8 Tips for Teaching Texts through Stations

I was starting to worry about student engagement while annotating or discussing a text. My seventh and eighth graders were following along with modeled close reading, but I wanted to take the next step of gradual release from teacher-led to student independence.

So I started designing station-based rotation activities to break down the task of reading. The benefit of examining a text through stations is that students can look at a text piece-by-piece, such as one paragraph or section at a time OR adding in layers of annotation by just examining one element at a time.

So far, the tasks I’ve left at each station have had a pattern. Each station is designed to EITHER guide students through focused annotation (such as, for example, finding JUST all the similes and metaphors in the poem), OR the station taught a vocabulary word/concept that students had to apply to the text in a focused way (such as deciding if “The Raven” has an unreliable narrator).

Here’s what I learned from doing text stations in class:

Tip 1: Read the text before the stations start. 

There’s usually not enough time to read the text AND do its stations in one class period. When we did stations for “The Raven”, I played a YouTube audio recording (by James Earl Jones) so we could listen to the poem; when we did stations for the “I Have a Dream” Speech, I assigned the speech to be read as homework the night before. (Luckily, when we do stations for “Nothing Gold Can Stay” in a few weeks, we will have already read the poem in the novel The Outsiders.)

Tip 2. Careful setup is key. 

During the previous summer, I bought $1 photo holders from IKEA and turned them into numbered station signs. I put the numbers in a clockwise pattern throughout the room, on rows or tables.

Also, this may go without saying, but make sure you have sufficient supplies at each station, such as leaving a basket of highlighters or having MULTIPLE copies of whatever answer keys or example annotations that you want students to copy from. (Only so many students can huddle around one paper to examine it!)

Tip 3. Plan your timing wisely. 

The first time I tried text stations, I was too ambitious, and students couldn’t get through every station in 45 minutes. Keep in mind that the more stations you have, the fewer minutes students can spend at each place, so you’ll want to make sure the task you leave at each station is doable in a certain amount of minutes.

For example, I often find success with 6 or 7 stations in 45-50 minutes. BUT, that brings me to tip #4...

Tip 4. It went better when I DIDN’T use a timer. 

At first, I divided students into groups, set a rigid timer of 6 minutes per station, and told students when they could rotate. Guess what? That only caused problems. Some stations could be finished faster than others, which left some students frazzled and others off-task.

Instead, now I just set the timer for the end of the period, make students all START at different stations, and then trust them to get to every table before the end of the period. Some of them spend too long at one station and then have to hurry a little through the rest, but they figured out the pacing very well, and there were far fewer engagement issues. Every student was focused and learning for 90% of the class period.

Tip 5. Students fill in guided notes (that they can keep and study).

All of my stations activities have had one key element in common: as students rotate, they’re copying answers from each station tent onto their provided guided notes, and then they can keep their notes to study for tomorrow’s follow-up quiz. Giving students that accountability to acquire information helped tremendously to keep them on-task.

Download this FREE template as a starting point for station guided notes!

Tip 6. Follow up with a quiz. 

If students know an assessment is coming, they’ll take each station and its information or task more seriously. (That’s not intended as a threat or to create an ominous atmosphere. It simply sends the message that what we’re doing is important and needs to be taken seriously.)

Tip 7. Make the station tasks as self-evident as possible. 

The stations I make include table tents for each station, and whenever possible, I leave an answer key on the table tent itself or on a piece of paper at the station. This is partially for teacher sanity (less grading!) but also because as a teacher, I’d rather be…

Tip 8: Decide where you want to be in the room. 

Do you want (or need) to be circulating the room the whole time to manage behavior? That’s fine. But if you think your students can handle it, one option is to make one station an “Ask the Teacher” table. This is a great way for students to get more face time with you AND get a safer place to admit that they don’t understand something.

Want to do stations with topics other than reading?
Many of these principles applied when I tried stations with other topics, like Greek & Latin roots. You can also try my FREE, editable Grammar Stations here.

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