This post originally appeared on the blog Education with DocRunning.

I was in a discussion with several social studies teachers, some of whom were curious how I use stations in my secondary classroom. I thought that teachers either used stations or didn’t, but as one colleague put it, “I want to use stations, but I can’t figure out how and just fall back on whole class work.” It hadn’t occurred to me that it was the “how to” that holds some teachers back. So this post is really about the how to of stations and is entirely inspired by the aforementioned conversation. I’ve written about the value of stations elsewhere.

Let’s start with the organizational structure of stations:

  • TOPIC: Choose the topic or focus for the lesson. Are you studying the writing system in Ancient Egypt or the artists and musicians of the Harlem Renaissance?
  • DESIGN ACTIVITIES: Develop (or purchase if you don’t have time) and set up 3-8 activities related to the topic. An activity station includes:
    • Informational text
    • Student directions/activity
    • Materials for the activity
    • A writing prompt as part of the activity or to reflect on the activity and content (easily incorporated in interactive notebooks).

  • INTRODUCTION/BACKGROUND (Optional): Depending on your time frame and lessons preceding the stations, you may want to introduce the topic with a brief whole class discussion or activity. In a flipped classroom, provide students a video or reading for the night before you do the stations to introduce the broad strokes of the topic.
  • STATION INTRODUCTION: Introduce each station briefly – what’s the focus and what’s the general activity (kinesthetic learners tend to gravitate toward building activities; visual learners will gravitate towards activities that incorporate drawing, photos, or video; audio learners tend to like activities that incorporate music, video, or auditory expressions). The introduction also gives students a general overview of the topics. Individual students are likely to be interested in some topics more than others.
  • REVIEW PROCEDURES: What is expected? How many students can be at a station at any one time? What does a student do when s/he completes a station? The first few weeks of using stations will require a quick review of expectations. After students have worked with stations a few times, they get it.  Time to just go!
  • STUDENT CHOICE: Let students choose stations (optional). I usually require a minimum of 1-2 stations, but it depends on the topic, class period, etc. My class is differentiated, so student choice is front and center. If a student is exploring a topic on multiple levels, then I am happy to let him or her investigate instead of rushing off to the next topic. When we build domes with Brunelleschi, some students will get their first dome built and then have ideas for better ones. If a student is developing a detailed political cartoon at a muckraker station, its better to give him or her the time needed to not just know the material but also to understand it.
  • TIME CHECKS: Remind students periodically of remaining time and provide time for students to write.  If there are a required number of stations, let students know when it is time to move to a new station. (NOTE: in student-centered classrooms such as mine, students can ask to spend more time on a station if needed).
  • SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION: We close station activities with small group discussions. I try to mix students up so that each group has a student that tried a different station. There are two broad guiding questions for the discussions: what did you learn and how does it connect to the broad topic? This is where we start to make connections to the big ideas. The discussion time is also an opportunity for students to discover other cool stations. Students share what they did and learned with each other.  Often, we have a second round of stations the next class so that students can explore stations they missed in the first session.  

To give you an example, the table shows 2 sets of station activities: one for Theodore Roosevelt’s domestic and foreign policies and the second for engineering achievements in Ancient Rome.

For each large topic, there are several options. Both Activity #1 and #2 for Theodore Roosevelt address policies related to labor and business. Students can choose one of the two. If students need to work with all the topics, then students visit every station.

In practice, a station has the following:

Informational text and/or video for learning the big ideas (NOTE: in a flipped classroom, these may be read or watched at home). This reading prepares students for stations 1 and 2 and appears at both stations.


Activity directions that require students to reflect on, apply knowledge and analyze the topic. 




When a station is complete, students move on to a new station or join a small group discussion.  

I LOVE stations because they allow me to:

  • Differentiate by meeting the needs of different learning styles.
  • Provide student choice
  • Get students up and moving
  • AND make students the expert in teaching each other about what they have learned.


Education with DocRunningEducation with Doc Running: Teachers Pay Teachers is a secondary teacher who puts students at the center of her teaching.  From inner-city schools to gifted programs, she has experience teaching 6th – 12th grade.  She holds a Master’s in Education and a PhD in Education Policy. And of course, she runs daily.  Sign up to hear about the latest in free resources and save 20% on new resources.  You can also visit the blog, Facebook Page, Pinterest, and Store.