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Home » Blog » Math » 2nd Grade Math Centers: Launching & Management
Written by: Katie Palmer

Whether you are launching 2nd grade math centers at the beginning of the school year or even mid-year, it is essential that you go through the necessary steps to lay the foundation for the successful management of math center time.

Slow and Steady

It takes about 2-3 weeks before we are doing math centers independently.  Don’t let this time frame scare you.  Think of it this way.  You have to learn how to walk before you can run.  If the students learn the expectations and practice them to perfection, the amount of quality math time that is going to happen for the rest of the year makes it all worth it.

how to launch math centers in primary classrooms

5 Clear Expectations

When launching math centers we start with our five expectations that you see below.  These are available for free in my Math Centers Launching Freebie.

math center expectation charts

If you like what is included in the Launching Math Centers Freebie, see the video below to learn what is included in our 2nd Grade Math Centers bundle. (A full year of center activities!)

Modeling is Key

We talk about the 5 rules and discuss what they mean and what they might look like during math centers.  For each one I choose a volunteer to demonstrate a math center done incorrectly and then correctly while following the specific rule we are talking about.  On day one we talk about all five rules and then the following 5 days we dive deep into each of these by making an anchor chart for each.  On the anchor chart we go into more details and at that time we do the demonstrations of what to do and what not to do.

daily math center expectation teach tos

Establish a Signal

The next important thing to establish is the signal you are going to use to get the class’ attention.  It can be a clap, lights, doorbell, or even call and respond.  Whatever it may be, be consistent.  Practice.  Model.  Demonstrate.  What do you want them to do when they hear the signal?  In my class we use a wireless doorbell.  When the students hear the chime they “freeze and put their hands on their head” and from there they are going to receive a direction.  Do what works for you and again, practice, model, and demonstrate.

Note: If you purchase through the link above, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Find a Timer and a Signal

Another important aspect of 2nd grade math centers is a timer.  If you want to avoid the question, “How much time do we have left?”, you will want to find yourself a timer.  I use a large time timer that sits on my desk.  As soon as the first student has finished their independent activity and started their center, I set the timer for the amount of time they have until center time is over.  For example, if Student A finishes their independent activity 10 minutes before math center time, I set the timer for 35 minutes (10 minutes of extra time and 25 minutes for centers).
Purchase your time timer here

time remaining timer

Once the timer is done, the teacher needs to have a signal to notify the students that the center time is over. I train my students to listen for the signal (I use a wireless doorbell). When they hear the signal they are trained to FREEZE…place their hands on their head…and find my eyeballs! It works every time.

Some good options for signals may include:

  • hand bell
  • desk bell
  • wireless doorbell
  • turning the lights off
  • clapping pattern

Start with the Basics

I should also mention that in those first 2-3 weeks of training, we are starting with the basics for their center activities.  The first week may only be hands on exploring of the different math manipulatives (tools) that we will be using this year.  From there, they will learn how to play Toothy, for example, and all the students will be playing Toothy in their center group.  

toothy math center game

What is Toothy you ask? Start with an Introduction to Toothy Task Kits & a Freebie!

managing math center materials

Since students are only doing review work during math centers, the management should be slick. (As long as you spent a good portion of 2-3 weeks teaching & modeling routines and expectations to the students.) Here are some tips to keep your centers running smoothly:

  1. Keep things consistent! Once your students have learned their routines, don’t change things up! When students know what to expect and how to do their centers work, there won’t be the constant question of how do I do this? This is why Lucky Little Learners math centers are perfect for the whole year!
math center expectations

2. Have students turn in or show you their work. (And praise their work when they show you!) This gives students accountability: they will want that praise and will work hard when they know you expect to see it!

3. Keep students on task!

  • Use positive reinforcement
  • Praise the students who are working hard/following your expectations. When a student who is often off task is working hard, praise them immediately!
  • Remind students of how much time they have left. (Use timer display, countdown, etc.)
  • Try a whole class incentive: if we have great math centers time all week we will earn drawing time, etc.

