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Centres of learning in the classroom

Classrooms themselves can support active learning by providing children with access to resources.

When classroom resources are organised in ways that help children approach their tasks clearly, focusing on the goals to be accomplished, the potential for active learning is high.

One method of organising resources involves creating "Centres of learning" in the classroom. The images on this page illustrate several ways to use learning centres in a classroom.

The areas and what they offer will change according to the resources and grade levels involved. There are many ways to organise learning centres in the classroom. Some ideas include . . .

space and walls
exhibit student work . . . a reading and writing centre, featuring children's literature, magazines, collections of stories and poems written or dictated by the class, and paper and pencils for writing new stories. If a tape recorder is available, it can be used to help children hear themselves read and speak aloud. The centre might feature charts of alphabets and vocabulary words on the walls.

. . . a math centre that provides children with games, based on dominoes and dice, and mathematics manipulatives, including geometric shapes, toys for practising simple arithmetical operations, and samples of children's work.

. . . a social studies and geography centre that offers maps of your town and its surroundings, of the nation, and of the world. Map of the nation and the world can have pins in them indicating that children in the class have relatives living in specific cities and countries. Other resources can include posters from different places, and papier-maché models of local geographic features.

locate different centres around the room . . . a science area that has live plants and animals in it, including cans with beans that are being sprouted for the school garden, and a terrarium housing lizards or other animals that children can observe. Posters can show weather cycles, different insects, the solar system, and other areas children are studying.

. . . a music centre, containing string and percussion instruments that children make, other instruments, audio recordings a tape recorder is available, and other resources.

. . . an art centre, which can be filled by different kinds of work by children, such as paintings and drawings, rag puppets, and sculptures and mobiles made from found materials.

For information about making materials that can be used in active learning, visit Module 5 of the Vietnam Multigrade Teaching Handbook.

Learning centres support many different styles of active learning, including work by individual learners, learning pairs, and small groups. You may want to gradually introduce these styles of learning to your class before creating the centres. For information, visit Teaching styles for active learning and Managing the active classroom.

You might also find Organising time for learning to have some valuable information.

Changing the learning environment

Changes in the classroom learning environment are much easier, and more effective, if you enlist help from parents, family members, and the community.

When you meet with parents and families (see Involving families in learning), invite them to contribute models, to help with the school garden, or to help paint the inside of the classroom to make it a clean and cheery place.

Keep alert for resources for the learning centres. These can include particular stones for the science centre, paper that is being discarded by an office, for posters, or for possible donations of tables or chairs to enable you to create more flexible seating.

Journal activity: A learning centre of the future

Design a learning centre for your classroom. (If you don't think your class is ready for a learning-centre approach, that's OK - try designing a centre as a future project, to see what's involved.)

Begin by visiting the Teachers Talking discussion area to see what how your colleagues are approaching learning centres and space in the learning environment.

Decide which learning centre will be the first in your classroom. Science? Math? Language? You might want to choose a centre for which you have ample resources. You can, alternatively, create the centre and enlist the help of children, families, and the community in collecting and making resources for it.

Note down the furniture you have in your classroom. Include mats and carpets, because these can be used to mark off spaces. (And sometimes they serve the purpose better than desks and chairs.) How can you use this to create the centre?

In your journal or on scratch paper, sketch the new arrangement for your classroom. Where will the learning centre be? How much space will it take up? How will children work there?

Make a list of learning resources for the centre. Put a check mark next to the resources that you have, but be sure to include resources that you might collect or make.

Finally, make a list of a few of the activities that children will do in the centre. Will they use it for research or experiments in growing plants? Will they use it for quiet time to write in their journals or to read?

When you've finished making notes, imagining, and planning, go back to the Teachers Talking discussion. Perhaps you have questions, or have encountered significant difficulties that another teacher might know something about. Perhaps you simply want to announce to the world that you have completed your design!

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Last revised July, 2001
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