Virtual Stations

I love using stations in the classroom. There were days in my classroom where everything seemed to flow with stations:

  • Kids loved the game they were playing
  • A teacher complimented a group they saw engaged in the hallway
  • I perfectly differentiated to give each group what they needed with me
  • Everyone got their work done
  • Someone was psyched to ring my chimes and everyone got up right away
  • All the pieces were found and none were left under desks

I swear some days it happened. Most days, obviously, I had to talk to someone about being a good teammate, getting to the next station, wishing I had 5 more minutes because I just realized this student didn’t know how to add and subtract decimals in 6th grade, waiting for a group to clean up before we went out to recess….You get the idea.

Still, I love stations. I love designing games for kids to play. Hearing voices get raised with enthusiasm over flashcards…I’ll take it. Seeing kids peer edit without prompting from me? Amazing. I enjoy watching creativity come alive as kids work by themselves or find a buddy during more open ended stations. When they’re checking if they did something right, not to show me they completed the page, but legitimately to share their learning with me? Heavenly.

The Workshop Model

I teach with a workshop model most of the time. To clarify my perspective on what that means:

  1. A minilesson (15 minutes MAX, sometimes as short as 3 minutes)
  2. Work time (students are engaged in meaningful tasks doing the actual work of that content area – writing, reading, science labs, math problem solving, analyzing primary documents, representing their findings in a project, etc.)
  3. Reflection and Sharing (I’m purposefully not calling this a closing because I don’t always set up my class time this way. I do, however, believe reflection and sharing to be a powerful and necessary part of the workshop model).
  4. Conferences and/or Small groups (Within the work time, the teacher is not just chilling off to the side, they are engaging in 1-1 conferences with students and/or small groups. When I refer to stations, I’m referring to using small groups in addition to other workshop related tasks)

When I was virtual teaching in Spring 2020, I had very little synchronous time per day. I was able to create time and space for book clubs and small groups to discuss briefly, but that was it. This past fall, even though I was switching grade levels, I knew I wanted to get to a place where I could use breakout rooms as stations. You can see the 7 ways I used breakout rooms this fall in this post. I wanted to get to a place where I could teach in small groups. One year, my goal was to do 50% of all of my instruction through small groups, so you can imagine how I felt teaching online where it ALL was whole class with some partner work sprinkled in. With partners, I was just facilitating peer interaction (so important, by the way!), but I wasn’t actually teaching. I was focused on classroom management and tech issues, not teaching.

Before you start stations…

There were a few things I knew we as a class needed to master before I jumped into stations. I would recommend considering what you’ll need students to be able to do independently as well.

  1. Students had to be able to independently access reading online, a math program online, and google classroom links. They needed to be able to access a Student Links page on their own.
  2. We needed to discuss reasons to interrupt me, the teacher. Basically, there are very few reasons to bother me. In the classroom, the problems are more related to illness or injury, but while learning online, kids will likely go to a family member. They can type in the chat to me if a password isn’t working, a link isn’t working, etc. Once again, the most important thing is #1, but #2 lets me know if I need to give more scaffolds, clearer directions, offer more practice, etc.
  3. We needed to practice independent work while logged in first. We all practiced quietly reading, writing, or being on an online program at the same time during a synchronous session. We kept our microphones off, everyone is quiet. If kids had trouble, they raised their hand as a nonverbal cue to me, and I problem solved with them in a breakout room so that the main room stayed silent.
  4. We practiced 1-1 conferences first. Once the problem solving stage was over (which was only a few sessions), I pulled students to talk about what they were doing.
  5. I needed to make a plan to put everything all in one place. In the classroom, I can still monitor everything happening around me in the room. Even if I’m ignoring it, I can follow up with it later. Virtually, I have no idea what’s happening in a different breakout room or in the main room when I’m not there. I can’t have kids look at the easel or the board again for directions, so instead, I created a google slide that has all the directions again.

Structures for stations

Here are my google slides I have used for stations.

I have done a few structures. My favorite is to split the class into 4 groups, do two 20 minute stations the first day, then two more the next day. That was my favorite in person as well because it still gave me long enough at the beginning of class for a lesson, reflection exercise, a couple conferences as kids got started, a number sense routine, whatever I needed. I also will do 3 stations one day then 1 the other to give a longer whole class time. I also will do only 3 groups virtually which works well. In the classroom, I would not have done that because the groups feel way too large, but virtually, it’s not bad. It also means I can keep it all to one day. I also prefer to have 20 minutes with a slightly larger group than 15 minutes with a more ideal size. Since I have to manually move kids around in breakout rooms, the transition time is dependent on my skills and technology. Sometimes it takes me a few minutes to transition, and there’s nothing I can really do about it. 15 minutes can too easily become only 10.

