How to Use Learning Stations in a High School Classroom
Learning stations or centers are very popular in elementary grades, but do they work with older students? Absolutely. In fact, they are an incredible tool for focus and learning. So, if you’re wondering how you can use learning stations in a high school classroom, read on! (and if you want some learning stations examples that are ready to use, see the end of the post).
There are so many reasons why I use (and adore) learning stations in my high school classroom, but I’ll give you the quick version here:
- Learning stations get students to focus on small chunks of learning which keeps them from getting overwhelmed
- This focus helps you scaffold skills one at a time and leads to deeper learning
- The students have to get up and moving which not only adds variety to the class but also helps the learning process
- Students love them!
So how do learning stations work with a class full of teenagers? Let me take you through the steps:
1. Plan your learning stations by starting with the end in mind:
Before you begin, you need to know where you’re going. Ask yourself: what is it that I need my kids to know or understand? What skill(s) do they need to work on? At the end of the class, what will be accomplished?
Let me show you what that looks like in my high school classroom:
Pre-Reading Stations give students background information they need before we start a text, like before we begin Shakespeare.
With my Introducing Shakespeare Stations, each station focuses on one part of that information, and when they finish, students have the same information that I used to deliver in a lecture/ hand-out – but in a far more interesting format.
Process Stations require students to go through one step of a process at each station. At the end of the rotation, they will have an outline created for an essay, an essay revised or edited, a poem analyzed, the theme of a text figured out, etc.
Skills-Based Stations require students to work on certain skills and provide time for them to zero in on one skill at a time. For example, by the end of the class, they may have practiced skills for things like descriptive or narrative writing, learned when and how to use transitions, or practiced close reading and note-taking skills.
Chat Stations provide students with topics for discussion, with a different one at each rotation. These could be ideas that they will encounter in a text or real life, and are great for building confidence in students as they get to practice speaking skills in a much smaller group.
2. Break the big task into smaller chunks
Once you decide the purpose and end result of your station activity, you need to decide how you will break it down into small, focused tasks for your kids, ones that will take an equal amount of time.
Chat stations to discuss prereading topics:
If you are doing chat stations, you will have one topic per station. For example, when I do Macbeth, we begin with chat stations that have the students reflecting on and discussing topics like peer pressure, guilt, ambition, etc. Each topic is a different station that gets them engaged in the ideas they will encounter in the text (You can grab this free activity here ).
With Animal Farm, I did stand up chat stations. At one they discussed whether true democracy is ever possible. At another, they discussed the characteristics of a good leader. There were five in all and each one zeroed in on a different idea from the novella.
The chunks of an essay:
If you want the students to complete a finished product like an outline or draft, you need to choose activities where the order that they complete the tasks doesn’t matter.
For example, when I do pre-writing stations for an essay, I make sure that the students already have a thesis before we start. Then, they can brainstorm ideas for an intro, work on developing one point, or think about research they might need at any point in the rotation.
With revision stations, each one focuses on a different step in the process: students look at idea development at one station, word choice at another, use of research at another, and so on. If you want them to analyze a poem, they might look at structure at station one, use of figurative language at station two, diction at station three, etc.
For stations that focus on skill building, each station will require the students to work on one skill at a time. These are especially effective because students are able to zero in on one task without getting overwhelmed.
So, if you want your students to work on descriptive writing, one station may have them working on writing imagery, another will ask them to experiment with metaphor, while the next has them play around with personification.
If you want students to learn how to figure out the theme of a story, stations are perfect for showing them the steps of the process they should follow to do so.
For Poetry Analysis , you could have a station where students look at the sound elements of a poem, another that asks them to look for metaphors, and another where they look at imagery. You could also provide a station where students simply respond to the ideas in the poem without any analysis.
Then, when they have moved through each station – taking the time to focus on one element of analysis at a time – they can meet in groups to look at what they have to discern the overall message in the poem.
There are so many ways you can do this, you just need to take some time before you begin to make sure that you divide the tasks up in a logical way. And you know what? If it’s not exactly perfect the first time, that’s ok!