4. Keep things organized: having math centers organized and in a certain place helps things run smoothly. (And takes away the stress of extra planning!) Check out the posts below to successfully organize/store math centers:

Math Centers FAQ’s & Answers

How to Set Up Math Centers

How to Organize Math Centers

Math Centers Storage

math center storage in trays

The Stamina Challenge

Students love the stamina challenge! You can do this by creating an anchor chart, similar to the one seen below. Each day prior to the stamina challenge, the class will review the center time expectations.

Then, the teacher sends each group to their center activity and starts the timer. The job of the teacher is to pay attention to the class without redirection. The goal is to have 100% of the class engaged and on task. As soon as the teacher notices someone not following an expectation, the teacher needs to signal the students back to the rug.

At that time, the students review each expectation poster and self reflects. Instruct the students to put their thumb by their heart and rate themselves for each expectation as read aloud. Thumbs up would mean they did a great job. Thumbs to the side means that they could do better.

This is a great way to bring consistent attention to the teacher’s expectations and brings self-awareness to the students on their performance.

Each day the students practice their stamina, it is tracked on the stamina anchor chart. Students are working towards the goal time which is the length of time your centers will be once everyone is trained. Be picky on your expectations!

Another important component of math centers is reflection time.

math center reflection

Reflection Time Sheets

 This takes a little bit of training during the launching lessons but teach your students how to reflect.  First, make an anchor chart if necessary. Then, ask the questions. What went well?  Is there anything that didn’t go well?  What was tough?  Was anything too easy?  What questions do you want to ask your teacher?  These types of questions can be answered in the reflection box for each day.  We keep these math center notes in our math centers folders.

math center reflection sheets

Discuss Reflection Time

After the students complete their math reflection for the day, have a whole group discussion to wrap up the math block.  Ask the class, “Who wants to share something that went well for them today?”  “Why do you think it went well?”  “Does anyone else have something to share?”  “Who has something to share that they felt didn’t go well?”  “Why do you feel that was a struggle?”  “What could you have done differently?”  This open dialogue is not something that comes naturally to students but with time it develops and becomes a very valuable piece of the math block.  There are so many lessons that students learn during this time of the math block.

These math center reflection notes can be found in this free download.

Are you ready to ROCK math center time in your classroom? Head over to the LLL Math Centers SHOP! Happy teaching!

More Info on Getting Your Centers Up and Running

Everything You Need to Know About Math Centers

Second Grade Classroom Set Up

2nd Grade Schedule

How to Set Up Centers

Flexible Groups in Math

Math Center Activities

Center FAQs & Answers


1st & 2nd Grade Math Toothy

1st Grade Math Centers

2nd Grade Math Centers

2nd grade math centers


  1. mfreeland

    Hey Angie! When I click on the link for “These are available for free in my Math Centers Launching Freebie” it says “The site is experiencing technical difficulties.”
    Is there another link for the math centers file? Thanks!

    • Lori Bly

      Mine is also saying that the file is not supported. Can you help me? I want to purchase toothy but afraid thus might be the case with that also. Thank you

      • Bailey Jordan

        Hi Lori!
        This has been updated, thank you so much for bringing this to our attention! Have a great day!

        Bailey J.
        Lucky Little Learners

  2. Priscilla

    Hello! So I have a few more questions on specifics. Do the 4-5 kids in the group each get their own activity folder with pieces? Or do they all have to share? Or is there multiple activities for them to do? And since they’re in flexible groups are they differentiated and how do they know which one to pick? And if you do have only one activity how often do you switch the activities?
    Sorry I’ve watched all the videos and read all your blog posts but never saw any specifics on the actual activities and how the students use them. Sorry if I missed it though 🙂

    • Bailey Jordan

      ​Hi Priscilla! We would love to help you with this question, please email us at and we will do our best to answer it for you! Thanks so much!

      Bailey J.
      Lucky Little Learners


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Welcome, I’m Angie!

Hello there! I’m Angie Olson- a teacher, curriculum developer, educational blogger and owner of Lucky Little Learners.

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