How To Plan A Station Rotation

Head of Content and Curriculum, Julie Mason, draws on her experience as a blended and personalized learning coach and walks you through the steps for designing a station rotation model so you can try a new instructional approach this school year.

Updated on: September 11, 2019

A step-by-step guide for planning a station rotation Trying something new in the classroom is daunting. We tend to teach the way that we were taught. Often this means whole-group instruction. The Gradual Release may feel like the safer route, but is the safer route what students need?

If you are noticing that your students aren’t engaged, motivated or taking ownership over their learning, it is time to abandon the safe route and try a new approach.

Here’s how to plan a Station Rotation.

A Station Rotation will provide you will an instructional framework where you can personalize and differentiate instruction. Your students will experience different learning opportunities to engage with a topic and practice new skills.

1. Choose the topic or skill you plan to teach.

Less is more when it comes to facilitating a station rotation, especially when this instructional model is new to you. Keep it simple. Choose a skill like how to identify the main idea or a topic like characterization.

2. Decide how many rotations you will include.

Station Rotations usually have three rotations, but ultimately it is up to you to decide what will work best for you and your students. If you have an especially large class, adding a fourth rotation might make sense so there aren’t too many students at each rotation.

3. Write a learning target for each rotation.

Instructional time is precious. We never have enough of it. It is important that the learning activities that students are engaged in at each rotation are meaningful, and connected to learning targets. It is also important that students are aware of what the learning are so they are accountable for the work at each rotation.

4. Design learning activities for each rotation.

Now that you know what topic or skill you are teaching, and what the learning targets are, you are ready to design what students will be doing at each rotation. It is important to keep in mind how much time you will have for each rotation. For example, if you have a 60 minute class period, you will likely need five minutes to set students up, five minutes to wrap up, and 15 minutes for transitions. This means your station rotations will be fifteen minutes long, and whatever activity you design, students should be able to complete it within that time frame.

5. Strategically group students.

It is a best practice to make one of your station rotations a teacher-led station. This gives you the opportunity to work with a small group of students and differentiate your instruction. When you determine groupings for your rotation, plan those groupings based on the instruction you will be giving at your rotation.

6. Create task cards. 

The station rotation model doesn’t work well if students at other stations are getting up out of their seats and interrupting you during your teacher-led rotation. To keep this from happening, create a task card for the other two rotations that includes the learning target and also outlines the specific directions for that activity.

7. Decide how you will assess students

It is important to hold students accountable for the work that they complete at each rotation. I recommend giving students an Exit Ticket or a small assessment that is one question that you can collect. Looking at this will provide you with helpful data that you can use to determine your next instructional move.

8. Practice!

Before you do your first station rotation, walk students through the process. Answer questions that come up, and explain the expectations as well as how students will transition from one station to the other.

9. Get student feedback.

Any time you try something new, know that it isn’t going to go smoothly at first. You will likely make changes as you go. It is helpful to thank your students for trying something new, and to give them the opportunity to provide you with feedback on how it is working for them, and what suggestions they have. This creates buy-in and usually increases engagement.

10. Keep going!

Don’t give up if at first it seems easier to go back to whole-group instruction rather than continue to try this model. Start small. Maybe use the station rotation model once/week. You can always build from there. Be patient with yourself, and pat yourself on the back for trying something new. We don’t grow in our teaching practice without some discomfort.

Do you use Station Rotations in your classroom? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Julie Mason is the Head of Content and Curriculum for TeacherVision. She brings expertise in blended and personalized learning, instructional coaching, and curriculum design to the role. She was a middle and high school English teacher for eight years and most recently taught at Dana Hall, an all-girls school in Wellesley, MA. She was a blended and personalized learning instructional coach for K-12 teachers at BetterLesson for two years, and she has presented at The National Principals Conference, ISTE, and ASCD where she shared her expertise on how instructional coaching builds teacher capacity in K-12 schools. She has extensive experience designing and facilitating professional development for teachers, and she oversees the TeacherVision advisory board.

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