Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


How to Make a Successful Centers Activity for FLES

CENTERS IN FLES CLASSES ARE GAINING IN POPULARITY-I have long hesitated to incorporate them in my own classes for many reasons, most particularly as I worried that they, like many projects and device based activities, don't match whole group instruction in terms of the amount of target language input and interaction. However, if I don't try something out, how do I know if it can be successful or not, right?! I decided to do a centers rotation with my First Graders who have been a bit squirrelly lately and seemed to need a different approach than the whole circle (honestly, part of my reasoning had to do with splitting up some little friends who were making whole group very challenging to teach!). Ever ambitious, I went with FIVE centers activities, which meant small groups of 3-4, serving to divide and conquer some behavior issues, as well as make each activity less "crowded". I learned a lot along the way, including what NOT to do-yes, there were some flops lol.... I'll get to those in a moment!

How to Make a Successful Centers Activity for FLES Elementary Foreign Language

I'VE SPLIT THE REST OF THE POST INTO FOUR PARTS (GOALS, ORGANIZATION, ACTIVITIES, FOLLOW UP), in an attempt to cover all the components I realized were vital to making centers a viable part of my classes. Please comment and let me know how you have done centers, what worked, what didn't, and what you would like to try...I am still learning loads and would love to hear from you!

*GOALS: No good activity starts without goals, a target you are shooting for. In my case, I had a couple for this particular set of activities: 1) Introduce aspects of South America via visuals and activities kids could relate to AND 2) Allow for practice of basic vocabulary we continue to revisit. And, as I said above, I also was looking for a different approach to class in order to head off some behavioral issues that were running rampant in circle.

*ORGANIZATION: Oh my! FLOPS galore in this area! Not having done centers before, it took me a few attempts to get things to run smoothly...and by a few attempts, I mean YIKES! Remember also that I teach my First Graders 100% in Spanish, no English whatsoever from me, which made framing the CONCEPT of centers challenging until I got the wording and accompanying visuals the way I wanted them. I had to figure out how to best convey the idea of rotating through activities over the course of 5 classes (one activity each class), and then keep track of the rotation itself so that I knew who had gone where. Here are some things I learned in this area that kept the TL flowing without using English (modify as appropriate!):

-Take a picture of each centers activity set up; name/label them, and create a poster or document in Google drive with the photos in order, along with arrows going from one to the next to indicate a rotation.

-Divide kids up into groups prior to starting (I like to be in control of this to maximize time and avoid arguments & hurt feelings between kids-you may want to have them select where they want to go for the first rotation, and then rotate from there). Put the list of names for each group on a sticky note and place each note under the photos on the rotation poster. This allows you to move them after each class  so you can keep track of where each group goes next-and helps you convey the idea that they will rotate through each activity eventually.

-I used the phrase 'actividades en grupos' (activities in groups) to identify what we were going to be doing. Before I do centers again (yes, I think I will!), I am going to head over to the gen ed classrooms and take some photos of kids in centers with their homeroom which I think will drive home the meaning without having to translate.

-Whether you are on a cart, or have a classroom, organizing each centers materials in large ziploc bags or bins/baskets makes for easy distribution and clean up. (I wish I had figured this out right from class #1, but alas, it took me a couple of classes to realize it would be more helpful rather than a pile of materials!)

-Have something for them to do if they finish early! It took me a couple of classes to gauge how long each centers activity would take. And, there are always those speed racers who are done in two seconds flat regardless of how many times you say 'geez, I think you might need to ____'. Having a follow up activity definitely helped! (I opened up a portion of my class library so kids could look at books related to South America, animals, and food, along with mini books they could read and color).

*THE ACTIVITIES: As I stated above in my goals, I wanted to present some aspects of South America relevant to the age level of my students. I also wanted activities that didn't allow a lot of down time that turned into chit chatting in English. This is an area where I know I can improve! Although my kiddos did a good job of using the target language to complete each activity, there was still some chatting at various points, though I have to say I frequently heard them using Spanish along with the English as they chatted! Another important consideration in choosing the activities was being sure they were all simple enough that I didn't have to give lots of instructions. One really successful thing I did in this regard was use my Illustrated Instruction Cards at each center as a visual guide. Here are the five I did:

Centers Ideas for FLES Spanish and French Elementary Classes for Kids

1) Toucan color by number: I introduced this by referencing toucans living in Colombia and Venezuela, pointing to our map which we had been working with all year- one thing I would add to this introduction would be to have small toucan icons I could place on the map as I introduced the activity to further reinforce the connection. Kids referenced our colors bulletin board when needed, which worked out really well & supported their emerging literacy skills.

2) Bolivian Stick Puppets: These were also introduced by referencing the map, as well as showing dolls and photos from a variety of sources from Bolivia so kids could see traditional clothing and colors. Again, I would definitely have icons to put up on the big class map.

3) Puzzles and Hidden Pictures: I put these activities together- three puzzles, including one of South America, and a print out from Usborne's '1001 Cosas Para Ver en la Granja', the rainforest page. My kiddos were really great about counting in Spanish as they looked for the hidden pictures, and had a really fun time with the puzzles. It was a little harder to connect this center to the overall theme; I have to re-think the make up before I use it again. See my post here on how to make puzzles yourself!

4) Word Search of Animals and Fruits of South America: I really like word searches as an opportunity for kids to read and interact with print in the target language. Each word was illustrated, and consisted of many cognates/words they already knew, which worked out well. I need to work on tying this center in better when I introduce it; again, icons on the map would definitely help!

5) Number Counting Cards: Seen in the top photo, I put out a set of number cards (with the number word on each) along with a set of items to count and place on each card. I had several different things to count (mini erasers from Target, tally mark mini cards, dice mini cards, dominos, and magnetic numbers) so that they practiced the numbers multiple times and weren't finished with the activity in a New York minute. I like that it also allowed them to practice content based skills (math) along with the language! One thing that really helped with this activity was to have a small photo at the center showing one number card complete, further reinforcing the idea that they needed to use all of the items on each card. Again, kids referencing our numbers bulletin board if they had trouble reading the word in Spanish. NOTE: cultural element for this one was the penguins on each card-connected to Chile and Argentina :) You can grab this centers activity in our shop here.

Simple Centers Ideas for FLES Spanish and French Elementary Classes

I SHOULD ALSO NOTE that I left approximately 15 minutes of each class (30 minute classes total) for the centers portion of the lesson. This allowed for our greeting activity and any tooth news/ birthdays to celebrate, reminding and reinforcing how each center connected to the theme, telling kids where they were going for the day, and clean up/ wrap up before they left. This was JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF TIME for my kids and the activities I had planned!

*FOLLOW UP: Once all groups had rotated through each center, it was time to bring it all back to the overall theme, South America. Here is where the icons could be useful again, calling up kiddos to place them on the class map in accordance with what we had talked about (instead I taped up the activities themselves-¡qué feo!).  Debriefing can be a little challenging with First Graders, especially all in the TL, so using the map as a "graphic organizer" of sorts really helped!

Please let me know what you think! Suggestions are welcome!

Here are TWO new centers packs, with more on the way!
VENEZUELA Cultural Centers Pack
Las Frutas Centers Pack


  1. Sábes donde puedo encontrar mapas como los que salen en tu foto? - Gracias

    1. Hola Marcela! Yo los busqué en Google Images, y los imprimí desde allá. :) Julie

  2. Muchas gracias por esta informacion! Yo estaba imaginando como seria posible hacer "centers" en mis clases y los consejos aqui me ayudan mucho. Gracias! :)