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  • Writer's pictureKristy Johnson

Math Centers in Upper Elementary

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

Do you want to know how to make math centers successful for upper elementary students? Math centers in upper elementary can be very challenging. Students tend to rush through assignments so that they can move on to the next quickly. Does anyone else feel my pain on this issue? In addition, math centers are also time consuming to prepare, which isn’t fun when students move through them so fast. I do some simple things when I run math centers to keep my students on task and to save me time each week. Let’s discuss how to make math centers successful for upper elementary students.


My math centers are never new content. I repeat-my math centers do not follow the new curriculum we are learning for that week. Does this surprise you? I run my math centers two weeks “behind.” The reason for this is that it allows me to see where my students are at in their learning. Next, it allows them to not be clueless and have more confidence when they are working in the centers. I found that when I ran centers over new content, some students struggled immensely. The reason being that if it was a topic they did not understand, they were clueless or had many questions. Math centers are supposed to be run independently while I pull small groups, so this became a problem.


This is how I run math centers to make them successful for my upper elementary students: Students complete math centers each day following my mini-lesson. They complete 1 quick problem (called ticket to centers), then they head to their math center for the day. Based on how they did with the problem, I pull them to my table for review if I deem necessary.

The math centers are broken up into two week rotations. I typically have 6 centers that students must get through in the two weeks. (6 instead of 10 allows time for me to pull them to my small group. Plus, it gives time for any assessments we might have). It is my student's responsibility to get through all 6 centers. 3 of the centers are graded and 3 of them are not. Those that aren’t can be used for extra credit or a grade replacement so that they still try their best. One thing I may do differently from others is that I do not put students into specific groups for centers. Students are allowed to move around as they need to. However, when they pick their center for the day, they must stay at it for the remainder of the period. Also, I only allow 5 students to be in a center at any one time so they don’t get overcrowded.


As I stated above, we do 6 math centers on a two-week rotation in my classroom. Here is the breakdown of how I organize them to make math centers successful for upper elementary students:


I don’t know about yours but my students ALWAYS seem to struggle with multiplication. This center allows them to review their multiplication facts that should be recalled quickly. In this center, they have options for different multiplication code breakers. Also, there are flash cards and a multiplication game.

#2-Previous Unit

This center is always set up with the previous unit topic. Usually in this tub I have 2 sets of task cards to complete foldable books.


Although I have technology in the multiplication center, I have a center that is strictly based on technology as well. Students may do the code breaker if they did not finish. Then, I usually have links on my website for students to practice with the skill we are currently working on. Their favorite game is usually Prodigy. In addition, they also work on Khan or other math websites that teach and correct students when wrong.

#4-Task Cards

This center is simply made up of task cards on the skill that we learned the week before. I use different options depending on what we are learning. Check out these Measurement Task Cards, Division and Multiplication Task Cards and Snowman Jams Holiday Task Task Cards just to name a few that I use.

#5-Game Board

This center always has a game of some sort in it. It might be cards or dice. But there is always a game. Do you know how great games are for students? They help with so many social skills as well! (think turn-taking, waiting, strategy, speaking to others...the list goes on!)

#6-Show Me!

This center is always graded and is always done independently. When students are “in this center” they take it to their desk to complete it for a grade. It is usually a 10 question quiz or ticket out the door.


While students are in math centers, I am working with a small group. These groups change quite often and I pull students based on what each student needs. I usually do not have them in a group the whole time. Therefore, even if they work with me, they will still have time to work in centers that same day.

Was it helpful to learn how to make math centers successful for upper elementary students? Remember-upper elementary students enjoy hands-on and engaging activities too. Always keep the learning fun in your classroom!

Do you run math centers similarly or differently than me?

I would love to hear what you do in the comments below!

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