Direct Instruction Work Centers

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How do you organize your classroom and day to address all of the IEP goals and areas your students need to progress in? In my classroom, we do at least an hour a day of direct instruction (also known as intensive teaching.) My students aren't able to remain on task for 60 minutes, so we split the hour up into 2 consecutive work centers. Between the centers, students are in reinforcement. Click {HERE} to read about the token economy system we use.

There are three different centers running during each 30 minute period. The three centers are math, concepts and the writing center. I pull students to work one on one with me. All of the center materials are kept in buckets.

Inside each bucket there is a folder for each student along with all of the materials used for that center. Here is a peek inside one of the buckets:

This bucket is the concepts bucket. At the concepts table we work on a variety of skills including personal information, letter identification & sounds, reading, comprehension, following verbal directions, concepts, time of day, community signs, rhyming, etc. I assign one teaching assistant to lead each of the 3 centers. This has been really helpful in encouraging ownership with paras and consistency of delivered instruction. 

The other two centers that are running at the same time are math and writing. The math center targets shapes, patterns, number identification, counting, making sets, adding, telling time, money, etc. The writing center focuses on strengthening the fingers, cutting, coloring, writing, drawing, typing, spelling, and generalizing tasks mastered in the pullout OT sessions. 

At the beginning of the work centers, students pick a picture of what they are working for and attach it to their token boards. My students earn pennies (tokens) throughout the 30 minute center for meeting their personal behavior and academic goals. Most times, there are 2 to 3 students working at a center. When the adult is working with one student on his or her goals the other students are doing independent work tasks. For my lower students, the task might be doing a simple matching file folder task while other students might be putting words in alphabetical order, sorting by categories, etc.

While my teaching assistants are working with a student, they are taking specific data. Here is an example of a data sheet inside a student's folder:

My staff has been trained in how to run error correction, errorless learning, data taking and direct instruction techniques. After a student has achieved a 100% on a goal for three consecutive days, the teaching assistant gives me the data sheet to update. My students are easily overwhelmed and discouraged, so we keep most of the work known by only adding 3 to 5 new items in. 

During this direct instruction time, I am at a fourth table where I pull students individually. This helps students generalize quicker while providing more opportunities to practice and master skills. Many times we will see students progress on a skill faster in one spot in the room. For example, I had a student who had mastered making sets at the math center table, but was unable to demonstrate the skill when he worked at my table. This helps us really look at how and why the student is getting it in one area of the room and not the other. Sometimes it can be one person has better instructional control, one adult could make the student more anxious, or it could be that the student cued into some prompt that we didn't realize was being given. Great learning opportunities for staff and students!!

Click {HERE} to read the post on how we take data during direct instruction!

These are our must haves for work centers in my classroom:


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  1. I'm impressed by your system! I teach students with emotional and behavioral disorders in a self contained classroom and I aspire to organize my room and students into such a wonderful work center system like this! Thank you for sharing!

    Teaching Special Kids

    1. Thanks Mary! It takes time to find a good system that works for you, but it us so worth the time and effort!!

  2. This looks great!! I teach autistic support and am trying to start at least a math and language arts center, but am struggling as to how to start it, what to put in it, etc. Do you have any posts going into more detail about what activities are within each center? Thanks!

  3. I really love this post. It is helpful for me as a 2nd year teacher in maintaining order. I teach k-2 self-contained classroom. I have 5 students and 1 assistant. I can only run 3 centers with 2 students per group, and one student 1:1. I have a teacher center and a writing/fine motor center and then an independent work center. I have baskets the students choose from with items that they are capable of doing independently. My littles need lots of prompting to stay on task and in their area, but I really feel they need that independence as well. Do you have any suggestions for the independent center?

  4. It would depend on your students. You could have one table eating snack, free draw, fine motor tasks, etc. I would add visual directions to the table no matter the task. I would also specifically teach students what to do at that center and the expectations.

  5. I had a system similar to this one years ago, then I changed school districts and didn't go back to it. I keep meaning too, but just haven't had the time. Definately going to find time now!