5 Tips for Successful Math Centers

Having successful math centers is though. Learn how I organize and execute math centers in my classroom. These math center ideas are sure to get your math centers up and running. (Lots of freebies included!)

My favorite part of teaching is meeting with my small groups!  For me, it is an awesome time to work closely with my students, catch their mistakes before they became habits, and really customize my teaching to fit their individual needs.  Small groups can be magical! Well, that is if the rest of your class isn't running up the walls!  After years of setting up my math centers (Math Workshop), I learned some strategies that have helped me be successful.  Here are some tips that will help you have a great start with center time, and keep them going strong all year long.

1. Keep it Real

When creating your daily center schedule, keep it real! That's right! Don't set yourself up for failure by trying to fit too much into a short period of time.

  • First, figure out how much time you have.  
  • Next, decide how long you would like each rotation to be. 
  • Then, figure out how many rotations you will be able to have each day.  
  • Finally, add in a few extra minutes between each rotation for transition time.  This is your "realistic" schedule!

Here is what my schedule looks like...I will tell you that my schedule is not like most teachers' schedules.  I prefer to teach 100% in small groups, and I had 90 minutes for my math block.  In this schedule you will notice that I had 4 rotations, and met with all four groups each day.

Having successful math centers is though. Learn how I organize and execute math centers in my classroom. These math center ideas are sure to get your math centers up and running. (Lots of freebies included!)

2. Pick Activities that Count!

It doesn't matter how awesome your schedule is if you don't have the activities to back it up!  This is the time to think about what type of activities you want to include in your daily math center routine.  Here is a list of centers that I LOVED using in my classroom...

1. Math Game - any game that covers the current skill we are working on.
2. Review Game - any game that covers a skill we have already learned.
3. Calendar Math - You can learn more about this HERE if you don't know what it is.
4. Technology - Some type of program or website that my students can work on to sharpen their skills.  I love to incorporate the smart board here as well.
5. Problem Solving - This is an extensive word problem that requires my students to use a graphic organizer to plan out their strategy, and explain their thinking.
6 Small Group - of course, the group that meets with me for the daily lesson

This is what my schedule looks like with the centers filled in...

Having successful math centers is though. Learn how I organize and execute math centers in my classroom. These math center ideas are sure to get your math centers up and running. (Lots of freebies included!)

3. Be Prepared!

I have found that the more I prepare for math centers in the beginning of the year, the more successful they are, and the more likely I am to actually do them.  One way to prepare is to pull together a collection of math games, and get them ready for use.  This process can take some time, but once you are done, you are set for the year!

Having successful math centers is though. Learn how I organize and execute math centers in my classroom. These math center ideas are sure to get your math centers up and running. (Lots of freebies included!)

Having successful math centers is though. Learn how I organize and execute math centers in my classroom. These math center ideas are sure to get your math centers up and running. (Lots of freebies included!)

  • First, think about each standard/skill you teach.  I like to make a list of the major concepts I know I will be covering.  
  • Next, start scouring the internet, the filing cabinets, or even other teachers' classrooms to find some games you can use for each skill.  You will want to have maybe 2-3 different games for each concept.  
  • Finally, once you have the games printed and gathered, put them together so that they are ready to use.  Some game may require dice, a deck of cards, fraction bars, etc...  While some game may require cutting, laminating, sorting, etc...  No matter what the game requires, be sure to get it all done now, so you don't have to worry about it later.  
The good news is, once you are done prepping your games, all you have to do is change them out once a week.  Simple!

Here are a few FREE math games to get you started.

4. Set Your Expectations!

This is super important!!  Don't rush to start math centers.  Make sure you explain and teach your expectations and routines during the first few weeks of school.  I typically spend the first week or two teaching my students how to complete the games/activities.  Then I move forward and set my "rules".  Once I feel my students fully understand my expectations, I do a few days (more if needed) of "mock centers".  During this time I do not teach in small groups.  Instead, I simply walk around and observe my students.  This process sets the standard for this time of the day and lets my students know how important it is to me.

Things you may want to consider while developing your expectations...
1. How do you want your students to transition between rotations?
2. What do you want students to do if they finish a center early?
3. What noise level do you prefer? (try to remember that noise can be a good thing)
4. Where can students find each center activity and the necessary materials?
5. Where should students put their center activity/materials when the time is over?

5. Be flexible!

We know as teachers, things do not always go according to schedule.  Fire drills, assemblies, and other scheduled time outside the classroom can all get in the way of your center time.  Try your best to be consistent, but don't stress if things don't go as planned.  Tomorrow is another day, and another opportunity to try again.

