If you’ve been in my corner of the internet for a while, then you know that I LOVE learning stations. Stations are such a staple in my curriculum that students expect them and know exactly what to do on a “stations” day. I’ve been using them ever since my first year of teaching when I realized that I could turn any boring PowerPoint into a set of creative stations. But it wasn’t until a few years in that I realized I was missing out on a prime opportunity for learning stations: the first few days of school. The realization was so obvious but yet so powerful. If I’m using stations throughout the entire school year, why wouldn’t I set the tone with them at the beginning of the year?
And so, my back-to-school learning stations were born! Ever since, I’ve started my school year the exact same way: Investigate the Teacher on Day 1, and Back to School Stations on Day 2. (To see what I do the rest of the first week, head to this blog post).
FYI: If you’ve never heard of learning stations, they are essentially a set of different tasks of activities that small groups of students rotate through during the lesson. Each “station” or task can be just about anything: an excerpt from a text, an essential question to discuss, a video clip, a creative activity, etc. Stations are a great way to combine mini-activities or tasks into a cohesive, student-centered lesson. For more information on learning stations, you can start HERE with my blog post series. To learn about why you should add stations to your first week of school plans, then keep reading!
Here are 5 reasons why learning stations will help you have a great first week back to school:
1. Learning stations will set the tone for the rest of the year.
If you are a teacher who works hard to facilitate engaging, student-centered learning experiences, then your first few days of school should reflect just that! And if you plan to use learning stations throughout the year, then why not use them from the very start? This way, you can send the message that students will be active participants in their learning. You can also preview a lesson structure (learning stations) that you will use often and model your expectations. Then, when you’re ready to facilitate your first set of content-specific stations, your students will be familiar with the routine and ready to jump right in.
My back-to-school learning stations are very similar, organizationally speaking, to the other stations I use throughout the year. The stations feature a blend of different tasks, combine individual activities with collaborative tasks, and utilize the technology we will rely on throughout the year (like Google forms & Padlet).
2. Learning stations are engaging and student-centered.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of planning teacher-centered lessons for the first day of school. Just think about the typical routines you see most teachers doing: reviewing the syllabus, clicking through “Get to Know Your Teacher” slideshows, outlining expectations, etc. But again, if you’re a teacher who, like me, embraces a student-centered philosophy, then it’s time to flip those teacher-centered routines into student-centered lessons. Facilitating learning stations the first week of school can be a great way to promote this and show your students that they will be the ones working, discussing, questioning, and learning.
Here are a few examples of how to transform a teacher-centered back-to-school routine into a more student-centered strategy. You can use all of these ideas for back-to-school learning stations:
- Instead of reviewing the most important part of the syllabus with your students, ask them to read the document and explain what they think is most important to know. Then, facilitate a discussion and come to a consensus on why different parts of the syllabus are important.
- Instead of outlining your expectations and procedures, ask students to co-create them with you. Students can brainstorm expectations in small groups. Then, you can bring the whole class together and create a document of the most important expectations. (Of course, add your own when necessary!)
- Instead of showing a “Meet Your Teacher” slideshow, ask students to “investigate” you by observing your classroom for clues about your teaching style, personality, expectations, interests, etc. This is exactly what we do in my “Investigate the Teacher” Activity on the first day of school. I use it as a separate lesson, but I’ve heard from many teachers who add it as a station in my back-to-school stations. To learn more about this activity, check out this FAQ blog post.
3. Learning stations help you get to know your students (and help your students get to know each other).
When students are placed in small groups for back-to-school learning stations, they can begin to get to know each other and work on collaboration skills. Like I mentioned earlier, my back-to-school stations are structured as a mix of individual and group tasks. This way, students can get to know each other and build community without being overwhelmed. When you facilitate learning stations the first few days of school, it’s also helpful so you can observe which classes work well together and which groups may need some extra guidance on collaborating effectively.
In addition to allowing students to get to know each other, these learning stations can also help you get to know the students. Since stations don’t require you to be up in front of the classroom, you are free to roam around and chat with students. In fact, the random conversations I end up having with kiddos during our back-to-school stations just might be my favorite. It’s during these moments that I actually connect with students and put a face to their names.
4. Learning stations are low-prep and low-stress.
Let’s be honest: The first few days of school are overwhelming…unless you strategically plan low-stress activities that give you and your students some breathing room. I wrote about this concept in my blog post of tips for a no-stress first day of school, and it applies perfectly to learning stations. Teachers already have so much to do the first few days of school, so it’s helpful to keep lessons low-prep and simple. The best part about stations is that once you’ve planned and prepped them, all the hard work is done.
During the actual lesson, you can be that “guide on the side” and relax a little as you circulate around the room to check in with groups. Alternatively, you can pick one important station and join each group as they participate in it. For example, one of my back-to-school stations involves goal-setting. I often pull up a chair and join students during that station, as opposed to other stations that may be more individual (like the student survey station) or require less teacher guidance (like the “one word” activity).
5. Learning stations are easy to create with activities or ideas you already have and love.
If you have some back-to-school activities you already love, try combining them with a few fresh ideas in a set of learning stations. Or, if you have a collection of less-than-engaging back-to-school tasks, try reimagining them in a creative, student-centered stations format. If you’re struggling to repurpose your existing content, check out my student-ready back-to-school stations resource OR read this blog post about how I create learning stations.
Ready to fall in love with learning stations and pencil them in your back-to-school plans?! You can check out my editable, print/digital Back-to-School Learning Stations. Stay tuned for a future blog post with more ideas for tailoring your stations to you and your students.
If you’re looking for similar engaging, student-centered resources for the first week of school, check out my favorites below:
- Investigate the Teacher Activity (a fun first-day challenge your students won’t forget)
- All About Me Activity + Class Ebook (a great way to get to know your new students)
- Personality Test Reflection (another option to get to know your students on a deeper level)
- Get-to-Know-You Speed Discussion (an easy way to engage every student and build class community from the start)
- Syllabus Templates (a simple switch from your text-heavy syllabus makes a big difference)
For more help planning your first few days of school, check out the following posts:
- 5 Tips for A Stress-Free First Day of School
- Why I Don’t Review the Syllabus on the First Day of School (And What I Do Instead)
- Back to School Activities for In-Person or Virtual Learning
- Investigate the Teacher: Frequently Asked Questions
- Investigate the Teacher: What to Include in Your Virtual Exhibits
- Using Personality Tests in the Classroom
To learn more about facilitating learning stations in your middle or high school classroom, check out the following posts: