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Math Centers Made Better – How To Improve Yours

I love math centers because they give students a chance to practice skills and strategies they have learned. Here are math center ideas you can use now.
I love math centers because they give students a chance to practice skills and strategies they have learned. Here are math center ideas you can use now.

Let’s take a look at math centers! I love math centers because they give students a chance to practice and apply skills and strategies they have learned — and they give me a chance to work 1-1 or with small groups. 

Math stations are really flexible. Students can work alone or in partners (or even for some games in a small group). You can provide a variety of activities so that students can choose, which can help both engagement and allows students to choose activities that work best for their learning style. A variety of activities allows students to practice skills in several ways. 

Keys to effective math centers

Set expectations early for math centers. Students should know:

  • When it’s their time to go to the math center
  • Where to find activities (Do they have a folder or bin? Are activities laid out?)
  • How to choose an activity quickly and get to work (Is there a choice? Do they need to choose a particular level or color activity?)
  • What appropriate interaction looks like in the math center (When it’s OK to talk, appropriate volume of conversation, how to share materials) 
  • What to do with their work (when they finish, if it’s time to leave before they finish) and how to put away materials

Make sure directions for all activities are clear. If you have new games or activities, introduce them to the class or to small groups in the center before students try them on their own. 

Math center ideas you can use now

Now, what are students doing in the math centers? There are endless math center ideas, which is good, because variety is a plus in math centers. Here are a few ideas that are perfect for math stations.

Puzzles 

Puzzles are a fun way for kids to practice math, especially if they think spatially. I use hundreds chart puzzles, transformation puzzles, tangrams, and skip counting puzzles among others in math centers. 

To make quick hundreds chart puzzles, cut hundreds charts into several sections, always cutting between numbers not through them. Students need to put the puzzle together in the correct order to create their hundreds chart (If the chart is assembled correctly and glued onto backing, you could then use the hundreds chart for other games). Get more ideas on using hundreds charts (plus some free hundreds chart puzzles). 

I love math centers because they give students a chance to practice skills and strategies they have learned. Here are math center ideas you can use now.

Transformation puzzles show students what happens when you move an object, and how to talk about motions, such as reflecting (flipping), translating (sliding) and rotating (turning). 

I love math centers because they give students a chance to practice skills and strategies they have learned. Here are math center ideas you can use now.

Skip counting puzzles mix a picture and a set of skip counting numbers. If students put the numbers in the correct order, the completed image will be revealed. Skip counting puzzles aren’t just fun for students who like puzzles, they help students with some of the most common skip counting barriers: moving beyond place value barriers, starting to count at any number that’s not a multiple, and being able to skip count both forward and backward at any number.

I love math centers because they give students a chance to practice skills and strategies they have learned. Here are math center ideas you can use now.

Math games

I include a mix of paper and pencil games, card games, dice games, and games with specific boards or playing pieces (like dominoes for example) in math centers. Here are a few math games to try:

Counting On Card Game. This two-player game helps students practice the mental math strategy of counting on and requires only a deck of playing cards with King, Queen, Jack, and Joker removed. (Aces act as 1s in this game.)

  • Divide the cards into two piles, one with the cards: ace – 4 and the other pile with the cards 5 – 10. 
  • Shuffle the piles separately and place them face down on the table.
  • Player one turns over the top two cards and adds the two numbers using the counting on strategy. (Count on from the larger number, and count on the smaller number.) If the player has the correct answer, they get to keep both cards.
  • If the answer is incorrect, the other player tries counting on. If they are correct, they get to keep both the cards.
  • Then the next player flips over two cards. Play continues until one of the piles runs out of cards. 

Knock Out. This two-player game helps students practice addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division (you can limit it to addition and subtraction for younger students). Each student needs a grid with the numbers 1–10 and a pencil, and each pair needs two dice. 

  • The first student rolls the dice. 
  • They can add, subtract, multiply, or divide the two numbers and cross off one of the results in their grid. (For example, if the student rolls 6 and 2, they could add and get 8, subtract and get 4, multiply and get 12, or divide and get 3. Since 12 is not part of the grid, they could choose to cross off, 8, 4, or 3.) 
  • If the student cannot cross off anything (they’ve used up any possible numbers already), they pass. 
  • The next person rolls and does the same. 
  • The first person to cross out all the numbers on their grid wins. 

For more math games done for you that you can add to your math stations, check out the Math section of my store. 

Task cards

Task cards are pretty much made for a math center. They are easy to prepare, are designed to be done independently, and can include a variety of question/activity types. Plus you can have answer cards right there for students to self check or self correct.

Task cards can cover all kinds of math concepts: area, multiplication facts, telling time, place value, and so much more. And within a set of task cards, you can have a lot of activity types. For example, my Place Value Cards for Building Number Sense, students get practice: 

  • comparing numbers & recording numbers into place value charts
  • identifying the base ten blocks to build a number
  • determining the number from base ten blocks
  • writing expanded form
  • writing numbers from expanded form
  • ordering numbers
  • writing one before or one after a given number
  • reading word form and writing standard form

I love math centers because they give students a chance to practice skills and strategies they have learned. Here are math center ideas you can use now.

And Telling Time Task Cards gives students practice in:

  • Telling the time on an analog clock
  • Showing the time on an analog clock
  • Writing the time in different ways
  • Using analog and digital time interchangeably
  • Working out elapsed time
  • Showing elapsed time
  • Ordering time.

Get a free sample of Area Task Cards to add to your math center: 

FREE Area Task Cards

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Students practice:

  • comparing area to determine the smallest or largest area
  • finding the area
  • drawing shapes with matching areas
  • drawing shapes with a given area
  • showing areas that are double, half or the same as each other

What’s your favorite thing to include in your math center? What do your students particularly love?

I love math centers because they give students a chance to practice skills and strategies they have learned. Here are math center ideas you can use now.

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