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Monday / March 30

What Are the Other Kids Doing While I’m Teaching in Small Groups?  

This is the number one question teachers have been asking me for the past three decades. You want to be able to differentiate and teach kids in small-group time, but how do you make sure the rest of the class is practicing the skills you’ve taught? And how do you know they’ll stay on task?  

The answer: Literacy stations that are built from careful planning around standards, skills, and your students’ needs – with a healthy dose of instruction that connects to what to do in stations over time. You’ll be amazed at what your students can do independently with just a bit of up-front planning!  

What is a literacy station?  

First and foremost, literacy stations are not just for busy work. Literacy stations provide purposeful practice. Stations work happens simultaneous to small-group instruction. As you meet with a small group, the rest of the class works in pairs at literacy stations around the classroom practicing skills you’ve taught in whole group. 

Around the classroom, pairs of students work together at a variety of stations, including a Listening & Speaking station (or two), a Writing station, two Partner Reading stations, an Independent Reading station, a Word Study station, and a Poetry station – and you can introduce other stations to keep practice interesting throughout the year. 

And here’s the secret to success: Each station is carefully introduced, one at a time, over the first month of school during whole-groupYou teach literacy skills — based on your standards and your students’ needs – and you teach what to do in stations. Students know what is expected of them, they have everything they need, and they are working on tasks they can do successfully (without you having to run off lots of paper for them to fill out) 

How can I plan for literacy stations success?  

Plan your physical space. I’ve found that drawing out a classroom map and plotting stations with sticky notes is the only way to go. You can plan for portable stations and fixed stations based on the layout and permanent fixtures in your roomWhen you look at the visual display, too, you may see furniture that can be removed from the room, or areas where there is unused space that would be perfect for kids to work in during stations time. 

Create a stations roll-out plan. Plan to introduce stations one at a time, allowing for practice in each station until kids get the hang of it. I have found over the years that the best stations to introduce early in the year are Listening and SpeakingIndependent Reading, and Partner Reading; that’s why these are the first three books in the Simply Stations series!   

Set up a management board. This has revolutionized stations in so many classrooms! Once you’ve established a few literacy stations in your classroom, the management board will save time by showing kids where to go throughout stations time without you having to direct them every step of the way. Once children know how to read the management board and understand what to do at stations, you can simply dismiss them (several at a time) to their first station. The goal is for students to practice what they need, not to go to every station every day or every week. (Simply Stations books provide much more detailed explanation of how to set this up and use it daily.) 

Use literacy standards as a guide. Good instruction begins with solid planning. When you look carefully at your standards together with your grade-level team, think about student needs, gather some good resources to model with, and put in the time to teach well, it pays off in the quality practice students do at the matching stations across the school year.  

I use the sequence of Plan, Teach, Practice, and Reflect to help guide me from whole-group through small-group and stations; reflection is critical, too, because this is where you learn most about your instruction and your students 

All of these points are covered in much more detail in my new series of Simply Stations books. You’ll also find in-depth guidance on how to set up and introduce a station as well as all the printable tools you need to get started. The first book, Simply Stations: Listening and Speaking, is available now, with Independent Reading coming in May and Partner Reading arriving in August. My hope is that by rolling out each book individually, you’ll have time to read, implement, and discuss before getting into the next one.  

Over the next few months I’ll blog about other aspects of literacy stations: planning lessons and teaching for transfer; “look-fors” and troubleshooting within specific stations; moving to partner practice if you’re used to having kids work in groups of four or five; mastering the management board; and refreshing stations as kids show proficiency. 

Let’s build a teaching and learning community around Simply Stations! Follow me on Instagram and Facebook for some live events and to share ideas with colleagues. And share your ideas, questions, classroom photos, and a-ha moments on social media using the hashtag #SimplyStations.

Banner showing 3 icons: Literacy stations should be more than just busy work

Written by

Debbie Diller, a national consultant and author, has been an early childhood/elementary educator for over 40 years. Debbie uses her experience as a classroom teacher, Title I reading specialist, and literacy coach to teach others about sensible, realistic ways to meet the differentiated literacy needs of all students in the classroom. She is known for her groundbreaking work on independent learning, small group instruction, and classroom design and has authored many books, videos, and an online course which are widely used in classrooms and universities throughout North America. Debbie’s latest book series, Simply Stations, was inspired by her work in classrooms (and a dream!) to answer the question, “How do I provide meaningful practice for the rest of the class when I’m meeting with a small group?”

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