Five Ways to Make Awesome Stations Lessons!

Stations lessons are some of my favorite activities in my social studies classes. They're a great way to get kids up and moving around the room and that's more engaged in whatever topic recovering. Instead of just sitting at their seats at traditional way and taking in material, they're able to move around the room and learn.

They also work with any subject area and any unit you might be covering in history. They can be higher level, with students analyzing more advanced texts and sources at each station, or feature simple political cartoons, maps, or short excerpts at each station for lower level classrooms.

There’s no set template that you need to use for all stations lessons, but here are 5 ways to make your stations lesson plans rock!

1) To Time or Not to Time the Stations?

Stations can definitely vary in the structure. You might want to set a timer for a specific amount of time that students spend at each station. Or, it might work best if students are free to spend however much time they need at each station. Some stations might feature items that can be analyzed in a matter of minutes, while others might require watching a longer video, listening to a full song, or reading a longer text.

Which structure you pick (timed or untimed)  depends on the source is that you're using. If you're going to have timed stations, you want the materials at each station to be able to be analyzed and the work completed in a similar amount of time.  In my Japanese Occupation Poster Lesson, each station has exactly the same amount of content:

You don't want students at one station to be complete and ready to move on while those at the next one have only just begun.

However, finding sources that work for the lesson and are all about the same length can be tricky. You can do this by excerpting from larger sources and varying the tasks that students are completing at each station.  It just might take some experimenting with your classes to find out what works best for them. This is something that will definitely vary by grade level and classroom. Start off with something you are confident will take students a set amount of time and then go from there.

You might also find that your students can work untimed independently though.  In my Renaissance Art Show Stations for example, some students like to spend more time sketching than others. I play relaxing Renaissance music and create a museum feel in the classroom so even though the tsations are untimed, the lesson still goes well.

2) How Many Stations?

How many stations you want to use really depends on how many sources you have, how long your class period is, and how long you want to devote to the lesson.

I teach in 90-minute blocks that meet every other day. However, I feel 90 minutes is a little long for a stations lesson. I will usually make that the middle part of a lesson and devote 30 to 45 minutes to it.  I also like students to spend between 3 to 5 minutes at each station. For example, in my Civil War Stations Lesson, students read about characteristics of the North and South. They have to think about each, talk about it with a partner, and then decide which side is applied to and whether the characteristic is an advantage or disadvantage.

I like to have between 6-9 stations spread out around the room. However, another factor in that is your class size. If you have 30+ kids in a room, you need more stations or else they’ll get too crowded.

It’s all a delicate balancing act! :)

3) Individual Work, Pairs, or Groups?

Additionally, you also want to decide what works best for your class: working individually, in pairs, or in larger collaborative groups. I like pairs because it encourages talking about each resource. I will often decide on the partners ahead of time so I know that they’re fair and kids aren’t going to be left out or be in an “unfair” partnership.

However, there are some times when it’s best to have students working individually at their stations. This could be if you have a particularly small class. If you teach a self-contained special ed class of 8 students, it might work out best to have eight stations, each with one student at them at a time. Another example might be if students are using the content from their stations in an individual project or if every student needs the notes that they will take at the stations. Then, students going through them individually might make the most sense. I do this with my Middle Ages Meme Project lesson. Students take their own notes on life in the Middle Ages in order to create a Meme.

Groups are good to use if you want to have fewer stations but have students remain at them longer. In my Executive Orders lesson, students in groups analyze 5 executive orders. Since it’s just 5, I want students to spend more time at each, so they are placed in groups to read page and them work together to analyze that Executive Order.

Another option for using cooperative learning groups is to include 3 or 4 documents at each station and have students in groups moving through them. This allows you to cover a lot in a short time. For example, in my World War 2 Unit, I have students in groups analyze the major battles at stations. AT each station is a map, reading, and images. Groups of 3 work well for this so that each student is looking at something at each station.

4) What to do at the Stations?

I like having students doing a variety of tasks at the stations to mix things up and keep them engaged. If they’re just answering questions or performing the same task at each one, things can get boring by the 5th or 6th station.

In my Vietnam War stations lesson, students create a data chart on American casualties to see the expansion and decline in the war from the 60’s-70’s. At another station, they listen to music from the era; another station has them learning about guerrilla warfare and drawing VC tunnels; another is a reading, etc. There’s a good mix of activities the students are doing throughout.

Here’s some good things to include for any social studies class lesson to break things up:

  • Reading a primary source excerpt
  • A political cartoon or two and maybe have students drawing their own at one station.
  • A map analysis or creating a map
  • Watching a short video clip
  • Analyzing or creating a timeline
  • Reading a short biography
  • Listening to a song or short podcast excerpt

That’s 7 different stations right there where the students have something different at each one. Of course, it’s not always easy to find examples like those above for every topic, but as long as you mix it up a little with a few of them, the activity will remain fresh and students should be engaged throughout.

You can also have kids engaging with technology. In my Amistad Rebellion Lesson, I use QR codes to have students analyze primary sources more in depth:

5) How to Conclude the Lesson?

One thing you want to make sure to do is time the lesson correctly so you have enough time for students to come together at the end for reflection. You don't want to have students who don't finish or just barely finished when the bell rings.

My favorite way to conclude is to have students create some kind of project based on what they learned. In my Lewis & Clark Stations Lesson, students create a travel brochure or commercial based on what they saw along the journey of the Corps of Discovery.

However, you don’t always have to have an elaborate project or concluding activity. You might just want to leave time for a class discussion. Even if a simple exit ticket can work for a reflection activity. In my Prohibition Analysis Stations Lesson, students must briefly answer an exit ticket on why Prohibition was a failed experiment.

Thanks for Checking This Out! 

I hope this advice helps you make your stations lesson plans amazing! As you can probably tell I love doing them in my classes! You can often find photos and more about them on my Instagram here. I also have LOTS more stations lesson plans in my complete curriculum packages for World History, US History, and American Government! There’s lesson plans and resources for every day of the school year in each one, so you never have to stress about planning a great station (or any other) lesson again! It’s all done for you!

Thanks for stopping by!


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