School Counseling Centers FAQs

If you’ve downloaded my free ebook with 101 ideas for school counseling centers and still have questions about how to do school counseling centers, this is for you! I compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions that I’ve received and hopefully answered them so that you can get started with centers in your classroom guidance lessons!

If you've downloaded my free ebook with 101 ideas for school counseling centers and still have questions about how to do school counseling centers, this is for you! I've compiled a list of the most frequent questions so that you can get started with centers in your classroom guidance lessons!

How to do School Counseling Centers: FAQs

How should I store my centers?

Use clear plastic tubs to store your center materials. Use one tub for each set of centers. In the tub, divide your materials in numbered, gallon sized (or larger, depending on the materials) re-sealable bags. Inside each bag, include all of the materials for one center: your center label, all necessary handouts, and all necessary manipulatives. On the back of each item in the bag, write the number that corresponds to the bag so that clean-up will go smoothly. Even if materials get mixed up for some strange, chaotic reason (let’s just expect it…), students will be able to look at each item, find the number, and place the items in the correct bag.

See an example here:

If you've downloaded my free ebook with 101 ideas for school counseling centers and still have questions about how to do school counseling centers, this is for you! I've compiled a list of the most frequent questions so that you can get started with centers in your classroom guidance lessons!

How do you set up centers in a teacher’s classroom if you don’t have your own counseling classroom?

With organized center storage, setting up in a classroom teacher’s room is much easier! Bring your tub, place the numbered bags on the designated center areas. Think ahead about how the teacher has the room set up: are there groups of desks? organized tabled? any logical flow for center rotation? You might even want to draw a diagram of the teacher’s room ahead of time and make a plan for where each center will be located so that you can cut down on set up time once you’re in the room.

How do you handle clean up?

This is really a personal decision that will be influenced by the norms in the classroom teacher’s room or in your school. Talk to your teachers and find out what verbal and visual cues they give to let students know it’s time to clean up. Give students a 2-3 minute warning time so they know it’s time to start wrapping up. When it’s time to clean up, students can place the materials back in the numbered bags. Ask one student at each center to bring the bag back to the tub.

How many students do you have per center?

This really depends on your class size, the number of centers you want to use, and your time allotment. For a 45 minute class period, it’s feasible to have a schedule like this friendship centers set up:

  • Warm up (read How to be a Friend): 5 min
  • Review center details: 5 min
  • Center 1 – Qualities I want in a friend: 5 min
  • Center 2 – Qualities I bring to a friendship: 5 min
  • Center 3 – What I like to do with friends: 5 min
  • Center 4 – What friendship means to me: 5 min
  • Center 5 – Friendship dilemmas: 5 min
  • Debrief/wrap-up: 5-10 min

In 45 minutes, students hear an introductory story, hear about how the centers work, visit 5 centers, and debrief. Assuming you have a class smaller than 30, you could have under 6 students at each center. I prefer to have no more than 4-5 students at a center at any given time.

How long should students spend at each center?

This really depends on the centers you’re using. Most center activities are meant to be short and time-limited. If students are spending more than 10-15 minutes at the center, they might lose interest, become distracted, etc. Aim for center activities that are under 15 minutes.

Can centers be done with primary students?

Of course! Most primary teachers regularly use centers in their classrooms, so students are used to doing them already. Ask a primary teacher in your building who has great classroom management skills if you can pop in during center time to see how things are done.  When doing centers with primary students, make sure your activities can be completed independently or with peer support and keep them short.

How often do you do centers?

Only when it’s appropriate and fits in with the curriculum. If there is a topic that students would benefit from more focused, small group exploration, centers are a great way to accomplish this. For example, some counselors may find that whole-group mindfulness activities aren’t a great fit with their students, so small group mindfulness centers may be a better fit. In this case, students will try time-limited mindfulness exercises with a small group of peers.

