Classroom Centers and Activities for Older Students

Active Learning is an approach that can be used with learners of any age, if they are functioning under a 4-year-old developmental level (48 months).  Many activities are suitable for learners of all ages, using materials from the environment and familiar objects.

For ideas on setting up centers for older students (13-22 years), see Suzanne Becker’s article Developing My Classroom for Secondary-Aged Students Who Aren’t Actively Engaging with People or Objects.  The classroom centers she describes are listed below, with video examples of students doing activities in various parts of the classroom.

Centers for older learners can be based on naturally occurring themes and routine activities in their daily lives.  By placing real objects in various areas in the classroom, students can then be free to explore these materials and engage in activities based on their interests and developmental levels.
 

Calendar Center

Calendar center with communication systems set up
Calendar center with communication systems set up

A calendar center can include an area with each student’s communication system located nearest to the door, where they can communicate about past, present and/or future events. It is important to have any objects symbols or tactile symbols the student might use in an area where they can access them at any time to use in expressive communication. So for example, the student might go on their own to the Calendar Center to get an object to request a specific activity.

 
 

Hygiene Center

A hygiene center can have soaps and lotions of various smells and different sized containers, toothpastes and toothbrushes, hairbrushes, sponges, foot baths and hand dryers. You may also keep items that older students might use such as deodorants, shaving cream, menstruation supplies, hair brushes, nail polishes and files and so forth for each individual student. These very personal items can be explored during an adult-child interaction so that the child is not frightened or averse to these items when he or she encounters them in activities of daily living.
 

Kitchen or Cooking Center

A kitchen or cooking center can include utensils, such as measuring cups, stirring spoons, mixing bowls, cups, placemats; appliances such as a microwave and refrigerator;  as well as supplies such as food, spices. Remember to include items that might later be used in making part or all of a meal such as whole fruits and vegetables. Containers such as egg cartons with plastic eggs and jars with lids containing beans, pasta, or nuts  may be interesting to explore. Utensils like salad spinners, coffee grinders, blenders, and popcorn machines may require some exploration before you use them in a cooking activity. Provide a bin that contains the ingredients for a cooking activity and spend some time explore the materials before preparing the food in an adult-child interaction.
 

Clothing Center

Kitchen Center
Kitchen center with shelves of materials
A clothing center can include items such as a standing closet rack upon which clothing of various textures hang, as well as hats, jewelry, shoes and fabrics. Be sure to include items that allow the student to practice specific skills such as putting on and taking off or fastening and unfastening that support specific student goals. Some students will benefit from oversized items that may be easier for them to manipulate such as large shoes, tee shirts, socks, and hats.

Sensory Center

Sensory Center
Sensory Center with items on shelves, a couch, and rug
Sensory centers can include a tactile vibration area with vibrating pillows of various sizes, and acoustic musical instruments; and an electronic visual/auditory center which contains the beloved keyboards, CDs, a radio, light boxes, and computer. It also may include things that have a particular smell such as scented soaps, leather fabric, cedar chips, fresh and dried herbs. You might have a collection of papers, fabrics, carpet samples, corks, glass beads and other things the student may enjoy exploring. 
 
 

Vocational Center

Vocational Center
Items on shelves in the Vocational Center

A vocational center might include a paper shredder, can crusher, cans, trash receptacle on wheels, plastic bags, a broom, watering cans, smooth stones, planters, shovels, scoops, water hoses, paint rollers, dusters, mop heads and containers with lids. You might have bins that contain items associated with a specific job or task such as gardening tools, cleaning tools, animal care items, and so forth. The student may want to explore these and share about them with an adult before or after completing the activity.

Think of using some of these materials in different ways. For example, use a tub of water with mops and paint brushes to “paint” the sidewalks or walls of buildings outside. Use rakes to play in the sand or gardening tools to unearth “fossils” in a sand table. 

Gross Motor Center

The gross motor center may include equipment such as a swing, mats, tricycles, scooter boards, roller skates, and rocking chair. If your classroom is too small for these materials, consider using a physical therapy space or an area of the gym where these items can be enjoyed. You might include items like ping pong paddles, badminton  and tennis rackets that might be used to swing at items hung overhead. For more ideas watch this adapted PE video from Dr. Elina Mullen.

Throwing Center

Throwing Center
A Throwing Center may include balls of various shapes, sizes, colors and weights, plastic bottles with different materials on the inside and textures glued to the outside.

A throwing center can include items such as balls of various shapes, sizes, colors and weights, plastic bottles with different materials on the inside and textures glued to the outside. You can have many of these items attached to an Activity Wall or Position Board with elastic. You can also create a space to throw into metal bins or buckets so they make a sound. Using a soccer net to contain flying objects or a hanging curtain might be needed in some instances. 

Video Examples of Active Learning Activities for Older Students

The videos below show examples of various centers that can be set up for secondary-aged students.  See Developing my Classroom for Secondary-Aged Students Who Aren’t Actively Engaging with People or Objects to learn more about the specific students shown in the videos.
 

Co-Active Movement in Hygiene Center

Description: A teenage boy and his teacher gently twisting side-to-side while exploring hand lotion.

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Hairbrush Interaction

Description: A teenage boy and his teacher explore different hairbrushes.

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Active Learning Calming Materials In the Sensory Center

 

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Drum Interaction in Sensory Center

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Vocational Center Play

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Ball Interaction in Throwing Center

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Collage of classroom centers and activities for older students