3. Setting up the learning stations:
So if you want to know how to use learning stations in a high school classroom, you need to start with organization. First of all, you will need to copy the handouts/directions that are required and assemble anything else your students will need:
- Each station will need a task card or a sheet of directions that tell students what needs to happen during that rotation.
- You may also provide a task sheet where students will do their work. However, if they are not passing the work in (assessment ideas are coming), they can do the work in their notebooks – or on a draft they are writing or a text they are annotating.
- If students are required to get information at the station, you may need to photocopy some handouts (or provide a number of computers). If I want them to take notes, I leave four – five copies at the station, so each kid who sits there can use one of the copies to take notes.
- When I do revision stations, I provide students with highlighters, post-its, and colored pencils so they can make their revisions visible. So, at each station, I leave a few of each or tell the kids to take their own as they rotate around.
Second, you’ll need to set up your desks to create the stations. My classroom has the desks set up in groups of four – five students so we just use what we have.
Before the students arrive, I place the required handouts/tools in the middle of each grouping, and tell them to leave their books, etc. off the desks so there is room for everyone to do their work. If your desks are in rows, you’ll just need to move them into groups to create a station.
If you want, you can create title cards or numbers to identify each station. Just take a piece of 8 x 11 paper (card stock works really well for this), fold it over vertically, and write the title or number of the station on it. Then, set it up in the middle of the station.
4. Grouping & timing of the tasks:
There are several ways to approach this. My favorite is to allow students to choose their own groups, especially if the station requires them to work together – they are just more comfortable that way. You can, of course, create the groups so you can separate people who don’t work well together.
Grouping can also be used to differentiate, so students who need more time can be given fewer tasks at each station. Basically, you need to think about the needs of your class and set up the groups accordingly. If you are concerned about keep them on task, make sure you read this post where I give you lots of strategies for doing just that.
As far as timing goes, you can set a timer and have students move as a group once the time is up. When I do this, if I notice that the tasks are taking too long, I’ll add more time for each rotation. (If it’s taking longer because the kids aren’t working, I don’t. Then they realize that if they don’t focus, they don’t finish).
You can also choose to have students just move along individually as they finish each task. This works well when the kids are used to using stations and know the procedure.
5. Assessment of station work:
I rarely assess the work the students do at their stations. This is because they are most often skills/process based tasks and they are working on things that you will eventually assess anyway.
For example, when we do revision stations, I will see the work they did on their drafts because they pass them in to me. If I didn’t do that, the hope is that I’ll “see” the work in the good copy. When they do poetry analysis stations, students are learning how to analyze a poem. This is usually for skill building/confidence before they actually write an analysis, or you could have them use the stations as prewriting before they write an analysis t pass in.
Sometimes, though, you have a class that needs to be held accountable for their work. When I do, I’ll take in task sheets to give them a completion grade. I just assess that the work is done; however, there’s no reason why you couldn’t grade them for correct answers too.
Your role during the activity:
The key to successful stations in a high school classroom is in the teacher’s hands. You need to do the organization up front so they are ready to go when the students enter your room. But it’s also very important that you are circulating as the students work, so you can help them and keep them on task.
Once students get used to the procedure, they’ll be asking to do stations again and again – but there will be some growing pains the first time you do it. Don’t be discouraged if it’s not completely smooth the first time, because you and the students have to get used to a new way of running the class.
I hope I’ve helped you get a clearer idea of how to use learning stations in a high school classroom. It may seem scary at first, but I think if you try, you’ll start using them as a regular activity with your students. Please leave any questions that you have in the comments! And, if you’d like some ready to go stations, check out the links below – or get them all in my Mega Bundle.
Examples of learning stations that are ready to use in your classroom:
Essay Revision Stations
Essay Planning Stations
Responding to Text Stations
Novel Study Stations
Poetry Analysis Stations
Independent Reading Stations
Figurative Language Stations
Research Skills Stations
Introducing Shakespeare Stations
Writing Workshop Stations
Descriptive Writing Stations
Narrative Writing Stations