File folder centers can really help you differentiate instruction, allowing extra practice for those who need it and also allowing fast finishers to move on to additional activities that will challenge them.
You can use books like those from Scholastic’s Mini File-Folder Centers in Color series to create centers. Just cut and paste — no copying or coloring needed. Carson-Dellosa, whose copy and color center games books provided hours of occupation for so many of us back in the day, even has ready made centers in a box, such as Science File Folder Games: Skill-Building Center Activities for Science. They also have new cut and paste books like Colorful File Folder Games. These centers are available for PK through elementary in practically every subject. Our Princess and the Pea unit works well for centers, too.
You can also make your own, though. Here are some basic recipes for creating file folder centers from leftover classroom decoratives.
Worksheet style centers
Janie Blagg made this one, decorating it with bits cut from the header of her bulletin board (we never throw away those headers!) and then she laminated it. As long as kids use erasable markers, they can erase the answers and you can reuse the same sheets for years.
Pick and Put centers
Myra Grayson showed us how to make these, and I can’t count how many we’ve made since then! The central idea is to put pockets with items to be sorted, plus pockets to sort the things into. In this example, little ones sort clock faces saying 12:00 from those with other times, as a first step toward time telling (it fits with a Cinderella theme).
We like it for any kind of true/false question, sorting into groups like living/nonliving or plant/animal/mineral. We’ve used it to sort things true about Native Americans, European American settlers, and both.
As you can see in the example below, you don’t have to use pockets (though we love Peel and Stick Book Pockets for the convenience). The center below hasn’t yet been glued into its file folder, but we’ve used die cut frog cutouts for Fact and Opinion and then written facts and opinions on the backs of little frog mini accents. We adhered the paper to the folder and added the clear pocket full of statements.
For the example below, we used cutouts for the sorting files, leaving the edges unglued so kids can tuck the slips into place. This center compares words like “mandible” with words like “animal” and “beetle,” focusing on the different spelling patterns for the same English sound. We wrote words on paper slips, leaving off the endings so kids can sort them according to the spellings. We were working with an insect theme here, so we’ve got D.J.Inkers’ Ladybugs Cut-Outs, but anything will work. We actually cut the storage pocket (the red pocket where the word slips are stored when the center is not in use) from paper, since we didn’t have a library pocket on hand.
Mini timeline centers are versatile, and they make make great use of those leftover border strips. For this one, we used a fiesta themed border and wrote events from Mexican history on craft sticks. We taped the border down with double-sided tape just along the bottom and laminated the folder. Then we used a craft knife to slice open the top only of the border, creating a long pocket. One strip of an ordinary bulletin board border will make a two-pocket file folder center like this one.
Students arrange the sticks in the pockets created by the border. We put the dates on the back of the sticks to make it self-checking.
We’ve used this for history stuff involving dates, of course, but also for steps in a process, events in a book, the alphabet — anything that needs to be put in order.
Okay, now invite your friends over for an evening of file folder center creation. Have them bring all the leftover decoratives from their classroom closets so you can swap and get a good assortment of goodies, put on a fun movie, and make a party of it!