Why Centers?

The role of dance, music, theatre arts and visual arts teachers in the elementary school setting can be overwhelming. Arts educators may be asking themselves, "how am I supposed to meet the instructional needs of 500+ students each week, maintain accountability for my students and my program, perform a myriad of extra duties, integrate the curriculum, and ensure that I am delivering my curriculum in one 45-minute (or less) period per week?" There is no easy answer to these questions, but, perhaps, some teachers may want to explore the use of centers to help address some of these concerns.

What are Centers and How Do They Work?

Learning centers should provide an opportunity for students to apply previously taught skills and concepts. You may want to start with just a few centers, and add more frequent opportunities to participate as the year progresses. Typically, students rotate through centers, either by choice/interest, or predetermination by the teacher. Since learning centers provide students with the opportunity to apply previously taught skills or concepts, the teacher may use them for assessment. After each center has been introduced to the class, students may have multiple opportunities to work on specific activities that they are interested in.


There are many ways to manage centers; the most important thing is to choose the way that works for you. You may want to visit classroom teachers' rooms that are implementing centers, or consult some resources to help you get started. Some options include "have to" (teacher-directed) and "want to" (student choice) centers for students to visit; and the use of dots, color-coordinated clothes pins, or rules (i.e. "four no more") to indicate how many students visit a center at a time.

Student Accountability

The type of accountability system you use will depend upon what the purpose is for each of your centers. A student contract which is checked off by students and perhaps kept in a portfolio is one way to document centers visited and objectives addressed. The teacher may want to use a checklist for some centers to document mastery of specific skills. Student or group self-assessment is yet another way to document student learning.


Keep in mind the wide variety of student levels you are working with in just one class. When you are designing centers, the more open-ended the activity is, the better chance it has of meeting a variety of student needs and providing students with success, no matter what their individual levels may be. Open-ended centers may also provide students with more choices in their learning, and allow students to show you what they are learning in a variety of ways, rather than one product that is produced by every child. The more student choice and responsibility that is allowed, the more students will take ownership for their learning.

Planning Centers

The following outline is suggested as a tool for planning learning centers:

  • Name of center

  • Materials required

  • Number of students

  • Instructional and behavioral objectives

  • NC Standard Course of Study competency goals and objectives that are addressed (should be arts education area specific goals/objectives and can also be grade level curriculum goals/objectives to support integration of the curriculum)

  • Student Accountability/Assessment


The use of learning centers in the elementary arts education classroom can be a valuable means for meeting the instructional needs of a wide variety of students, provide accountability for these students, and allow students opportunities to practice and apply what they are learning. Well-designed centers, where students can work independently, may provide the teacher with opportunities to work with individuals or small groups of students, while the other students are engaged in center activities.


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