How to Run Learning Centers With Social Distancing in Mind (2020)

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Photo of Holly (Teach Starter)
Updated | 5 min read

Well, there is no denying that the start of the school year for 2020 has been somewhat different from previous years! Who would have thought that the term ‘social distancing’ would be included in the vocabulary of your students this year?

Teachers are having to completely change the way they run things in the classroom to ensure social distancing guidelines are being adhered to! One major classroom routine that we all know massively supports the learning of our students is math and literacy learning centers, or station rotations. Whatever you like to call it – rotating through activities that have been carefully selected to support each small group, may seem completely undoable in the current circumstances. This blog highlights some teacher hints and tips for how to run learning centers with social distancing in mind.

Kids measuring social distancing at school

Shutterstock.com / Alex and Maria photo


Tips for Running Learning Centers with Social Distancing in Mind

Apart from the benefits of working in a small group and a teacher’s ability to work with smaller groups of students for a more targeted teaching style, learning centers make it easier for teachers to differentiate their teaching in the classroom environment. While this may look slightly different in the class of 2020-21, the main objectives can still be achieved with a few slight adjustments.

Individual Student Math Manipulative Boxes

To prevent movement in the classroom and the handling of math manipulatives (like counters, calculators, and anything else your students may need during learning centers), organize individual student boxes that can be kept at their desks!

We used some take-out containers for ours and placed the student’s name on the box to limit any confusion.

How to Run Learning Centers With Social Distancing in Mind

Storage Baskets Under Student Desks

Another way to limit student movement in the classroom is to place a basket under each of your students’ chairs. Then, at the beginning of each school day, you can put whatever they may need for the small group work in their basket, such as worksheets, bingo cards, and manipulates. This allows you to modify what activities or worksheets each student receives.

These baskets would work well, and we found them at the Amazon.com.

Student baskets

Online Learning Centers are Possible

If you are doing a hybrid style classroom, then learning centers online is completely possible. Utilize Google Slides to set up the activities and tasks for each of the stations. We have a huge range of Google Slide templates for virtual learning available.

Here are some examples of Google Slide templates that may work for literacy rotations:

Image of Informative Text Writing Task - Cars

teaching resource

Informative Text Writing Task - Cars

A writing activity to help students construct an informative text based on factual information.

Teach Starter Publishing4 pagesGrades: 3 - 6
Image of '10 Fun Facts' Template

teaching resource

'10 Fun Facts' Template

Use this template to distinguish between fact and opinion when studying informational or biographical texts.

Teach Starter Publishing1 pageGrades: K - 6
Image of Comprehension Task Cards - Finding The Main Idea

teaching resource

Comprehension Task Cards - Finding The Main Idea

A set of comprehension task cards to help students find the main idea when reading.

Teach Starter Publishing7 pagesGrades: 3 - 5
Image of Dressing Up A Sentence - Interactive or Printable Activity

teaching resource

Dressing Up A Sentence - Interactive or Printable Activity

Encourage students to add more descriptive language into their sentence writing with this activity.

Teach Starter Publishing23 pagesGrades: 1 - 5

If you are using Google Classroom or Zoom, organize some break out rooms and let the small groups know when you will be joining them for the teacher-led section of the rotation.

Think outside the box; if your students have devices at school for face-to-face teaching, you may even be able to set up the small group work virtually with headphones (even if they are in the same room). Bizarre, I know – but it’s certainly a bizarre time!

Child doing remote learning with teacher on screen

Shutterstock.com / Travelpixs

Create a Paper Toolkit for Students

If you don’t have enough supplies to go around to set up an individual math materials box, why not create a paper math toolkit for your students?

This is a great way to minimize movement in the classroom, plus this paper-based toolkit doesn’t take up much room so it can be stored in your students’ desks or their individual storage baskets under their chairs. This idea is also super easy to include in your online classroom for those that may be attending virtually.

We have created the perfect solution to math mainupulatives with our Math Toolkit Resource Pack.

Digital math toolkit for kids

Our Math toolkit includes:

Printable math toolkit for kids

Our collection of printable letter tiles would also be an extremely helpful tool for students to have readily available at their desks to use during reading groups. These letter tiles could be used in a variety of ways and are also helpful to send home to students who may be doing remote learning. Building words and working with sounds are just some of the many ways to use these letter tiles during rotations in the classroom.

Letter tiles for the classroom

Keep Some Things the Same

Try to keep things that you would typically do (that don’t impact the social distancing guidelines) as normal as possible. If you usually give team points as a reward to encourage positive behavior, you can still do this. Even though they may be doing a lot more of the work individually, they can still earn points for their groups! This is the case in both face-to-face teaching and virtual classrooms.

Kids elbow tapping in classroom

Shutterstock.com / Halfpoint

Use Visual Cues!

Now more than ever, having a visual way to show students what activity they will be doing at what time is essential. That’s where our Weekly Group Rotations – Interactive PowerPoint is the perfect resource. It is editable, so it’s effortless to change the activities and even add extra notes for each of your groups.

Display this on the classroom whiteboard or send it to students working remotely too!

Learning center digital organization

Brain Breaks are Even More Important

Because there will be no moving around the classroom between activities, factoring in brain breaks is essential! We have a collection of brain break resources that you can check out.

We also have some fantastic interactive brain break PowerPoints which would be fantastic to have up your sleeve when your students need a bit of a reset (both in the classroom as well as virtually):

Image of Virtual Scavenger Hunt – PowerPoint Presentation

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Virtual Scavenger Hunt – PowerPoint Presentation

A 19-slide presentation that will take your students on a fun scavenger hunt.

Teach Starter Publishing19 pagesGrades: PK - 3
Image of Mystery Pictures – Interactive Powerpoint

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Mystery Pictures – Interactive Powerpoint

An interactive PowerPoint where students try to guess the picture before it is fully revealed.

Teach Starter Publishing23 pagesGrades: PK - 6
Image of What's Missing? – Interactive PowerPoint

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What's Missing? – Interactive PowerPoint

An interactive presentation where students try to guess what object is missing from the picture.

Teach Starter Publishing13 pagesGrades: PK - 2
Image of Spot the Difference

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Spot the Difference

A fun game for students to try and find the differences between two pictures.

Teach Starter Publishing9 pagesGrades: K - 5

Dry Erase Pockets for the Win!

You may like to have one of these pockets available in your student’s toolkit baskets! This will make centers really easy plus saves paper! Your students are able to use it for anything and is super easy to disinfect if you need to!

We found these at Amazon.com!

Plastic sleeves for the classroom

For more activities to help with your learning center planning, check out our Reading Center Activities Resource Collection and our Math Center Activities Resource Collection.

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