Also, pay attention to if your schedule is working! Don't be afraid to change it.

I hope some of these tips work for you and help you be successful this year with your math centers!

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Top 15 Edible Lessons

Have you ever looked out into the faces of the your students to see blank stares, wondering eyes, fiddling fingers, or students snoring?  I think it happens to all of us!  Also, do your students want snack time right after they walk in the door?  Do you find someone sneaking their snack or part of their lunch during class?  How about this....do you get hungry throughout the day and want to sneak a snack?  I know I do!

Sooooooo.......here is some food for thought:

Why not use food for motivation?  I know your pocket can't afford to use food for every lesson, but maybe one a month?  If you are in a district where parents are involved, get their help!  I can honestly say that my students have come back to visit after several years and still remember those lessons with food!  Here are some recipes for success in all subject areas:

After a lesson on explorers and the value of a cocoa bean, we made our very own chocolate bars.  Click for directions!    How to Make a Chocolate Bar with Students

Of course since my passion is writing, I love serving hamburgers when teaching paragraph writing, but if you are a sweet freak, you will love the fact that Walmart sells hamburger cupcakes!  No lie!  I was just there today and you can get some loaded or unloaded (just ketchup and mustard icing) hamburger cupcakes.  Here is a pic of a loaded hamburger.

Use skittles for a character traits lesson!  Make sure you have extras to taste!


See Jennifer William's post on how she uses snacks to teach fractions!   Fraction Fun with Snacks.  I've also seen fractions done with Hershey Bars, Kit Kat Bars and Pizza!  Make sure there are extras to taste!

We like to do this after our Christmas Around the World project.  I give my students extra credit for bringing in a food item from the countries they studied.  I laugh every time because parents aren't shy to bring in things the kids won't touch with a ten-foot spoon!  The parent volunteers and I will taste it though!  Yum!  Click for more info!  International Food Fair Blogpost

When teaching Civil War, make some hardtack with your students!  Just like any part of history or culture, when you make or serve food to enhance the lesson, students will remember!  Their tummies will thank you too!  How to Make Civil War Hard Tack

7.  TAXES AND M&M'S   

1.  Appoint roles to three students (King of England, representative from Parliament, tax collector). Have them sit facing the rest of the class in the front of the room.

2.  Give each student at their seats one snack pack of M&M's.  Tell them they are not to eat the M&M's until the end of the activity.  (Have an extra pack for each student)  The M&M's represent money and they just got paid for their jobs.  However, they need to put some aside for taxes!

3.  Start naming off things that will be taxed (wearing shorts, necklace, hat, holding a pen, whatever). You can even tax more than one M&M for an item.  This is when the students get fired up for losing their M&M's!

4.  Together, count up all the M&M's collected for taxes.  Then divide it- tax collector 10%, 50% representative from Parliament, 40% to the king.

5.  Discuss feelings over losing money to these people!

6.  Then pass out extra pack to eat!

Wahhhlaaaaa!  Fun eating and learning!

When studying the Boston Tea Party, don't forget to serve some tea!  Of course I live in the south and that is what we drink here.  You can always serve hot tea or unsweet tea!


Genius right?  I've seen this on Pinterest and Google.  What a fun way to teach the moon phases!  This picture is from Mr. Benson's Science Classroom.  


My partner did this for many years.  It is messy but loads of fun and educational!  I googled it and found it on Scholastic-   The Pumpkin Project

Bake a pie with this awesome lesson!


In the book, Bunnicula, Harold the scruffy dog loves chocolate cake.  Why not make a chocolate cake and give everyone a piece?  You will find food in most books so take advantage of it!  Before you know it, every time you read a book, one of your students will ask if they could bring in a snack to represent it!

I'm really glad I don't have pictures for this one!  Gross!  I love how the authors of the lesson plans refer to the 'poo'.  Ha!  I haven't done this experiment with my own class, but Jenn from The Teacher Next Door told me about doing it in her class.  I bet students will remember this one!  I found an awesome Step-by-Step Lesson plan for you!   Lesson Plan Link for Digestive System Science

All you need are marshmallows and toothpicks!  Students create cubes, prisms, and pyramids.  See how large you can make them!  Make sure to have extras for munching!


In order, have students create squares, rectangles, and irregular polygons using Cheez Its.  Require them to indicate the area and perimeter each time.  Differentiate:  Assign students (who are ready for a challenge) an area and perimeter and ask them to construct the mystery shape!  Don't forget to give them extras to taste!