When you’re setting up stations, you’ll need to decide for yourself:

  • number of students per group
  • how to group students (by reading level, reteaching needed, strategy to teach, pace of instruction, interest)
  • time allotted per group
  • if you’ll do stations all in one day, split over 2 days, or spread out across a whole week even (1 station per day is fine!)

Ideas for Activities

Something you might be thinking is: How can I keep them engaged? What are the other kids doing if they’re not in a small group with me? Won’t they get bored? Isn’t it a waste of time for them to just be on their own? Here are some ideas!

Completely virtual options (could be used in a hybrid situation as well)

  • Independent Reading: Online platform (MyON, Epic, RAZ Kids, Literacy Footprints – Pioneer Valley Books, Scholastic magazines, etc.)
  • Independent Reading: Gather books to read for them in a google slides presentation (many bitmoji classrooms are specifically for reading, and many teachers have generously put resources out there)
  • Independent Writing: Give them a prompt in your minilesson and make sure they know what they’re working on; you can also provide prompts in a document they need to type
  • Hyperdoc: Give a list of activities to work through that’s a choice board, menu, etc.
  • Brain Pop: I love the games and quizzes – some are free
  • Math Websites: Prodigy, IXL, ST Math, Dreambox, Khan Academy (some of these require a subscription which your school might have purchased, but some are free)
  • Listen to Podcasts: See this post for recommendations for elementary
  • Other educational websites: Starfall, ABC Mouse, National Geographic, Time for Kids, Cool Math Games, Coding (kodable, codemonkey, so many others), and so on. Use what your students know. Don’t dive into a million other things.
  • Discussion in a breakout room or book club talk
  • Partner+ game that can be done on google slides (makes the planning a bit difficult because rooms need to be in partners not just one big group; consider if you can have a group of 3)
  • Google slides activity (so many choices! I love matching, sorting, list making, using manipulatives – for instance, I give base ten blocks on the side of the slide for building or adding numbers)
  • Online worksheet (on google docs or using Kami)
  • Pear Deck or Nearpod (give them a link and make it student paced so they can do it on their own)
  • Boomcards or Flashcards made using Flippity
  • Flipgrid prompt (could be an asychnronous book club, modeling a math problem with real objects or on a whiteboard, screencast of work they’re doing, etc.) – Their job could also be to respond to others’ posts.
  • Quizizz or Kahoot! Challenge (independently completed)
  • Breakout EDU: these tend to work well for groups to do together, but they could be completed independently
  • Google Form or other assessment (you could put them in individual rooms for assessments or remove some permissions in a main room if possible)

In Person, Socially Distanced Ideas

While my favorite in person ideas are group games, there are some things they can still be doing on their own while we need to maintain distance. Some of these could also be done at home while learning virtually.

  • Create a storyboard for a chapter you read, make an illustration, rewrite a scene, etc.
  • Create a one-pager or sketchnotes or a mindmap to encapsulate information
  • Make a small puppet show using mini popsicle stick characters, etc.
  • Matching cards (match a word to a definition, picture and word, person to achievement, equation to answer, etc.)
    • You can mix this up by using 2 sides of a plastic Easter egg, jenga pieces, funky cut up paper that creates mini puzzles, etc.
  • I Have…Who Has…? on popsicle sticks: I love making these. Answers are on the left except the first one just says “Start” then a problem like 5+6. The next popsicle stick would have 11 on the left then another problem like 20 – 4. I’ve made these for 2 step equations and graphing inequalities as well as single digit addition.
  • Heads Up: Give kids vocabulary cards. They can turn to a partner, hold the cards on their forehead, and their partner is trying to get them to guess the vocabulary word. A timer can be used.
  • Flashcards with Partners: similarly, they can quiz one another on multiplication facts or sight words
  • Pictionary or Sculpting with partners: If you think about the game Cranium, you can create something similar for students to play. Pull vocabulary words or prompts from resources you already have, pacing guide, state standards, etc.
  • Coloring sheets with answers or mazes: This is the time to use those easy TpT products that ask kids to color or cut out all sorts of stuff
  • Cup stacking – kids can take plastic or paper bathroom cups with labels (I made on label stickers then stuck on) and stack into towers or just in one big tower in order.
  • Partner game with dominoes or cards (hold up and use an operation to solve – interactive practice)
  • Clothesline Math – putting numbers, events, objects by weight in order
  • Handwriting practice: you can use workbooks or print free pages for practice
  • Worksheets: There is no shame in giving practice work. First of all, practice is necessary. Second of all, we’re in a pandemic. Make some copies and don’t be guilty.
  • Independent Reading and Writing – with physical books and physical paper/notebooks as you are able

The first day I did stations online was so exciting for me. Students loved it (I asked in a poll, and all except a few said “loved” vs. liked, didn’t care, or didn’t like). I was so proud of myself for making this work online, and if you are doing stations or trying it, kudos! I think it requires major trust between teacher and students, planning, strong classroom management and accountability measures, and more. I hope hearing my process and ideas have helped you move forward with it!


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