As a parent, I have often admired brightly colored and well-organized learning stations when visiting my own kids’ elementary school classrooms. For years, I’ve wished that I could integrate more movement and hands-on learning in my classroom, but there were three main barriers: 1. space 2. attitude and 3. time.
Though I’ve taught in several high school classrooms over the years, most have narrow spaces for walking. With dozens of students and their large, heavy backpacks, coats, and lunch bags to navigate around, I can barely monitor my students’ work, let alone plan for large motor movement!
I remember listening to some classroom management tips given by an elementary school teacher to a K-12 group of teachers years ago. While her ideas were clever, the secondary teachers in the room smirked at them. One technique in particular, which involved students holding up an index finger to signal that they were listening, prompted one experienced secondary teacher nearby to mutter, “Yeah, the high school kids would hold up a finger all right, but it wouldn’t be the index!”
As a teacher who sees about 130 students every day in my room, I’ve tended toward looking upon planning for stations as an idealistic and quaint notion. Gazing at a stack of 100+ essays to grade does not inspire creativity.
While I pondered these barriers, another important reality emerged: when I gave my students a learning style quiz at the beginning of the year, I learned that the vast majority are kinesthetic and musical learners. Those styles are more than just “fun”; they’re how my students learn, and I need to teach their way.
Obviously, the idea of centers has to be modified for the secondary classroom, but it’s not impossible. I’ve been integrating more movement and music over the years. Here is one activity I came up with to address all of the above issues. Here’s how to give it a try:
12 sheets of colored of paper (2 per color)
Subject area workbooks/worksheets (I used test prep work since that’s what we’re about to do around here)
Access to a printer & copier (black ink only is fine)
Class set of student response devices or clickers— optional
Computer with speakers and playlist – optional
This part is the most time-consuming, but it’s no worse than for any other lesson I’ve made myself. First, simply choose six different areas in which you’d like your students to practice. Mine were vocabulary, literary elements, reading comprehension, and revision. I divided the latter two into two centers each. Assign them each a color and print signs with the category label on them (see photo below).
Choose a couple of multiple choice test prep worksheets per category. One will be the actual center and one will be extra practice. Re-size the one you chose for the center on the copier so it’s easily read when posted on the wall. Make copies of the extra practice (I’ve no advice on this one – I made 30 of some, which wasn’t enough – 75 was too many).
Post the six colored signs around your room (with enough space for students to congregate). These are the beginnings of your centers. Then affix the second sign for each color/label on a folder. Put your extra practice copies for that category in there.
Be sure to have keys for both the center and extra practice worksheets for each station. If using clickers, input your center keys and randomize the order the clicker gives the questions to the students. This keeps the students from clumping up at one station.
Make some student instructions on your interactive whiteboard, chalkboard, or whatever means you typically use. Whether using clickers or not, students should write the station names/abbreviations on notebook paper. They can track their progress around the room this way. Make sure they record whether they got the item right or wrong because they’ll use that information to self-remediate in the next step.
Tell students that when you start the music (I made a peppy YouTube playlist with songs about circles but didn’t show the videos – we just listened as we worked), they will have 10 minutes (or whatever amount of time is appropriate for your activities) to go through the stations. They should mark whether they got the question right or wrong on their papers. Mine used the clickers to grade their work, but if you don’t have clickers, you could simply grade them together after everyone sits down.
When students finish all the stations, they’ll grab extra practice from the folder at the station where they missed questions and complete it. Those who didn’t miss any should have other work to do (mine had novel analysis to fill out). Place the answer keys at the stations so they can self-grade their work (I put them out AFTER they’re all seated, then take them up at the end of class).
After giving students time to complete the extra practice and grade it, you can do another rotation. We did the first question at each station the first time, and the second one the second time. Have them turn in the notebook paper they used or use the clicker data to get feedback from the activity.
The best comment I heard was, “We should do this every day!” When asked why, the student answered, “Because it’s a lot of fun, we get to move around, and we burn calories!” I took the smiles and groovy dance moves of other students as they moved between stations as positive feedback too. Best of all, there wasn’t a bad attitude in sight. Since it’s standardized testing time around here, that’s saying something!
If you have questions or want to share how this idea might work in your classroom, please comment!