If you are in the specials rotation, you might find that doing centers fits in naturally as you have more structured and consistent time with your students. You could teach a lesson on the effects of stress and introduce stress management strategies and then follow up in your next lesson with stress management centers. Centers really provide an opportunity for students to dive deeper into the concepts that are taught in a whole group lesson with a more small group focused feel.

Is there an introductory lesson?

Introductory lessons or mini lessons are appropriate before diving into centers in most cases. Introduce concepts in your mini lesson and then let students explore the concepts through hands-on activities in the centers. For example read The Big Test and then let students practice their test-taking strategies in centers.

How can centers be used in small group?

This will really depend on the focus and goal of your group. Most centers can work well as a small group activity, as a whole. One small group of 5-6 students can complete a center activity together and feasibly complete 2-3 of the center activities in a group session. I’m not sure that I’d break up a small group into even small groups for centers because at that point, you are navigating away from group process, but do what works for you and is best for your students.

How do you handle kids who might not take care of the materials?

You know your students best. If you have a few students who do not take care of materials, split them up and place them in small center groups with positive peer role models. If the class as a whole doesn’t take care of materials, independent time with the materials in centers probably isn’t a good fit. Consider doing several character lessons on respect, responsibility, and dependability first 🙂 And of course…laminate EVERYTHING.

How can you run them efficiently?

Consider your time constraints and plan accordingly. Organizing your materials in the bins/bags described above will help you to start on the right foot. Have a clear method for signaling wrap-up and transition time. For example, play music during your centers. When the music stops, students know it’s time to wrap up what they’re working on at that center. When the music starts again, students know it’s time to move to the next center. You can also use a visual timer on your projector/SmartBoard to let students know how much time is remaining at each center.

What’s next?

If you’re still curious about how to do school counseling centers, be sure to download the free ebook with 101 ideas for counseling centers. Download it here! And if you’re ready to get started with centers, plan your activities with these centers on empathy, friendship, self regulation, anger management, and more!

If you have more questions about how to do school counseling centers, leave your questions in the comments!

Happy Counseling! -Counselor Keri

If you've downloaded my free ebook with 101 ideas for school counseling centers and still have questions about how to do school counseling centers, this is for you! I've compiled a list of the most frequent questions so that you can get started with centers in your classroom guidance lessons!

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11 thoughts on “School Counseling Centers FAQs

  1. Two questions…
    I know you try to make centers that take approximately the same amount of time. However, what if one group finishes much sooner than others? How do you handle that?
    Also, in your center bundle, do you give a suggestion/example for the mini lesson you do before each center topic?

    1. I really try to give time warnings to help make sure we can rotate on time (2-3 minute warning). But if one group finishes early, I do try to have a backup activity and it’s sometimes as simple as write your reaction to this center/remaining questions you have on a sticky note. Sometimes it’s something like, write a note to the next group at this center to brighten their day. Generally though, the timing isn’t too much of an issue. I don’t have the mini-lesson suggestions in there mostly because everyone I’ve talked to is using them so differently. Some people are using the centers in the specials rotation, so they teach a full lesson on a topic and then their next session or two are the centers. Others are doing centers in one classroom guidance lesson and they are just picking their favorite book to use for a mini lesson early on.

  2. I love the idea of counseling centers- but I’m not sure the amount of reading required for some of the centers would be appropriate for younger grade levels (K-1). How do you accommodate for lower grade levels or students who aren’t strong readers?

    1. Hey Jen! For K-1, centers are typically play or manipulative focused. For example, using blank face mats an play dough to create emotions/facial expressions, use play dough to create tools for community helpers, or matching images of scenarios to images of facial expressions, so very minimal text, if any. I do typically have one center with me where I’ll read a book on whatever topic we’re talking about and then the other centers are focused on that topic as well. I hope that helps!

  3. Hi Keri, I love this idea. Is there anyway your going to break up the lesson plans around Centers?

    Thank you Nicole

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