need physical materials. Having a small pencil sharpener in any center box that has colored pencils or pencils in general is important for keeping students in their centers. If you are using digital centers, makes sure you have chargers readily available with the devices so student don’t have to go looking for one. You can add “plug in devices” to the “clean-up” expectations to help curb dead batteries.

Another way to help in digital centers is to have the website needed pulled up and written down on a sticky note near the center. This way if something gets closed, the students can easily access it which stops them from interrupting you at the teacher station.

Tip 5: Keep Centers Simple

Student interruptions can be minimized keeping it stinkin simple in your centers. This does not mean you shouldn’t push your students to the next level, but it does mean you need to remember what centers are for. Centers are there to enrich and review material. Therefore, putting activities in centers that have concepts that have not been thoroughly covered is a recipe or student interruptions. You want to make sure you are on at least week three of a concept before putting into your centers.


No matter what we do there are going to be student interruptions. However, you can lessen student interruptions by putting strategic procedures and practices in place. If you want more information on running centers, make sure you sign up for the Learning Centers Made Easy class.

Until Next Time….

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