How these simple and easy strategies for independent learning deliver maximum success

kids in centers
These are easy strategies to learn.

Why differentiation of instruction is the best option for your students

You can provide strategies for independent learning through these learning centers.

You may have read our post last week about how differentiation of instruction is critical to your students’ success. In case you missed it, CLICK HERE to read all about getting started with differentiation.

How learning centers prove to be the best differentiation methods in the classroom

There are so many tremendous benefits to learning centers. As we stated in our previous post, they are 

  • Dynamic
  • Student-centered
  • Qualitative

Student-centered learning

Learning centers provide for the needs of the students in a way that is fun and purposeful for them. They build a safe environment for students to be responsible for their own learning. They also are easy strategies for differentiation.


Learning centers foster critical thinking, active learning, and teamwork as students review material that has been taught. Students remain engaged in learning while the teacher meets with guided groups or needs time to observe and assess.

Discipline problems are reduced because groups are limited to a number, which can reasonably function in each area.  Children are engaged in hands-on activities as they explore and experiment. (Childcare.Extension) 

There are so many needs and abilities in the classroom, and one of the best ways to meet those needs is through differentiation of instruction. In the long run, the simplest way is through learning centers.

boys working in learning center
Learning centers are easy strategies for differentiation.

Why math learning centers in the classroom have the power to motivate your students 

A learning center is typically a designated area within the classroom that provides students with exciting and interesting experiences to practice, enrich, reteach, and enhance their learning. These types of centers are filled with manipulatives, art materials, books, and other instructional tools.(Scholastic)  

Learning centers in the classroom can include printable resources, like task cards or manipulatives. They can also include digital resources like iPads, laptops, or a  Smartboard. Programs like Boom are becoming very popular for digital learning centers.

Pre-assessing makes setting classroom goals a snap with this fun solution

Setting up learning centers in the classroom starts with pre-assessment. I like to do quick observations of my students by watching them in centers or doing class work. My favorite way to pre-assess is through games for elementary data. 

place value game and center
This active learning game makes a great center!

Get the most out of your pre-assessment with Scoot!

My students love playing Scoot because it’s fun and gets them moving. I love it because I can take their recording sheets and get an idea of their knowledge concerning the objective we’re learning.  

Task cards are a fantastic assessment tool

I also like using these task cards as a read around the room active learning strategy. It is another way to get my students moving and I can observe how they are doing. You can take notes in a notebook.

CLICK HERE for more insight on active learning strategies and differentiation in the math classroom!

Ideas for math centers that will boost independence during learning time

Next, you want to build your centers around what you learn about your students. Since you want to review material that’s been taught, provide opportunities that will meet their needs. For an example of  how I did this with our study of counting money, check this post.

Aside from guided math centers, there are three other types you want to use(

Enrichment centers take learning further

This type of center is typically used to accompany a Science or Social Studies unit and provides a hands-on opportunity to explore the topic. This center would stay up for your entire unit, not be switched out each day or week. There are two math options here.

#1 Use your enrichment center for just math

  • Journal
    • Follow a writing prompt and solve the problem, or create a word problem based on a situation. Check out my use of journals HERE.
    • Have students draw a math picture illustrating the concept you’re practicing
    • Have students create a comic strip
    • Go digital: have students create a Google slide
  • Have your students represent a math problem with manipulatives. You may want to show them some examples.
  • Create something with a specified number of materials, 3 red Legos, 2 blue Legos, etc.

#2 Enrich math and science or social studies

  • Word problems using the concept you are studying, like measuring plant growth, or a community helper buying tools.
  • Have students chart the temperatures outside throughout the week and graph the results
  • Have students collect data surrounding anything you’re doing in Science and make observations.


leaf craft and writing
This leaf activity is great for a graphing math center.                                                       These are just a few ideas. You can check out more in this post from Teachervision. Skill centers practice the basics

This is exactly what you think it is. Use this type of center to practice math skills. Students can play games, use task cards, utilize digital opportunities, do worksheets(sparingly), and other practice opportunities.

We love our task cards because they come with a recording sheet for you to monitor student progress. Since they come with an answer sheet, you can have students check themselves or one another. 

Notice the trend with task cards? I cannot tell you enough how valuable this resource has been in my classroom. It makes differentiation so easy and the cards are fantastic for tactile learners. And BONUS, if you laminate you can use again and again for a very long time. Laminated cards also make it possible for students to write on them with dry or wet-erase markers.

