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Home » Blog » Math » How to Set Up Math Centers
Written by: Krys Warstillo

Math centers setup is a very important piece of a successful math centers time. Questions to consider would be the following: Are the materials organized in a way that easy for the students to understand? Does everything have an intentional place for organization? Do I have the right materials and containers? Can students independently access the materials they need?

Start with the Skills

When deciding what activities to put into the center tubs, think about some recent skills that have been taught and practiced that could use some extra review. Center activities should be review.

Give Options for Differentiation

Because we suggest that your center groups are flexible groups with varying levels of students in each group, you will need a way to differentiate the center activity. This can be done by offering a variety of activities that practice different levels of the same skill. It could be that you add manipulatives to help students solve the problem.

Set Up the Rotation Chart

Make sure that your rotation chart is ready to go. Are your activity cards updated? Are your groups looking the way you want them to look? This is your chance to make any switches before the week of centers begins.

Editable Math Station Cards

Plan for Everything

It's important to stay one step ahead of your students. This can be done by ensuring everything is set up to start the week. This includes supplies, containers, and directions. Read more about each of these below.

Set Up With Supplies

Think through each activity. What will your students need to succeed? Sharpened pencils? Expo markers and erasers? Manipulatives? Clipboards?

Set Up With Baskets

First, baskets are your friend. It sounds silly but this should be a huge takeaway. Every “in use” center in my classroom is in a basket. Also, whatever materials that center needs (glue sticks or dice or coins or marker boards, etc.) they are in the basket.

When prepping your math centers, think about anything and everything that the students will need to complete the center. Ultimately, the goal is not to have them coming up to ask you for something when you are working with students.

math center organization
Download “Roll It, Build It, Spell It, Expand It”

Set Up With Directions

Having directions for each center will be very helpful to ensure that the students know what to do in their center. The goal is to keep the students at their center the entire time so they aren't going up to the teacher to ask for clarity.

Location Matters

Always keep your baskets in the same place so that the students know where to put them back when they are cleaning up. Below you will see an example of what each of my center baskets might look like. Usually, I keep the center activities consistent from week to week. This consistency makes the center activities an independent activity which frees you up to teach your small group with limited interruptions.

math puzzles organized in baskets

Center Pictured Above: Math puzzles

This center is engaging, self-correcting, and super simple to prep. There are new math puzzles for every season and they cover a range of math skills. Check them out!
math center game organization

Center Pictured Above: February Math Centers

Keep things fresh (and organized) by using seasonal centers. This bundle includes 10 math centers to keep your learners engaged. Read through the above post to see which skills are covered in February.
math task card organization

Center Pictured Above: Toothy Task Cards

If you don't know what Toothy is, you are missing out! Kids love it and teachers appreciate how much easier it makes daily practice. We have Toothy Task Cards for virtually every subject to create the consistency that your students need.

Quick Links to Basket Options on Amazon

(Note: If you purchase through these affiliate links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

Colorful Baskets With Handles

Tray-Style Colorful Baskets

Smaller Colorful Baskets (Great for Supplies!)

Neutral Toned Paper Baskets

Neutral Toned Small Supply Baskets

Classrooms With Limited Storage

Unfortunately, some classrooms don't have the luxury of storage. Luckily, there are a lot of great options for adding some low-profile storage to your classroom!

Multipurpose rolling carts are an excellent choice. Put them wherever you need them.

I use the bigger drawers to store supplies for my students. Stick a label on each drawer and they're the perfect height for your students to access independently. If you don't have a place to store the “in use” baskets stack them on top of your rolling cart.

Some teachers store centers that are not currently in use in the skinnier drawers in individual ziplock bags.

The video below shows math center storage in more detail. Also, you can check out our Organizing Math Centers post for some great in-depth tips on getting your center materials set up!

Assigning Math Centers

Independence Is Important

Alright, now that these math centers are organized and set up, how are students assigned math centers? For the most part, math centers are independent activities. So, first things first, creating a classroom culture of independence, responsibility, and accountability is important for the success of math centers. Ideally, students have to be able to grab their own supplies, respectfully use those supplies, work alone, stay on task, and put everything away neatly when they're done. Whew! That's a lot to ask of our little learners. If you're having trouble with this, read through the How to Launch Math Centers post.

Choosing Centers

Your kids are independently working and ready for math centers? Awesome! Selecting the centers to work on depends on you and the needs of your students. Math centers are excellent ways to reinforce newly learned concepts or review previously learned material. The great thing about centers is that they can be easily tailored to individual students. Just pick a center activity that focuses on the skills your students need a little extra help with. If you need some help deciding how to break your students into small groups check out our post on flexible grouping.

Classroom Organization

Okay, your centers are set up, but what about the rest of your classroom? How you choose to set your classroom up is important to the success of your students. Remember, your classroom needs to be functional and set up in a way that encourages your students to stay on task and work independently when necessary.

baskets for organizing math centers

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

2nd Grade Centers: Launching & Management

Flexible Groups in Math

Math Center Activities

Center FAQs & Answers

Math Routines We Can't Live Without

setting up math centers for primary grades

1 Comment

  1. Lynn Bailey

    I have been working on organizing and getting my centers ready. I plan on doing centers for math, writing and phonics, to keep my students skill sharp all year long.

    Thank you for all the great ideas for storage and organization.


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