10 Easy Set Up Learning Centers for ESL Classrooms

10 Easy Set Up Learning Centers for ESL Classrooms

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 13,572 views |

Learning centers are great for ESL students.

With just a little effort, you can set up independent learning areas around your classroom that your students use during free learning periods. They don’t have to be complicated to be valuable to your students, either. Here are ten easy to set up learning centers that focus on improving different aspects of English fluency.

Organize Learning Centers to Focus on Fluency

  1. 1


    Setting up a game center is extremely easy and is also fun for your students. All you need is a table or area to play, a scrabble game (scrabble jr. if your students are too young for the real thing), and a dictionary. That’s it. Students can play in groups of 2-4. It’s a great vocabulary builder and will certainly get your students looking in the dictionary. No need to keep score unless you really want to. You can also make other word games available for your students (Boggle, Scattergories, Balderdash, etc.) if your students seem interested in them.

  2. 2

    Reading Nook

    Having a reading center in your classroom is always a good idea. All you need is something to read. I like to have magazines available for my students since magazines have short articles and are informational, entertaining, and educational. If you want to make your reading center even more attractive, add a comfortable chair, some pillows, and something soft to lay on the ground. Many students will be able to use the reading center at the same time with no additional effort on your part. If you like, ask students to write summaries of or responses to the articles they read.

  3. 3

    Writing Names

    If you are teaching young children in your ESL class, having a writing center will give them a chance to practice the alphabet they are just learning to use. A minimal writing center would have paper and an alphabet to copy. If you want to get a little more involved, cut paper into strips. On each strip place a picture of each student in your class and write their name next to it. Then laminate the cards and join them with a ring. Your students will have a great time writing the names of their friends.

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    Vocabulary Games

    What is your current vocabulary unit? You can give your students a chance to practice and review these words with two simple games – a cross word puzzle and a word search. Create a word search for your unique vocabulary unit right on Busy Teacher, or use other online resources to make a crossword puzzle by typing in the words and their corresponding definitions. Print out your puzzles and make copies. Put them in your learning center with some pencils, and your students will be ready to practice their vocabulary words.

  5. 5

    Driving Time

    If you are doing a unit on transportation, giving directions, or anything geography related, you can set up a driving time center. Your basic supplies are a large map of a town with landmarks identified (with pictures, letters, stickers, etc.) and one or more matchbox cars. You should also have paper and pencils handy. Take some class time to explain how this center works, and then let your students work independently. Center users can either follow someone else’s directions to a town landmark or write their own. Show students how you drive the car along the map making note of where you have gone. These become the directions list. When you finally get to your destination, write that location on the back of your directions page. Then leave the directions in the center. Students can follow your directions and then check to see if they followed them correctly and made it to the right place, or they can write their own set of directions to another location on the map and leave it for future students to follow.

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    The Human Body

    For this center, provide a list of body parts, as general or as detailed as is appropriate for your students, and a large roll of paper. Students will work with a partner at this station to trace their body on the rolled paper. Instruct them to cut out their life-sized picture and color it if they choose. They will then use their cutout body on which to label all the body parts. If you like, make an area for students to display their work, or send them home when they are complete.

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    Test Taking Practice

    If you are teaching ESL students who will be taking the TOEFL or another standardized test, setting up a test taking station will be very helpful to them. For the center, make at least one copy of each practice exam in a TOEFL prep book, and put it in a folder with several copies of the answer sheet. Then put a timer and the book at the center with the tests. Students can choose to read the prep book for tips on the test, or they can practice taking the tests and scoring their own results.

  8. 8

    Write On

    To give students practice writing, set up a learning center with several writing prompts they can use at their leisure. Simply print out a list of writing prompts (Busy Teacher has over 900 Creative Writing Prompts available online) and post it where your students can see it. Let them choose their own prompt and write. Either have them hand in their writing, turn it in for extra credit, or keep it for their personal use.

  9. 9

    Listening Lab

    Listening practice is always good for ESL students, and students who want extra practice will be thankful for a listening center. All you need is a listening text book near the skill level of your students and the listening material that goes along with it. Depending on the book, you might need a tape player, CD player or computer with cd rom so your students can play the material that goes along with the book.

  10. q

    Repeat At Your Own Pace

    Not everyone in your class learns at the same pace, and that is why setting up a learning center with activities you have done during class is helpful to some. No extra preparation is required by you. Simply put out the materials you used in class – pictures, word cards, books, etc. - and let your students repeat the activity on their own or with a partner. If you like, provide directions on how to use the materials in the center.

Learning centers don’t have to be complicated, but they do have a lot to offer your ESL students. If you have never used learning centers in your classroom before, try one or more of these simple set up centers. You just might get hooked.

Do you use learning centers in your classroom?

What are your favorites?

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