First Grade Math Centers: Idea, Activities & Games

Instructor: Shelby Golden
Find out how to set up a math center for first graders with this article. You'll learn more about ideas for these centers and discover fun activities and games for your students.

Setting up Math Centers

General Goals and Ground Rules

You can set up your math center in a variety of ways, as long as you focus on providing students with an effective way to practice and improve the mathematics skills they're currently learning in class. Centers should be a daily part of class and, and students should understand what's expected of them when they use the center. Talk with students about how they should act during center time, focusing on sharing, taking turns and cleaning up after themselves. It's also a good idea to demonstrate how to complete any new activities you include in the center.

Keep in mind that you need to be around during center time to answer any questions that come up and to support student learning. This also gives you a great opportunity to assess how well your students understand the mathematical concepts they're learning.

Using the Center

How you move your students through the center is also up to you. Consider implementing a rotation system, or an independent, self-paced system where students can keep track of their progress. In any case, only 2-6 students should be working at the center at the same time.

Students will learn best when solving problems and working together. Consider the kind of math center that meeds the needs of your students. A center could focus on supplemental reading materials that cover math topics learned in class, or could provide activities and games to help your students get hands-on practice with numbers.

Math Center Activities

Number Matching

This activity encourages students to collect matching numbers, words and tally marks.


  • Flashcards with numbers, number words and tally marks from 5-20 written on them
  • Paper bags with number words from 5-20 printed on them

Students will be given a bag and tasked with collecting all of the cards that match the number word on the bag. Focusing on this activity helps students get familiar with the relationship between numerals, number words and tallies.


This fun activity lets kids get hands-on with making numbers.


  • Play-Doh
  • Papers with large numbers as a guide (laminated)

Hand out number cards and Play-Doh for this activity. Students will use the Play-Doh to fill in the number, getting used to how different numbers should be shaped.


Use this activity to help kids get used to counting different objects.


  • Cups
  • Various objects

Prepare by placing different amounts of objects in different cups. Have students count the items in their cups and record the amounts. You can increase the difficulty of this experiment by mixing different objects in one cup and having them separate and count all of the items.

You can help your students learn even more about numbers with the chapter Numbers for Elementary School. This chapter includes short video lessons and fun quizzes that can reinforce what students are practicing in their math centers.

Math Center Games

Rabbits in the Burrow

This game helps students practice subtraction while having fun. It works best in pairs.


  • Cups
  • Small objects

Have students count the number of original objects. Then one student will cover his or her eyes while the other student takes some of the objects and puts them under the cup. The first student then has to determine how many objects are hidden by subtracting the number of visible objects from the original amount. The student who has the most correct answers after a set amount of time wins!

Give your students an opportunity to learn more about subtraction with this lesson on subtraction for kids.

Train of Numbers

Use this game to help students practice addition and subtraction.


  • 20 blocks
  • A spinner with options for addition and subtraction
  • A dice

Students begin by lining up their blocks like a train. The goal is to remove all of the blocks from the train. To do this they must spin the spinner and land on subtraction. Then they roll the dice. They can remove the number of blocks represented by the dice. However, if they land on addition they must put blocks back on the train. Throughout the game they must record the blocks they are adding and taking away as addition and subtraction problems. For example, if they take spin subtraction and roll a three, they should write 20 - 3 = 17. The game ends when all the blocks are gone or when center time runs out.

Your students can get more practice with addition with this lesson on addition for kids. Check it out to encourage students to keep applying their knowledge.

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