Or...simply use food as a motivation to achieve a class goal!  
Reach an academic goal and get a taco party or reach a behavior goal and get an ice cream party or reach a fundraising goal for a pizza party!

Yum!   I think I am ready to go munch on something...maybe some chocolate for my sweet tooth?  What is your recipe for success?

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Organizing your classroom library

There are many ways to organize your classroom library.  You can organize it by guided reading level, genre, author, topic, etc.  I have always organized my classroom library into three sections: chapter books, picture books, and nonfiction books.  That works well for me, but not everyone's classroom library needs to look the same.

Today I'm going to share with you how one of my teacher friends (Mrs. Strauss) organized her classroom library.  Since our school has purchased many AR books, she decided to organize her books based on AR book levels.

Here are the steps you need to take:

1. Visit the official AR site and find the levels of each book. Write the levels on each book.  You can get fancy and make address labels, but my friend simply had her daughter write the level inside each book.

2. Buy some bookshelves (Walmart has $15 bookshelves).

3. Buys some bins (Dollar store!!)

4. Print the AR book bin labels (freebie below - click image to download PDF file).

Click image to download AR book bin labels. (Levels 2-7)

How do you organize your classroom library?

Organizing Student Usernames and Passwords

I forgot my password....I forgot my username....Sound familiar?!?!  It can be exhausting, time consuming, frustrating, and annoying.  Yes, I said it!  It can be annoying!   We have stuff to get done, we are on a time frame.  You can't forget your username and password!!!

After 13 years in the classroom I decided that I needed a solution to the "forgetting my username and password phenomenon".  Here is my solution to said phenomenon.

For each website that my students have their own username and password for, I have a specific set of cards attached with a loose leaf binder ring.  We call them tech cards.  Each student has their own card, and each card contains their name, username, and password listed.  

Attached to the front of the cards is a title card.  The title card lists the name of the website that the usernames and passwords are for.  When Student one says they forgot their password for IXL, I point them to the IXL tech cards that are hanging on the bulletin board to find their password.  

Another option is to create a tech card ring for each students.  In other words, each student has their own ring of usernames and passwords. 

You can download these FREE tech cards HERE.

At the beginning, it may seem a bit time consuming.  In the long run, it will be a time saver and a sanity saver!

Take Your Classroom From Drab to Fab {Classroom Decor on a Budget}

Hi friends! I'm Jodi from The Clutter-Free Classroom and one of my absolute favorite things to do is transform piles of furniture in a bare space into a colorful, organized home away from home for teachers and students.

Although some educators have already made their way back into the classroom and kicked off the new school year, many are still enjoying the last few weeks of summer vacation and dreaming about what their learning space will look like this year.  The good news is it is easy to create a customized, beautiful room on a budget. 

I am excited to share some tips from my FREE Classroom Decor Guide.

It is helpful to start by picking a color scheme for your classroom. Picking a main color with 1 or 2 accent colors looks great. Once you have your color scheme selected the real fun begins. Using materials that are not found in the pages of a teaching store catalog will allow you to make the most of your color scheme, save money and create a look with patterns and textures that make it one of a kind. 

Here are some of my favorite things to use when decorating a classroom.

Ribbon comes in every color and pattern you can imagine. It’s handy because it is available in a variety of widths. Use it as trim on bulletin boards, around windows, charts, posters, and more. Ribbon can also be hot glued to painted or paper-covered cans to use as inexpensive supply holders or tied to clipboards and containers to give them pizzazz. 

Tissue paper can be used to create pompoms to hang from the ceiling or staple to the wall. These will be fun accents for your space and are very easy to make yourself in no time.

Fabric can be used in place of paper to back bulletin boards. It can also be used to create extra storage space and hide visual clutter by covering open shelves. Unlike most papers it won’t fade. Staple holes are not noticeable which makes it a wonderful investment that can be used year after year. Instead of purchasing pricey fabric by the yard, I suggest getting solid color bed sheets. They come in lots of colors and sizes for very little money. As an added bonus you can get matching pillowcases to use with standard pillows for a cozy and coordinated look in your classroom library.

Scrapbook paper is perfect for backing shelves and providing pops of color. Individual pages can be used to designate spaces for displaying student work.

Spray paint will allow you to make the classroom look cohesive. Use it to update furniture, containers, storage drawers, and more. Just be sure to purchase paint specifically for plastic if necessary.

