20 Center Ideas for a Self-Contained Classroom

20 Center Ideas for Self-Contained Setting

Before you even start making a schedule for your room, you have to know what centers you want your students to rotate through. Here are some center ideas. Whether they actually move around the room or the material is brought to the student, they should be able to move through “centers” which is basically whatever is on their visual schedules.
There are so many different types of centers that you can have in your classroom and they can be called so many different things.  I am going to go through a few different types in this blog post to give you a rough idea of what you could have in your classroom and what it may look like.
(You can also read this blog post on how to set up your classroom, even if you have very little space.)

An Independent Work System:

I started with this because it is the most important center that you will have in your classroom. There are two things that I continuously work on for all of my students, no matter what grade level they are in, and they are communication skills and independent skills.

This is a great center idea! Independent skills are just as important in Kindergarten as they are in Highschool.  Creating a spot in your classroom for students to practice these skills is IMPERATIVE!

Once you have this center in your classroom, and students are using it, you will thank me later because your room will run like a machine. You can also read this blog post all about how to set up this center.

The types of tasks that should be in this center need to be 100% independent by the student. You can use a variety of tasks in this center. File Folder Gamesworksheetstask boxesadapted books, or vocational work tasks. It doesn't matter what the task is, just as long as there is a schedule to follow and tasks that they can complete independently.


2. ELA center:

This center idea can be teacher-led, or para led.  But should have a place for a teacher and student,  the work that needs to be completed, and a data collection sheet (or google form).   This center should have a work bin for each student or group of students and a mini-schedule that should be used for the student.  Many times, I would use my Adapted Book Units for some of the lessons.

3. Math Center: 

This center idea also can be teacher-led, or para-led.  But should have a place for a teacher and student,  the work that needs to be completed, and a data collection sheet (or google form).   This center should also have a work bin for each student or group of students and a mini-schedule that should be used for the student.  Many times, I would use my math task boxes for a quick assessment.

4. Content Center: 

This center idea is what I call a mix of science and social studies.  So many people do this center differently.  Some teach Science all month and then the next month will focus on Social Studies.  Some teachers will teach science a few days a week and then rotate Social Studies in.  There are some that only teach this center a few times a week.  The reason is, it is hard to fit it all in, and so Science and Social Studies seem to take a back seat to everything else.  I currently am using ULS (Unique Learning Systems) to teach my content for 20 minutes a day.
functional life skills curriculum organized in boxes

5. Life Skills Center: 

Some people do this as a whole group, but I like to use it as a station.  We focus on one skill a month and do it every day.  I set aside a 30-minute center rotation and it is led by a paraprofessional.  I put all of the materials that are needed for the week in one storage container and the para brings it to the student when they have it on their schedule.  We use my Functional Life Skills Curriculum to fill up this time and it has been fantastic.
teacher helping a student with work

6. Sensory Center:

This can be a cart, a bin, or an actual room, but students (especially younger students) could benefit from having a scheduled sensory time.  I would set up a room or small space that allows them to have a sensory choice board to choose from so they don't go there and do nothing all day.  Allow students to build their own mini schedule once there and have them take ownership of their free time.

7. Teacher Center:

This center can only be teacher-led.  Maybe you work on IEP goals, maybe you are just taking assessment data, maybe you are teaching them new skills.  You can have all of your data collected at this station.  You can work on a wide range of skills from many different areas, but the student always knows that they will be working with you during this center.
whole group instruction for Boom cards

8. Boom Card™ Station:

This is a newer station for me.  I have recently converted ALL of my task boxes into Boom Card decks and so now I will have my kids rotate through this center as well.  If they have previously mastered a task box, I will assign them the Boom card for skill maintenance and working independently.

9.  Vocational Center:

I know that this one is geared toward secondary, but sometimes I can see setting this up as early as middle school.   Have a space in your classroom that is set up to practice vocational skills.  Whether you are practicing filing, hanging up clothing, or stocking shelves, this gives students a great way to practice skills before they start community-based instruction.  This also allows students to gain prerequisite skills before entering the workforce.  Read this blog post all about a FREE stocking task.  You can also have just vocational workboxes in this center as well.

10. Dramatic Play Center:

This center often gets overlooked as a structured center.  Even though you may have a bin of blocks, a kitchen playset, some cars, and some Barbies, you need to structure this center, so kids don't just come here and stim.  I would create a dramatic play choice board and blank mini0- schedule for students to create their own schedule.  This also should be a para-led center to help explicitly teach play skills so Johnny isn't in the corner on the bean back spinning the wheels of the car.  He needs to be explicitly taught how to play with a car.

11. Leisure Center:

This is more free time for older students who have grown out of a dramatic play area.  Students in high school should also have a choice board they can choose from and create their own schedules.  This often gets overlooked as well, because we so often, like to plan out the student's every move, but they should get the opportunity to choose the things that they like to do too.

12.  Cooking Center:

This can be a whole group lesson or individually.  I typically cook once a week with my students.  I would have a mini-schedule here as well so that students know what to expect.

13.  Social Skills Center:

This center can be small group lessons with the students in or outside of the classroom.  I would typically do a lunch bunch and have games set up or conversation starters and have a para-led these conversations.  You can try and use pieces from my Social Skills Unit from my Functional Life Skills Curriculum.

14.  Motor Lab: 

Once a week, I would have my students meet as a small group to do a lesson that focused on their fine motor skills.  For the primary level, we would do small crafts or playdough.  For upper grades, we would work on scrapbooking skills.  It was age-appropriate and worked on their fine motor skills.
morning work bin with adapted books in them

15.  Morning Work:

This is self-explanatory but I would have the students come in to do some sort of morning work.  It really doesn't matter what the morning work was.  It can be a task box, worksheet, or a work bin, but this got them in the classroom, settled, and working on something right away.  Sometimes, we couldn't start morning meetings until everyone arrived so this gave them something to do while they waited.

Science task boxes for special education

16.  IEP Bins Center:

Each child should have a bin or a folder that has all of their IEP goal work, that way it's easy to grab and go.  If you choose to make this a center, it's easy to pull stuff out and take data on.

17.  Task Box Center:

I have so many different task boxes that this has easily become another center.  If it is para-led then I get out task boxes that is a skill that has been previously taught but not yet mastered.  If they have mastered it, this center just becomes another independent center.  Using my academic task boxes or even my life skills task boxes, I literally have almost 200 boxes that I can pull very easily.  Make sure that you are taking the time to prep task boxes because we seriously use them every single day.
paraprofessionals taking data for independent work systems

18.  Community-Based Instruction:

We are in high school so this “center” is very important.   My students go out into the community twice a week to a location for about an hour.  They rotate to 3 different locations all year long. They are paired with a paraprofessional and have a checklist of jobs to follow.  Paras know to take data on the bus ride back using their QR codes.

19.  Therapy Center:

Sometimes I would set up a center in the room that the students would go to to get their related service.  Most of my students would receive speech and so we just decided that push-in services were best and that She would just stay in the room and see students one after the next. This may not work for every person.

20. Computer Station:

This station is easy and probably could be another independent station.  Maybe you have kids doing a specific program every single day like TeachTown or ScootPad.  Maybe you have a schedule listed on the wall that says, Monday-iReady, Tuesday-ABCya.com, etc.  This type of station is very broad and you could use it for however you wish.
I really hope this blog post gave you many different ideas on what your day could look like and now you can start to build your self-contained schedule!
Again, if you have any question, please don't hesitate to email me at [email protected]

I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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