Whether you have helpers in your classroom or not, students must have time for independent work. They need time to explore, experiment, and investigate. They also need time to practice skills and strategies that you are teaching them. Along with modeling and guided practice, independent practice is a crucial component of instruction.
At the beginning of the school year, independent practice can be very procedural. Students can paint, play with playdough, use computers, put puzzles together, trace names, listen to stories, play in a playhouse, explore at a science center, etc. The skills and instruction needed for these activities is minimal; your focus can be on how to work through problems (e.g., what to do if the computer quits working), how to share materials, and how to pick up. Through these independent centers, students come to understand how to work without the immediate guidance of an adult.
Within a short time, your independent centers can include some skill practice. Students can play syllable, rhyming, alphabet, and number games. It is important that students understand exactly how to complete the activity. To that end it helps to play games that fit similar formats and follow the same rules and procedures.
Independent practice is only beneficial if the students practice the skill correctly. Before presenting a skill as an independent center, provide multiple opportunities for guided practice featuring that skill. If possible have at least one student in each group who has mastered the skill that the students are practicing, also.
If you are looking for independent center ideas, check out any of our units. Each unit includes games that you can play with your students in small or large groups; later they can play these same games independently.
One of our goals in education is to help our students become independent learners. Using independent centers in your classroom will help you achieve this goal.