Teaching with a station rotation model is a great way to engage students in directing their own learning, provide an array of individual and group activities, and integrate a variety of instructional tools and resources. A station rotation model means that students rotate through a few different learning stations for a given time period, taking turns at each station.
Setting Up the Classroom
In my middle school ELA/Social Studies classroom, I have four stations that students rotate through, spending around 20-25 minutes at each station within a 90 minute block period. I start the block with about 20 minutes of whole group instruction. For example, we might listen to a Listenwise audio story as a whole class and discuss the listening comprehension questions in pairs, or I might present new information on a topic, or I might provide an overview of new stations.
Then students rotate through several stations. At one station, I do small group instruction, and the other three stations involve different learning activities. For example, one station may have a computer-based literacy skill-building activity, one may have a reading and writing activity, and another may have an interactive game. This teaching model allows me to differentiate instruction and increase the time I spend working with individual students or small groups on specific skills.
We use Google Classroom, and I always include a station rotation slide deck with clear directions outlining what to do at each station. I allow my students to choose how they will work on the assignment, whether in pairs or small groups of four. The learning goals and expectations are also clearly outlined on the whiteboard in the front of the class so they can reference what they need to complete for the day.
I use the station rotation model every day of the week except Wednesdays. On Wednesdays, we use the class time as catch up days, providing flexibility for the students to work on unfinished activities and get further personalized support from me.
I am a strong believer in teaching listening, especially with 20% of the ELA component of the CAASPP now testing listening, so I always have a listening station in my rotation. Whether I teach the lesson to the whole class or ask students to work in pairs or small groups, I like to use public radio podcasts curated by Listenwise with accompanying instructional resources.
We usually listen to one story a week. I might have students listen to the story and answer the discussion questions, or listen to the story and take the listening comprehension quiz, or work in pairs on thinking maps to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate elements of language in the story. Sometimes I ask them to take Cornell notes during listening, then share what they did with a partner. Sometimes we do a four corners activity with debate stories, where students have to choose and explain a position on a topic.
When I do a listening lesson with the whole class or a small group, sometimes I invite students to choose which story we listen to together. I may start by posting an image and asking students to predict what the audio story is about. We listen as a group, and sometimes I ask students to draw images of what they are visualizing as they listen to the audio story. This is especially helpful to English language learners. I also differentiate the discussion questions for ELLs, but sometimes I challenge them with the same questions my honors students are answering. When we are preparing for the listening portion of the standardized test, we mimic the testing scenario, and then I ask students to write a summary of what they listened to using an informational summary writing frame.
When I taught a lesson on The Dust Bowl During the Great Depression, for example, I projected and played the story for the whole class. Students completed the accompanying listening organizer while they listened, and then they answered the listening comprehension questions in writing. In pairs, students used a thinking map to analyze elements of the story using the language of cause and effect. Finally, they played a listening comprehension dice game, in which they took turns with a partner rolling a die and doing a different task to practice literacy skills depending on the number they got. For example, if they roll a 5, they have to make an inference supported by evidence from the story, and if they roll a 6, they have to summarize the story.
Sample Station Rotation Activities
I love using Listenwise at learning stations. Sometimes I ask students to complete a reflective chart on which they first record prior knowledge about a topic. Then they document what they have learned after listening to an audio story, such as the one about the Terracotta Army commissioned by China’s first emperor, and passing through several learning stations with different activities focused on developing their understanding of the topic.
I might ask students to do what I call “flash research.” First, they complete a “5W and one H” chart, in which they answer standard journalistic questions (who, what, where, when, why, how) and then ask additional questions that interest them.
Then I ask each student to choose one of their own questions and do some research to answer it. We use the RACES strategy to practice writing the type of constructed response typical of standardized tests like the CAASPP/SBAC. I also ask them to insert an image and document their sources.
To wrap up the station activities at the end of the week, I ask students to take screenshots of their work and put them into a Google Classroom slide deck.
I like using the station rotation model, which combines differentiated instruction with formative assessment to address a variety of literacy skills while students also learn substantive content. Students enjoy listening to engaging audio stories as a source of information to complement reading materials on related topics. They appreciate the variety of activities in a given class period, rotating every 20 minutes or so. Through these activities, students have the opportunity to practice tested skills, and I have seen clear progress in their work over time. Their responses to listening comprehension and discussion questions, for instance, demonstrate much more attentive listening and improvements in skills such as making inferences and identifying the main idea. I appreciate that using one audio story, I can address the standards for listening, speaking, reading, and writing, as well as addressing social studies content standards.
Today’s blog post is written by Tara Baldwin, who teaches middle school ELA and Social Studies and is the ELA Department Chair at James Workman Middle School Palm Springs School in Palm Springs, CA. Tara has taught for the Palm Springs Unified School District for eighteen years. She is a GATE certified teacher with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Masters of Arts in Teaching. Her goals are to increase her students’ own motivation to learn, show students what is possible, and encourage them to reach for their own dreams.