I Hate Centers…Yeah, I Said It.

So I thought about making one of those wholesome, happy teacher posts about my 1st grade literacy centers. I’m sure you are familiar with the kind. It would include breathtaking photos of my center set up and materials. You would see 16 bins that are perfectly aligned and spaced on a matching shelf.

You would be completely taken by the impeccable condition of my center materials. You would wonder about the operators handling these materials. “Do they have the hands of angels? Everything looks so beautifully untouched!”

You would hear me subtly gloat about seeing each of my guided reading groups at least 4 times a week. You would wonder about the magic involved to achieve this incredible feat. I would let you know that it isn’t magic….my transitioning skills are just flawless.


I’ll be honest. I was starting to write this kind of blog post, but then I experienced an epiphany. I thought to myself,

“Why bother? I HATE CENTERS!” Yeah, I said it. I hate centers with an undying, unyielding passion.

I know that I am probably in the 1% here, but I’m just trying to keep it real….because phony=bologna

What is my biggest beef with centers? It could be the feeling I get when I am sitting at my guided reading table. I feel like I am locked up in a small zoo cage. I am confined to the 1 group I am working with, while the rest of the class is building an empire as they manage themselves.

…but kids just love centers, don’t they? You want to know why 6 year olds love centers so much? I’ll tell you why. If they aren’t reading with you in your zoo cage, they know that they can get away with the little stuff. Heck, they can go completely rogue in those independent and buddy centers if they want to. They know that you aren’t getting up to circulate the room. They know that you are limited to your guided reading group area. They know about the enclosed zoo cage.

So what are those little things in centers that make me want to go off the deep end?:

Let’s start with Timmy over there in Writing Journals Center. He is sitting next to Mikey and sharing details about his brand new Jordan sneakers. It’s okay though. He must have forgotten that he is in a SILENT, INDEPENDENT CENTER.

What about the ladies over at the long tables? Ohh, that’s Jane and Annie. They have mastered the art of “looking busy” in Word Work center. The reality? They are discussing details about their upcoming slumber party.

How about Mary over in Handwriting Center? She is having a ball with my $12 Expo markers, wasting precious ink as she doodles beautiful flowers on my expensive sheet protectors.

..and who can forget about Bobby over there in the corner? He is thoroughly enjoying himself in Computer Center. It looks like he just started another round of Demolition Derby 5.2. It’s okay. He innocently thought that it was recess time. Right.

Now, I know you’re probably thinking one of a few different things:

You: “Maybe she doesn’t realize that it will become easier each year to manage centers and materials”
My Response: It could, but the odds of me being switched to another grade level next year are pretty high. So why bother building up a crazy amount of resources when you are unsure of the fate in your current grade level position?

You: “Maybe she needs to work on her management skills.”
My Response: I’m pretty organized with my materials. I believe I can run a class smoothly. Check yaself.

You: “Well..Maybe she should start the Daily 5/CAFÉ system.”
My Response: So you’re telling me that I won’t understand the CAFÉ book unless I read the Daily 5 first? Well, let’s just stop right there. I couldn’t get past page 5 of the CAFÉ book. Blame it on my ADD. (Give me some visuals and/or cliff notes and I’ll consider it next year.)

You: “Well, what would you do instead?”
My Response: I’m not sure yet. I find myself comparing my current 1st grade class with the 1st grade class I was a student in 20 years ago. Back then, it was simple. There were 2 reading groups instead of 17. The teacher, a nun, read with one group while the other group did seatwork. She easily observed the entire class and had full control of everything going on.

So, that’s it. I’m afraid to say it, but I think that I favor the old school approach over centers.


Now, I must excuse myself so that I can find a way to wean 6 year olds off of center fever.


(If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy some of my other rants. Just click on the “Rants and Funnies” tab at the top of this page.)

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73 thoughts on “I Hate Centers…Yeah, I Said It.

  1. I so totally agree with you. I also resent the expense and work that goes in to creating them. And that pieces go missing. Maybe it’s the Catholic school background…but I so agree!

  2. I LOVE this post!! HA! I actually love the IDEA of centers. I love how cute they look in pictures and I tend to be a crafty person so I enjoy even making centers. I do not enjoy when my kids destroy my centers, waste materials, play and goof off instead, etc, etc etc! Running centers is much easier said than done! And I hate when people tell me that I just need better classroom management skills and it will go smoothly. I would like to see them take a class of 25 six yearolds, in which 6 of them are non readers, 2 are ED, 5 are ADHD, and several do not understand the meaning of discipline, and do perfect center rotations. Ha! Thank you for a wonderful post and letting me know there are other people out there in the same boat!

    Hanging Out in First!