Letter stickers can be used for adding titles to displays, labeling items, creating a welcome sign on your door and so much more. Number stickers are also available and work well on cubbies, mailboxes, etc.

I would love for you to stop by my personal blog, The Clutter-Free Classroom to find lots of tips and photos to help organize and manage your classroom.

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Top Ten Read Alouds for Back to School

I DO love back to school time. I love the freshly sharpened crayons, the clean pink erasers, and I especially love the pencils that are all the same size and perfectly pointed for the first (and possibly the last) time in my classroom. Back to School is a time of new beginnings, the glorious Spring of the school year. It's also the perfect time to read some great books to teach concepts like classroom rules and procedures, but more than that, to teach our newbies the deeper things that we want in a class community, like respect, caring, and tolerance. 

So which books do I enjoy? I actually could have written a post with about 50 of them but I narrowed it down to my current top ten:

1. How I Spent My Summer Vacation
Having kids write about what they did during the summer is a classic. In fact it's been done so long, I think they might even have done this in ancient Egypt. What I like about this book though, is instead of telling the usual "What I Did Over the Summer" story, the boy in this book tells the class about his summer by starting out realistically, but eventually he weaves it into a tall tale that your kids will enjoy. This makes it a great springboard for your kids to do a different kind of story writing activity, instead of the traditional one they may have done before.

2. Miss Nelson is Missing
I think I have been in love with this book forever. It tells the story of a very sweet Miss Nelson (I'm thinking she sounds a lot like me...hmmm) who has to disguise herself (possibly, can't give it away) as Miss Viola Swamp, the no-nonsense substitute to snap the kids back into shape. Nice book to discuss how we give our students freedom to do certain things (maybe get a drink or go to the bathroom as needed) but if they take advantage of the rules, we may have to change things up.

3. Never Ride Your Elephant to School
This book describes what might happen if you bring an elephant to school and talks about all of the mischief that it might get into. I love to do a take-off writing activity with this book and let the kids decide which kind of animal they would bring to school. When the writing is done, have kids do a watercolor picture of the animal they brought to school, and then display them with their stories on a fun bulletin board.

4. What if Everybody Did That?
This is a great book to discuss how what we do has an affect on others, whether it's tossing trash around or forgetting to be respectful to our classmates. Great book to illustrate this point.

5. You're Finally Here
This book tells the story of a bunny who finally sees his owner but has had to wait so long. It goes through all of the emotions that we feel as we have to wait. Nice discussion piece for talking about how we need to be patient this year in our classroom and how the teacher may not be able to always help us as quickly as we had hoped. What can we do while we wait? Time to talk about procedures here.
6. The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes
Beatrice is one of those students we dream about...conscientious, careful, methodical, but perhaps a bit too perfect. Her brother on the other hand is the opposite. In this story, Beatrice finally makes a mistake while juggling in the Talent Show and she laughs it off, learning that it IS okay not to be perfect. Nice lesson to do our best but not to stress.
7. The Art Lesson
This is one book that might not typically be found on a back to school list but since I love art and I like the message, it made my top ten. This is the story of a boy who learns to celebrate his individuality with the help of a very wise art teacher. After this book is done, you've got to make some art!!! One thing I do every year is to make self-portraits to hang around the room for the whole year, as a border near the ceiling. We mount these on black paper (about an inch all around for a border) and the kids create patterns on the black paper or simply decorate them however they want using construction paper scraps.

8. Because You Are My Teacher
This is an awesome book about a teacher who takes her students on amazing adventures around the world. You can use it as a springboard to all of the places (topics/themes) that you're excited to share with them or perhaps use it to talk about how books take us places. I think you'll love this book.
9. Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon
The illustrations in this book alone are enough to sell it to me! This is the story of how a little girl who had confidence in herself was able to befriend the school bully. This is a good starting point for a bullying discussion and how we need to be respectful of others. 
10. Do Unto Otters
Who doesn't love Laurie Keller? This book focuses on character education, specifically the Golden Rule, which pretty much covers everything. Reading this book and discussing the importance of treating classmates the way we want to be treated, is a good starting point for building classroom norms. Great book!

Do you have some back to school favorites to add to these. I would love to hear from you!

Also, if you're looking for a comprehensive type of morning work that will take you from Back to School to the end of the year, I created a unique set of materials which includes reading, language, math, as well as social studies and science for each grade level from 3rd - 6th grade. 

Want to try a FREE week sample to see what you think?

Here are the complete units if you'd like to take a peek!

Have a wonderful year!