Create Small Learning Communities with the Station Rotation Model

Whenever I’m asked the question, “How do we fix education?” I find myself emphasizing the importance of creating smaller learning communities within the context of the larger classroom. I passionately believe the most effective learning communities are those that allow teachers to spend more time working individually or in small groups with their students to customize and personalize instruction.

Smaller learning communities also provide students with more opportunities to work collaboratively and engage in a variety of activities that appeal to different learning modalities (auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic). Students engage with the world in different ways, so it’s important to keep activities and tasks varied to ensure every student is able to receive and process information in a way that works for them.

My interest in blended learning and weaving together learning mediums to include both in-class and online learning was in part driven by my desire to create smaller student-centered learning communities in my classroom. One strategy for a teacher interested in pursuing this approach come fall is experimenting with the Station Rotation Model–a blended learning model.

Station Rotation Model

The Station Rotation Model does exactly what the name suggests–students rotate through learning stations either on a fixed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion. At least one of the stations must be an online learning station for this to be considered a blended learning model.

Learning stations are not a new concept in education, so this is an easy model for teachers who are shifting from a traditional teaching model to a blended learning model. Teachers can use this model within a traditional classroom setting by simply breaking students into small groups and having them rotate through different stations set up around the classroom or rotating the whole class through a series of learning activities.

Station Rotation Model in ActionThis model is flexible and can work with almost any age level or subject area. My classes are usually composed of 30 students, so I tend to design a minimum of 6 stations. That way my stations do not exceed 5 students, which feels like the maximum amount of teenagers who can be in a group and work together effectively. I have 90 minute block periods, so I typically have them work 12-15 minutes in each station or we break the work up into 2 days and they can have 25-30 minutes in each station.

I find it’s helpful to sketch out my stations on paper and ask myself the following questions:

  • What is the objective of each station? Will students produce something?
  • How much time do students need in each station? How long will they have to transition between stations?
  • What materials do they need in each station? How many devices are needed for the online learning stations? Do they need any special programs, apps, or software?
  • What will be the cue for them to transition to the next station?
  • Will directions be frontloaded, provided in written form at each station, or presented via mini-video tutorial at each station?


The online component can take many forms ranging from students using dynamic creation tools to researching topics to using adaptive software depending on the objectives of the lesson. However, the addition of an online component requires that teachers have access to technology in some form or another to execute the Station Rotation Model in their classrooms. I don’t have any actual hardware in my classroom, so I have to use student devices or arrange to take my students to one of our computer labs on campus.

As a teacher, it takes more time to plan this style of lesson; however, the benefits far exceed the challenges. I love being able to work with small group and provide real-time feedback, answer questions, lend support, or direct students to an online resource. Students also enjoy the freedom they have as learners in this model. I am not hovering over them or controlling the pace of their learning. They are driving the learning, which is much more powerful for them.

A teacher does not have to use the Station Rotation Model for every lesson, but it is an easy way to explore the benefits of blending online work with face-to-face interactions to create smaller learning communities that are student-centered.

For more on blended learning, check out my first book Blended Learning in Grades 4-12.

Creatively Teach the Common Core Literacy Standards with Technology  Available NOW! 

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34 Responses to Create Small Learning Communities with the Station Rotation Model

  1. Pingback: Create Small Learning Communities with the Station… | EducatorAl's Tweets

  2. David says:

    Thanks for the diagram; really helped me out visualize your planning process! How often do you find yourself using the Station-rotation model throughout?

    • I’m glad you found that helpful, David. I also like visually planning out my lessons. I typically use this model once every week or two. I’m hoping to do more with it this coming year.


    • Marilyn says:

      I had the same question, David.

      Catlin, you make everything seem so easy. I think one of the main things I’ve learned from you is the importance of planning. The visual map puts the process together for seemless implementation.

      I can really see your versions of stations working. Thanks for sharing with us!

      • That’s a wonderful compliment, Marilyn! Thank you.

        I’m so glad when other teachers can use what I am sharing on my blog. I passionately believe we can improve the quality of learning for every student if we share our best practices!

        Take care!

  3. Katy says:

    This is really compelling; thanks so much for getting the wheels turning! Would it be possible for you to give examples of the tasks/outcomes for each station for, say, a literature or writing unit?