  3. Ha, Ha, love this post. I too am in the 1%. That was one of the things I love about daily 5. Authentic reading and writing that builds stamina kids need. No pieces to lose either!
    a href=””>Burke’s Special Kids

      • I don’t think I would have been able to read Daily 5 and CAFE at the same time and start both of them at the same time. I read Daily 5 last summer and did a “test run” using my summer school students and did it for real at the start of this year. I teach 1st, also. I just read the CAFE book last week and now I want to start it. We just got to our half-way point and I think it is what my students need. For what it’s worth, I thought the beginning of CAFE was hard to get into, also. Push through the first part (or skip it!) and it should get better. I did “centers” before this year and liked it, for the most part, except for the pieces that would go missing to my file folder games. My students love Daily 5, though.

  4. Still LOL!!!!

    May I join your club?! OK, I have just 2 2nd graders, but I don’t even love centers with just 2! I can’t even imagine with 18 or 25 in a room.

    I came over from your TpT thread. 🙂

  5. Thank goodness I’m not the ONLY ONE!!!! I have hated centers for a few years…each year I give it the old college try for a week or two until I can’t stand another second….and then back to good old direct instruction I run. Maybe if I had 15 kids I could manage…but 31 is just insane! I totally feel your pain girl!!!!! LOL

      • I have 34 this year all by myself and still have the same demands that ALL or at least 80% of the kids are at grade level by the end of the year. My small groups are 8-10 strong. I don’t see that as small groups but it is what we have to do to be able to see every kid as many times as required a week. Grrr. Sorry rant over

  6. I so agree! But you forgot to mention how principals love to come in and observe during small groups, and then document that “most of the children didn’t know what the objective of their center was when asked”, even though you have gone over it every day as you send them on their merry way!

  7. I am 100% in agreement. My top three centers…
    Computers- I use to limit the sites they visit, They still manage to find an extra game now and then, but it works very well.
    iPods- the iPhone 3GS phones are still working. With guided access, i can limit them to one game
    Promethean Board- I can make sure the activity is level appropriate and I try to make them self correcting. They still fight over the wand/pen and run around the carpet.

  8. I TOTALLY agree! I rely on parent helpers and try to do centers just 2X a week with my 30 Kindergartners…no aide or team teacher…just moi! And then the parents don’t show up and we are stuck. You are totally right about the kids going rogue….even with a parent at their center running a game etc. I get so frustrated with them that it is just better if I do direct instuction….but again with 30 it’s just tooooooooo many! I shocked that most of them are moving along with reading etc. But it’s sure not because of the infrequent guided reading groups…..ackkkkk!

  9. Amen sister…amen….I have excellent classroom control and I too hate centers. It makes me feel as though I push a large number to the side and focus on the bottom.

  10. I don’t do “centers” but I have activity time after group work. There are up to 9 activities to work with a mix of math, reading, LA and art. While students work with partners of choice I pull over small group for whatever skill they need short review/practice. Some of the activities students have to bring to me to confirm they are done. I have a lot of student contact during this time and can help students think through issues. I would never survive rotating groups.

  11. I whole heartedly agree with you! Centers are awful. Too much work, too much time for the teacher and little benefit for students. I am a huge fan of Daily 5. No prep. Students are held accountable for the ultimate: Can they read? You don’t have to implement CAFE to use Daily 5.

  12. I do centers, but feel they are too much work. Our principal now wNts to see kids stand in front of eAch one and say the goal!! I teach kinder!!!!
    I try to do at least 2 rotations… That said there are alwYs kids off task… Missing pieces …
    I’m exhausted just thinking about it

  13. New teacher here. I just graduated from college. I have actually never been in a classroom other than subbing that uses centers. I don’t really have an opinion. I have always heard the people who love centers talk about them so it is nice to hear the other side. Thank you for sharing!

  14. I love your post! I have taught 14 years with the same thoughts as you! I laughed sooo much reading this. I am so tired of “wonderful teacher BS”. That is totally the reality in every class I have ever seen, even though they might skew the reality to make it seem like they are the best thing since sliced bread.

  15. Love this post – I was cracking up!! I used to really enjoy centers, but with the class sizes getting so out of control, it’s just so much more difficult. And, now our admin is looking for each center to be differentiated and for the kids to know the objective or essential question for each one. Ridiculous. haha. Thanks so much for sharing!! 🙂

    • I don’t know if I ever really *enjoyed* centers. I became alleviated when I found my “zen” moment, but I never felt at ease. Thank you for your positive words 🙂

  16. I am so glad that you said it! I also HATE centers! I think they are SO much work for such a little amount of time. I am totally with you, my class is busy with their seat work while I am working with my reading groups. I think they are starting a small rebellion, haha.