Our amazing Scoot bundles come with task cards and manipulatives for your tactile learners! These are absolutely perfect for differentiating. Bonus, each bundle comes with different levels of games for a wide range of strategies for independent learning.

Some comments about the versatility of our games:

“Full of fun learning activities that allow for practice and differentiation”

This is an example of a great resource for the classroom centers. This product does not skimp on quality or content, and the attention to detail is evident. Thank you!”

“My kiddos completed this with enthusiasm and enjoyed the cards. I found other ways to use the resource to extend my use.”

“ Great for additional practice and differentiation!”

For missing numbers: Monster Scoot Bundle

For addition and subtraction: Snowmen Math Bundle

For place value: Place Value Train Bundle

Interest and Exploratory centers are all about your students

Provide some open options for students to choose from that just help them experience their learning. Easy math ideas would be:

  • Create patterns with cubes, counters, dice, coins, etc.
  • Use pattern blocks to create pictures. 
  • Sort objects like buttons, bottle tops, or coins.      
using pattern blocks
Pattern blocks make great math centers for exploration.

I like to send home a note to parents asking for buttons and bottle tops for sorting. This makes it more fun for the kids!

How these strategies for independent learning will guarantee success

You are not going to find centers successful if you just throw students into them without some preparation and practice. Trust me, do not make the mistake that I made in my first year of teaching. 

I thought to myself, “hey centers sound like a good idea.” I thoughtfully and lovingly prepared them, presented them to my students, and told them to begin. BAD IDEA! They were loud, out of control, constantly poking me and asking me questions. I thought to myself, “how are these centers supposed to give me more time to work with students?”

kids running around classroom
Don’t let this happen to you!

Then I learned, even though it is so tempting to jump right into centers to get to that valuable guided learning time, don’t fall into the trap that I did. Here’s what I discovered:

Morning meetings are a must-have

At the beginning of the school year, I spent several weeks discussing expectations in my morning meetings. It was a great way to establish a solid classroom culture. What worked for me was sitting on the floor with my students where I was at eye level with them. Research shows that this makes young children more comfortable. We spent that time getting to know one another and growing as a class. 

class meetings
When I sit on the carpet with my students, it is easy to learn more about them.

Getting ready for centers is the best way for students to thrive

We talk about what they are going to do in centers, how they will act, and how these centers are going to help them to learn and be more independent.

After a couple of weeks of just discussing centers, we practice going to centers. I start with just simple centers that do not need a lot of instruction, such as whiteboards and dry erase markers where my students practice writing letters or words, puzzles, magnetic letters and trays, and books. They are told which center to go to as a group, and how they will move to the next center when time is up (about 15 to 20 minutes) 

I spend a couple of weeks observing them in their centers. We meet every day after centers and talk about our experiences. We discuss the pros and cons. We also talk about how we can do better the next day, and that also includes the transition from center to center. When students are hesitant about switching or refuse to switch, I explain that every center is important and valuable to their learning. 

Matching my centers to my students’ needs yields far better results

You may have days when you want kids to have opportunities to spend more time at certain centers, so please feel free to be flexible with what you and your students’ needs are. In fact, I have my days when I also let students have free choice of centers. They love this for a fun change! I like to do this to foster independent choice as well. Some days I will do this when I want to observe my students in their choice centers.

I put students in heterogeneous groups so that they can help each other when there is a problem. I have found that this helps limit the interruptions of my guided groups. It also helps some students to get a better understanding of the subject matter when a peer explains it to them.

Why these necessary components of learning centers will transform your classroom

So what’s the takeaway? Differentiation of instruction is key to strategies for independent learning. What makes differentiation of instruction possible? Centers!

Here are the key steps to differentiation for diverse learners:

  • Preassess: make it fun with a game or use this opportunity to float and observe. 
  • We have these fun Scoot games that will get students up and moving as well as see how they are doing. They also make great centers!

CLICK HERE for more insight on active learning strategies and differentiation with fun math games!

  • Build your classroom culture: show students how you want them to act with one another and in centers. This will go a long way toward making them fully independent learners.
  • Make those centers dynamic: use combinations of enrichment, skill, and exploratory centers to keep your students engaged. 
  • Make those centers student-driven: think about how to engage your developing, on track, and advanced learners
  • Make those centers qualitative: nothing is busy work and everything works toward setting classroom goals.
  • Don’t be afraid to float. Worst case scenario, they go bananas and you regroup from there. Best case scenario, you finally have the freedom to focus on the things that move the needle in your classroom. WHAT A DREAM!

That’s all for now. Want the most out of guided math centers? Tune in next week!

Have a great week,

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