First of all, we call them "Stations" in our classroom. That at least takes some of the "primary" off them!
Stations are an important part of our class for about half the year. They help me to differentiate instruction for my students, provide enrichment opportunities, allow my students to follow their interests, and most importantly to me: they free up some time to give feedback to my kids on their work! I often like to schedule as many "pullouts" during this time period as well, since speech, ELL, social work, etc. can all be considered a "station" to a child. They handle being pulled out so much better when they think of it as a station!
We start "Stations" approximately one third to one half of the way through the school year. This is when I feel I know my students well enough to create an individualized learning plan for each of my kids without wasting their time. I have already tried to help them fix certain problems like using periods and capitals, or writing a timed prompt in 15 minutes. If a student still doesn't show mastery (or close to it) by now, I feel comfortable using some "Stations" time to practice that skill. It would be silly to do so at the beginning of the year, because so many students improve with just a few reminders or tips.
How do I get started with Stations in my Classroom?
The rest of this blog post may make more sense after you watch the video at the top of this post. It shows what the first day of stations looked like in our room.
To introduce Stations, I don't spend much time doing so. I simply tell my students where they can find their schedules for the week (see image at left), show them how to find the directions for each station (seen in the video below), and point to each station in the classroom. If they need anything from me, it is printed on their schedule to get it from me. Otherwise, they are not allowed to ask me any questions during a rotation (but they can between rotations). This is to prevent those constant interruptions while I'm working with a child or a small group. It also encourages collaboration and problem-solving...
What kinds of stations do I have for my kids?
Well, quite a few! I have the traditional stations based on subjects (e.g. math, science/social studies, writing, etc.), and I have some newer ideas that work best in an intermediate setting. Those include a Games Station where students have several educational games to choose between. They have to read the directions themselves (there are always 2-4 students assigned to a station at a time so they can figure it out collaboratively). You can read about all of my stations in more detail at the end of this post.
One of my students' favorite stations is actually a packet! The station is called CTAC, and it stands for Choice Time Activity Center. This is the name of the place that their CTAC packets are kept. These packets are often enrichment-based and work directly to increase my students' critical thinking or creative thinking skills. Some packets are extra practice for skills that a student hasn't mastered yet (they don't really care for those!!!).
I am a crazy good Garage-Saler! Every Friday morning throughout the summer, I spend about three hours going to local garage sales and picking up items that would work well in my stations! I also take things people are throwing away if I think they make a good Station item! I shop at the Dollar Store and love library sales for craft books or old educational board games! I've written grants. I've posted requests on DonorsChoose.org. There are so many ways to accumulate materials for stations, you just have to keep it on your mind so you don't miss any opportunities for a great deal! :)
Where do I store all this stuff?
When I moved from my classroom of ten years to a new classroom, I took advantage of the opportunity to re-design my classroom space. So many people these days are swapping out their desks for tables and getting cool rolley-chairs, but I had a zero dollar budget and a bigger need than comfort. I had to find a way to store all of my books for my students and all of the materials for my stations!!!
One entire wall of my classroom was a blank slate. It was actually a foldable wall that originally was opened up, but with my loud voice, no one was ever going to want to open that wall up again with me next door! So I decided to build a massive shelving system along it. Here is a detailed explanation with photos of how I built it. I measured everything out, bought the materials from the local hardware store, and had a finished project for about $600. It took about two days of labor for two people, and has been a God-send for me! The slide show below shows where I store most of my station materials. I also have one cabinet and one additional book shelf by the windows dedicated to station supplies!
I am a big fan of spreadsheets and have been using Excel since I was a kid! (I hope I don't lose you as a reader here!) Although you certainly don't have to take Stations to this level, I love doing so (Sick, huh?)! Below is a screen shot of my "Planning Worksheet" in my spreadsheet. It has the students names along the left and the station names at top. Since many stations are differentiated, I spend time determining which stations each child would benefit from. Once I have an idea of which stations each child NEEDS, I look at enrichment opportunities and place "X"s in the appropriate cells.
I use color codes for me, so I can make sure to divide students somewhat evenly when resources are thin, or to ensure that a few people are at a station (and not just one). I also color code things when trying to make sure I have the right number of kids in my small group when I working with them. Color codes do not transfer to the students' schedules.
Stations are an excellent way for me to meet the needs of my students. It also continues to reinforce the importance of being self-sufficient, problem-solving when stuck, and collaborating with peers rather than relying on teacher direction. Although my design is quite complex, I encourage you to try Stations with your intermediate students and comment below on your observations!
A Brief Explanation of Some of Our Stations:
Blogs (Checklists & Revisions)
- I give my students a list of blogs that are due. They need to check their blog against my sample blog and its directions. If they missed any steps or did them without strong effort, they take the time now to revise their posts. By the end of the year, this will have a self-assessment component.
Pop Math Multiplication/Division
- Students who are weaker on their math facts use an iPad app called PopMath to practice their facts. I determine if it is multiplication or division. They determine their level (although I say it must be 5th grade or above).
Check in on Spelling Homework with Mr. Solarz
- Some of my students have demonstrated a weakness for completing their spelling homework. (We use spellingcity.com, so students have to play games to practice their words.) I check in with those students and tell them if they are behind, they need to work during all lunch recesses to catch up.
- SQUIRT stands for Sustained Quiet Uninterrupted Reading Time and just means Silent Reading with a self-selected book. I like the acronym (and so do my students), so we use it!
- CTAC stands for Choice Time Activity Center which is where my students CTAC packets are kept. These packets are enrichment or reinforcement of skills based on students' needs.
- I have boxes of math manipulatives, games, and puzzles that relate to each chapter in our math program. I put out the activities that relate to what we are learning in class and students determine which activities to complete. Some are hard, some are not as hard, but students have choice here.
Game Station / Choose another station
- I have a Games Station that contains several fun educational games that students can choose between. They have to figure out all the games themselves (and can even create a video for others explaining how to play the game once they've mastered it). If this station is too hard or not fun enough, students can choose any other station to go to.
Science / Social Studies Station
- This station alternates between Science and Social Studies based on what we're working on (although we do Science and Social Studies concurrently, there is not always a need for both). It contains things like a turkey skeleton that they need to try to identify each bone, maps & globes, a computer for research, etc.
- Since our district has adopted a formal writing program that does not include time for writing workshop, this is my students' opportunity to write about topics that interest them. I give them a packet that directs their planning, drafting, and revising, so students have some structure, but most of the choice is theirs.
Math Instruction with Mr. Solarz
- This is my opportunity to Pre-Teach or Re-Teach anything to anyone based on need. It is great as a review for a test, or to prepare for tricky skills to come.
Periods & Capitals Packet
- Some of my students still don't use periods and capitals on a regular basis. This station requires them to complete a packet of worksheets focused on end punctuation and capitalization. I tell my students they can "graduate" from this station when they correct all of their blog entries correctly on their own time. If not, they will get more of these packets until the end of the year. (I know, I'm evil.) :) P.S. I have already worked with each child individually to make sure they actually understand these rules and they do - now they just need consistency!
Writing Endurance Station
- Some of my students can't finish a full-page of writing in 15 minutes (which is a basic requirement of our Writing program). This station works to increase their writing endurance. I give them a prompt and they write until they have a full page, even if it cuts into their next station! I always make sure that their next station is something that will motivate them to work hard!!!
- Some students will watch a CNN Student News episode on an iPad or computer, while others will read an article on Newsela that is at their reading level. I alternate or focus it based on the needs of each child. I also have a subscription to Scholastic News and Time for Kids this year, so some small groups will be formed around those issues.