  17. Now I feel better when I say, “I suck at centers.” I have managed to stream line centers the best I can in which all centers follow the same format, focus on the sound spelling for the week, and prep is minimal (compared to other centers and I still feel I “suck” at it). I do the Daily 4 but with more control with accountability which has been a heck of a lot of work on my part to figure out how to implement that without more PREP! I have learned a few tricks along the way which has helped but I definitely can agree there is always someone off task which is to be expected when you have 5 ADHD kids and 4 far below the rest of the class in a class of 25. It is harder to meet the high kids needs – I feel. Just Sayin.’ This is the 1st year ever I have kids begging for worksheets! Weird – huh?

  18. After having “one of those days” in the classroom today your post has made me laugh. Thank you for a dose of reality! As a new blogger I have been thinking a lot about what to write about and what not to. I think I might start blogging about the ‘what not to’ list and maybe someone else can have a laugh at me =) (or with me).

  19. bahahahaha I laughed my way through (especially when I read the cage part). It sounds like you are describing my first grade classroom perfectly! I am also trying to find ways to make centers more meaningful and less “social”. AH! Let me know when you find the magic answer 🙂

    • I don’t know if I will ever find the magical answer! I am happy to make you laugh the whole way through. I thank you for allowing me to know that I am not alone! 🙂

  20. AMEN!!
    I love this post! Thank you for saying it! I say it, too, all the time (along with other things about first grade that make me go nuts!)

    I am a fourth-eighth grade teacher by choice, but this year was asked to teach first grade, and I accepted by necessity. So, this whole centers thing gets to me, too. I have 4 reading groups, and I prefer to give seat work while I sit in the zoo cage–this way I keep my eagle eye on the seated people. However, I am well-aware that they are still getting away with a lot, but when I call out a child’s name while I’m working with a group, they know they are in trouble!

    I prefer “old school” in a lot of ways, too!

  21. THANK YOU for saying what I’ve been thinking! I currently teach 4th & 5th grade math/social studies and I HATE centers with an overwhelming and undying passion for exactly all of the reasons you mentioned. It’s nice to hear that I’m not alone!

  22. You all make me feel like I’m not just making excuses and whimping out. I am a very organized person – not OCD, but close. I have tubs set up for math/science centers, since I have the privilage of co-teaching and I only teach a class of 2nd grade math, science and social studies and 3rd grade math and science. I haven’t even gotten centers out this year because of all the reasons you all said. Just the thought…. I even have really good classroom management. With the society we live and work in the children need constant supervision. Even the leaders in the classroom have a hard time doing the right thing at times, since there are more that don’t do the right thing. I don’t have an aide either and the same mix as you all and average 25-26 students a class. I find the students who do work and have responsibilities at home are the few students that actually are okay with “work” and responsibility in the classroom. We hand over way too much, just for the asking for our kids. Anyway, thanking for listening to my frustrations and soap box.

  23. Wow. I just found this post via-Pinterest, but I couldn’t agree more.

    I’m a veteran teacher (28 years and counting) and I cannot stand centers. I’ve tried them, more than once, but, like you and others here I hate the lack of control, the disrespect of time and materials, and the frustration that I feel stuck with one group while the rest of the class goes wild. (And I have GREAT classroom management!)

    What do I do while I do reading groups? Reading. Silent reading. Each day of the week one group of students trades their books in our class library. Every child has a bag with 3-5 ON LEVEL books that they have chosen (a lot of modeling goes into this at the beginning of the year). While I work with groups, the Monday kids trade books and then they may ‘read around the room’, as long as they are quiet. The rest of the kids read at their seats. On Friday, everyone reads around the room, and those who have had good behavior throughout the week may sit with friends. Everyone works hard to be one of those kids, and I have quiet time for my reading groups. Win/Win…and no centers!

  24. I am so glad I am not alone in my hatred of centers. I teach 6th graders, and I haven’t figured out how to manage centers any better than if I had 6-year-olds in my classroom. Let’s be honest, we are preached to about proximity for the whole rest of the teaching day. How is classroom management suddenly going to change because you are working with a small group? If I need to “walk the room” while I am lecturing or going over a grammar lesson in order to keep students in line, it definitely doesn’t change just because they are “supposed” to be doing something engaging.

  25. Each time I attempt centers I think, “What’s wrong with me? Why is this not working the way the said it would?” You brought up a lot of valid points. Center simply are not for everyone! Especially me.

  26. I love centers. However, I have been teaching for 20 years and I have A LOT of activities collected. I don’t really like Daily 5. I would be bored out of my mind if I was 6. However, I do use the management routine of Daily 5-introduce each center one at a time, and practice, practice, practice, expectations. What I do HATE is Common Core. What dunderhead thinks reciting objectives makes any difference to a kid? Washington needs to get out of our classrooms!

