The classroom station rotation model can make a big difference in the engagement of your students.
Is this scenario familiar?
You’ve prepared a fantastic lesson on one of your favorite topics. The Powerpoint is colorful and eye-catching and you’re very animated as you go through the slides. You gaze around the classroom and very few students are looking at you. Many of them have their head in their hands or down on their desks. No one will answer your questions. Why aren’t they interested in your amazing lesson?
Most likely, there’s nothing wrong with your lesson at all. Your students may just need a change of pace and the opportunity to get up and move around a bit. This is where station rotation can be a game-changer for both you and your students!
The Classroom Station Rotation Model of Teaching
Stations are exactly what they sound like … different areas of your classroom set up with various tasks for students to complete. When you ask them to move from station to station, either at their own pace or with time limits, that is station rotation.
Middle and secondary teachers have, in general, moved away from using stations in their lessons. We tend to ask our older students to sit, absorb, and work more in their seats. And certainly, this is a useful strategy. As our students move up through the grade levels, they need to be able to focus for longer lengths of time.
But sitting in classrooms all day is hard. Just think about the last professional development you had. Did you have to sit for hours at a time listening to someone? I know my mind wanders after a fairly short period of time in a situation like this, especially if it’s a topic that I’m not particularly interested in.
Implementing stations in my classroom helped immensely. Behavior problems decreased, students were very engaged, and I looked forward to teaching on my “station days.” Here are some tips that helped me if you think this is something you might like to try. And here’s an earlier blog post with more ideas.
Tips for Implementing Stations in Your Classroom
- Independent directions – most of your stations should have tasks that students can complete without direction or explanation from you. Teacher-led stations would be the exception to this. That doesn’t mean students won’t have questions … it just means that any questions they might have are ones that you can answer while you circulate. Their questions should not stop them from at least starting the task.
- Prep your students first – this is really important, especially when you first start using stations. Lay out some ground rules as to what’s acceptable and what is not in terms of volume and movement. Show each station and briefly explain the task. Tell them whether they’ll be timed or can work at their own pace. Groups of 2 or 3 seemed to work the best for me. I try to have no more than 4 in a group.
- Have multiple stations for each task – this is important, especially for tasks that take a bit of time. If you have 2 or 3 areas set up for each station, it prevents the bottleneck problem. Having students standing around and waiting for their turn at a station is just asking for behavior issues. Another option here is to have a “break station” where they can finish up anything they still need to work on.
- Each station should be independent of the others – it helps if they can complete the stations in any order, at least for most of them. There are times when you might have 1 station that must follow another one but try to minimize those. I usually set mine up so that they could start at any station and then go in order from there. Having multiple setups really helped with this.
- Have a different type of task at each station – there are many different tasks you can have your students complete. Science really lends itself well to this type of teaching! Examples: reading passages with analysis questions, graphs, CERs, mini-labs, writing assignments, online labs, simulations, field trips, sorting activities, labeling, coloring … I’ve used tasks in all of these areas and they all work well. Of course, some topics lend themselves to certain tasks more than others. But it’s relatively easy to tweak activities that you’re already doing and make them “station compatible.”
You don’t have to have a lot of stations for each day. Sometimes 2 or 3 is all you need, especially when you and your students are just starting out with this.
Place anything you can in sheet protectors or laminate. I like to have a separate direction sheet for each station. I put them in sheet protectors and then I can re-use them over and over. Have large, eye-catching signs for each station so students don’t have to wander around looking for the next one.
Make sure to have a recording sheet for each student, even if they’re working in groups. It holds them all accountable for their work. You can collect them and maybe grade one station’s answers. Or you can check them as students complete different stations.
Once you’ve finished a set of stations, briefly go over the answers for each or discuss open-ended ones.
Watch this short video to see station rotation in action!
Try Using Classroom Station Rotation!
Pick one lesson or topic and create a set of stations for it. Set a goal of having 3 different tasks, prep your students, and let them give it a try! It may keep them from sleeping on their desks! Let us know how it goes!
I’m so glad that you got some helpful tips here! I always stress to teachers that you don’t have to jump in full force on new techniques. Just start small and slow, with one lesson or unit, and see how it goes and what you need to tweak. If you try it come back here and let me know how it went!
I have not used Station Rotations much in my Biology class because it seemed overwhelming to me to set up a ton of activities for one class. The tips you wrote about gave me some good ideas for future stations that my students can complete. I like how you mentioned that there doesn’t always have to be a bunch of stations, and just doing a few can work. The tasks you suggested for different stations were helpful to me as well.