    • Hi Katy,

      I’ll work on a follow-up blog with examples. I’m presenting at a conference today and I’m focusing on a blended approach to reading in the classroom. I will put together an example lesson for differentiating reading in the classroom using the Station Rotation Model and post that. I will add a writing example to my list of future blogs too!

      Take care!

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  5. Brian Cook says:

    Thanks for the diagram. Would it be possible to have one example of how this could be used in the classroom? I want to give it a try, but hearing specifically how someone else has done it would help! A

    lso, I just purchased your “creatively teach the CC Lit Standards with Technology” book. I really enjoy reading your blog posts as well.


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  10. Hi Catlin!

    I love this idea. I have actually experimented with it a few times but was a bit concerned about students staying on task in the different stations. Do you have tips on how to ensure they stay focused?

    Also, I see a few people asked you this already, but can you possibly give a few specific examples of activities you’ve done at individual stations that worked really well?

    Thanks so much!

    • Hi Chelsea,

      I always position my teacher-led station at the front of the room so I am facing all of my students. That way I can keep an eye on the rest of the room. I also think it’s important to have some deliverable at each station. Otherwise, my normal management strategies are pretty effective. My Station Rotation lessons aren’t harder to manage. I think it’s because they are student-centered and engaging.

      I am writing a second blended learning book that has tons of examples, but I will work on a blog post with an example too 😉


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  15. James Husbands says:

    Thank you for the information on and diagrams on how to set up a flipped classroom. I also found it helpful that in prior replies that you noted that you do this once per week or every two weeks, so that it doesn’t become too much of a daunting task. Thanks again!

  16. Tziri says:

    How can I use the Station Rotation model with 43 minute periods? I have so many ideas for making this part of my classroom, but time is a major issue…

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  18. Rupal says:

    hey Catlin,

    I really love the idea of a small classroom within a bigger class of students.
    But if each station allows students to work at their own pace, how can they switch/transit from one station to other at the same time ?


    • Hi Rupal,

      I run 2 types of stations: fixed rotation and free flow rotation. In a fixed rotation, students move after a fixed amount of time. I try to plan those fixed stations so students have enough time to self-pace, but there are kids who do not finish. I never assign homework on a fixed station rotation night because students may need to finish some of the work at home.

      The free flow station rotation allows students to move through stations at their own pace. Click here to check out a blog on free flow stations.


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  20. Missy Merrill says:

    Love this idea!

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  22. Susan says:

    I am wondering about assessment of student work at each station. So much of my station work has been formative assessment, but they need some grades. One thing I’ve done is kept an ISN with points for completion for work at stations. What are your thoughts on that idea? (Please understand that this is only my 2nd year to attempt stations, so I am still quite a newbie.)

  23. Amy Elliott says:

    Hi Catlin,
    I teach second grade and I am learning about blended learning and how to implement into my classroom. I am working on using the station rotation in my classroom. I have taught two lessons using this model and feel like everything you said rings true with my students. I felt like I was able to work with smaller groups of students and really hone in on their strengths and weaknesses. I also felt like students were enjoying the freedom to work at their own pace and I wasn’t controlling all steps of their learning. They were engaged and collaboratively working with other students. I once was an opponent of blended learning because I felt that kids were already in front of screens entirely too much but after seeing the results I’ve had in the very few lessons I’ve taught, I was wrong. I only problem I see in my school is that not all teachers are teaching blended learning. Do you think it will a determent to students who only see this blended learning sporadically through their school years?

    • Hi Amy,

      I appreciate you sharing your initial skepticism as I am sure you are not the only educator who has questioned whether or not blended learning is a good thing for kids. I still wrestle with the balance of online and offline activities because I, too, worry about too much screen time and not enough face-to-face conversation and collaboration. That said, I’ve seen what you have seen…the power of technology to allow students to become independent learners working at their own pace.

      Since I’ve always been the only teacher my students have using a blended learning model, I’ve heard a lot from my own students about what they like in my class compared to their more traditional classes. I wish more teachers used these models, but I don’t think it’s a problem if students are only exposed to this in a handful of classes. I think they appreciate the variety!

      Take care!

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