  27. Amen! I too am in the 1%. UGH! I have also had comments from my principal that my centers are too easy and conversely my centers are too hard.I have also had principals demand differentiated centers which can remediate and enrich. I have yet to come up with the magic formula for creating centers that keep students engaged for the entire length of their center. And I feel so grouchy when I have to laminate, stay up late cutting and placing materials into zippy bags only to have students engage in center de-beautification and disorganization. Oh yeah I am definitely in the 1%.

  28. Yes. This. x13058902398!!! I. hate. centers. I use Daily 5 and it is tolerable. But my district uses the Investigations curriculum and I hate “Math Workshop” even more than reading centers!!
    I will say this: I do something called “Magic Centers” and the kids are 100% on task the whole time. Why? Because Magic Centers are when the kids PLAY. Magic Centers = playdoh, legos, puppets, retelling kits, dramatic play (doctor/vet/firefighter).

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  30. I am a first year 3rd grade special ed teacher. I am not a big fan of centers. I am 25. I do, however, like your blog 🙂 the kids get so noisy and rowdy. They can’t handle cooperative learning. I agree. I’m not a big fan of centers. I love a nearly-silent classroom. 🙂

  31. I know I’m atrociously late to this party, but I just found your post because I googled “I hate center rotations” to see if there were any ideas I could find to use instead of centers! I’m a first year teacher, and I HATE centers. My students love them because of the “playtime” factor. I’m totally going to implement seat work during guided reading groups now…broken up with brain breaks, because 4th graders get antsy too! 🙂

  32. Thank you for saying it!! I’ve been used to teaching in a creative manner for the past 10 years and the mini-lesson (I lecture, they stare at me) and then center (go be by yourself and not talk) idea kills me. There are so many cool ways to teach through the creative arts where students can work together instead of “Small child, go work by yourself for the rest of literacy because I’m unavailable.”

  33. Oh Amen sister!!! Finally someone said it!!! I’m starting to wean my kids off of them. We only do them a few times a week….and just having to prepare them. All the work that goes into that and it lasts for 5 minutes, if that. I believe in Keeping It Simple….!

  34. Well, this blog just made me a subscriber! I HATE centers, for all the reasons you and everyone else has stated. I think there are a lot more teachers who feel this way than we guess. Speaking out about this issue is a hornet’s nest. I’m tired of hearing “it’s not about what YOU like, it’s about what is best for children.” (Yeah…right. That’s why we have 12 hour tests written above grade level.) Y’all make me feel a lot better about this! 🙂

  35. I really want to thank you for this post. You will NEVER know how much this single, honest, humorous, thought has validated and comforted me. I teach in a district that has adopted a progrM called “Literacy First” which contractually obligated us to centers 5 days a week- specific centers- but without instructions on how to do them…just critiques when they aren’t quite right! I’ve struggled to win my brain around these “things” for 5 years, across 3 different grade levels- 3rd, 4th, now 2nd.

    It has left me feeling inadequate and incompetent. Why can’t I do centers like other teachers? Maybe this concept works for some brains…but not mine. It doesn’t work for my students either. I thought I was a bad teacher for disliking a “best practice”. Thank you for voicing what has been such a struggle and shame!

  36. OMG this has been my main problem throughout the year. I am almost finished with my first year of teaching first grade, and centers/reading groups have been a nightmare. I stopped doing centers because the kids were “off task” and socializing (your zoo analogy is my classroom in a nutshell). I had them do seat work instead, but of course my principal doesn’t like it -she wants the kids doing “differentiated, engaging centers”. I have been brainstorming about what I’m going to do next year. I may try the Daily Five and see how that works. Needless to say, I HATE centers, too!

  37. I like the idea of centers, but they never work the way they are suppose to. Most times I’m frustrated. It’s is soo… much work and I don’t know how much learning the kids really get from it. I’ve been teaching for 20+ years and I’ve never got it right.

  38. You were very brave to write this article. While I completely understand the merit of literacy centers, they are extremely frustrating at times for even the best teacher to manage. One of my girlfriends absolutely LOVED planning centers and did new ones each week to align with the curriculum. Myself on the other hand, I try to make generic centers that need minimum maintenance. Computer, library and word center are my go-to’s. Computer is my absolute favorite because there’s actually a tracker on the software that tells me if the kid is actually using it or messing around or even logs out. Library center and word center, the kids do a little work but they’re mostly playing around. It’s very frustrating.

  39. I agree with you wholeheartedly!! I am sure more people do; they are just not willing to admit it. Centers do nothing but add to my stress. I teach third grade, and eight and nine year olds just do not have the self control to work independently.

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