By MK Jarvis
Before I tell you what I love, let me tell you what I hate. Group work. I must confess collaboration in the classroom is one of my least favorite activities. I think it is mostly unproductive for the students as they generally have the same problems every time–incomplete work, one or two people in the group working harder than the others, or absent partners or group members who just happen to have all the groups work on their iPad. Now, in defense of collaboration and in complete honesty, I am my own stumbling block. Being a newish teacher, I still have not mastered many skills–conducting groups in the classroom is one of them. Keep in mind, too, I teach 7th graders, the most social creatures on the planet, and they love to talk and do anything but the task at hand. These unwanted behaviors are much worse when the desks are smooshed together in quads.
Let me now tell you what I love. I love 7th graders. I kind of love that they are the most social creatures because they’ve taught me a lot about getting along with my fellow human. I know they can benefit by working together (can’t we all?), or at least in a setting that allows them to cooperate and discuss (translation: socialize). More and more, our culture and society expect us to work in teams.
Here is another thing I love: STATIONS. Not train stations or gas stations (though escaping from my crazy 7th graders via train or fueled-up car is sometimes a tempting idea), but stations in the classroom.
A couple of years ago, I was looking for a way to teach a lesson that allowed the students to get up and move around. I knew that there would be talking and commotion, but I wanted it to be constructive. They weren’t necessarily going to work as groups, but in tandem, viewing, reading, writing the same things in an independent way side by side. I remembered stations.
The first time I encountered stations was while working as a sub at the beginning of my teaching journey. The teacher I was subbing for had set up stations for teaching citations/bibliography for research papers. There were four or five stations consisting of things like deciding if a publication or website is a primary or secondary source or should be considered a source at all and how to use the information from a publication to build your bibliography. Each station had all the information and activities in an envelope in the middle of the quad. Each time the group moved to a new quad, they got to open a new envelope to see what was inside. It sort of felt like a scavenger hunt. It was fun and the students seemed to enjoy it. Plus, it was a painless way to teach something that can be sometimes be confusing for students.
There are lots of things you can do in stations. Last year we watched Doctor Who in conjunction with A Wrinkle in Time and did a space/time travel themed station activity. One station was matching up American English words with British English words. The students were exposed to new and different vocabulary and practiced their British accents. Another station was creating our own time machine, telling where we would go and what we would do. It was fascinating to find out how much 7th graders would like to change history … our world’s and their own.
My most favorite time of year to do stations is during January around Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. Within the stations I try to have a viewing station, listening station, and writing station. I usually only have three stations for MLK because I want the students to be able to spend enough time on each activity. This makes for larger groups, but the students aren’t necessarily working together so it’s okay. For viewing, I have pictures of the King memorial in Washington D.C. and have the students look at the quotes engraved on the monuments and write what they believe the quotes mean. I give them a small piece of cardstock for this activity and after they do the writing task, they may make the card beautiful. Many of them tuck these encouraging words in their iPad’s case for the rest of the year.
For listening, the students go to Schoology on the iPad and listen Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. In this station, they complete a graphic organizer that asks them to make a prediction, write any questions they have, and then reflect on the words of Dr. King.
For writing this year, the students read short articles about Dr. King, created a timeline of his life, and answered questions using the RACE method.
When I do stations with my students we always go to the library. The students love the library because it is a change of venue and they get to sit at tables side by side with friends. Our librarian is wonderful and inviting and she always makes the kids feel special. She and I get together a few days before my stations lesson and talk about how it will go and how she can help. She’s a saint. I also try to make part of the stations hands-on and creative. The students get excited when they see markers, paper, rulers, and such.
If you are looking for an activity to get your students moving around the room a bit, try stations. They are so adaptable and helpful when accompanying lesson plans that might have different stages or short activities that stand on their own, but work together to teach a bigger concept.
WVCTE is wondering… How do you get your students up on their feet, moving around, and learning? How have you OR how would you use stations in your classroom?
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