I have a soft spot for the station rotation model. It was one of the first models, along with the flipped classroom, that I could employ in my low-tech classroom. In the early days of my transition to blended learning, I had one Chromebook, which I received after writing a Donor’s Choose project. I thought, “What the heck? Let’s give this station rotation model a try!”

I used that Chromebook to design a collaborative online station to complement my teacher-led and offline stations. I wanted students to collaborate, communicate, and create at that online station using the devices as a tool. They conducted research, investigated topics, and accessed online texts, resources, and tools. It was exciting to see how the addition of a single device enabled my students to drive their learning and engage in meaningful student-centered learning activities.

While my students engaged in student-centered learning at the online and offline stations, I enjoyed the dedicated time to work with a small group of learners at my teacher-led station. I customized my instruction, examples, models, and scaffolds for the students sitting in front of me. I felt more effective and engaged working with a small group of students. They responded in kind, asking questions, making comments, and leaning into the learning. I was hooked!

The Station Rotation Model Defined

The station rotation model does exactly what the name suggests. It is a series of stations, or learning activities that students rotate through. Typically, there is a teacher-led station, an online station, and an offline station. To be considered a blended learning model, at least one station must be an online learning station. When coaching teachers in a 1:1 environment where all students have devices, I encourage teachers to balance the online and offline learning activities to give students a much-needed break from the screen.

The Benefits of the Station Rotation Model

When I work with secondary teachers, I often hear the statement that “station rotation is an elementary model.” That is incorrect. Just because many of us at the secondary level were not taught how to design lessons this way does not mean it is only beneficial for younger learners. To reinforce the reality that the station rotation model is a K-12 model, I highlight the benefits of this model for teachers, which include:

  • The ability to create small learning communities within the larger class.
  • Teachers have the time and space to facilitate differentiated small group instruction, engage learners in interactive modeling sessions, facilitate small group discussions, and provide real-time feedback on work in progress.
  • Students can be grouped flexibly (e.g., mixed skill level, strengths in a group dynamic, interest-based) depending on the lesson objectives.
  • Offline and online stations can be used to encourage communication and collaboration among students for the purpose of building community and offering peer support.
  • Since the whole class is not moving in lockstep through a single experience, teachers can prioritize student agency by building meaningful choices.
  • As students navigate tasks in a small group dynamic, they have more opportunities to control the pace of their learning.

Students, regardless of age, would benefit from these aspects of the station rotation model. So, how can teachers maximize the impact and effectiveness of this model? Let’s take a look at each type of station.

Teacher-led Station: Differentiate and Engage

I’ve worked with teachers who don’t see the value of station rotation because they repeat the same instruction for each group at their teacher-led station. I believe that repeating the same information the same way for all students, whether in a whole group or a small group dynamic, is not a great use of our time. Instead, I suggest teachers record short videos introducing information that they plan to present the same way for all students, so students can control the pace they consume and process that information. Then teachers can use their precious time with students on higher-value interactions.

Teachers should focus on two goals in this station: 1) differentiation and 2) engagement. Depending on the grouping strategy a teacher uses, they should consider how they can differentiate by adjusting their explanations, models, word choice, scaffolds, and supports to ensure every student can access the information or tasks presented. Teachers must be strategic about the level of academic rigor and complexity of the practice and application they are assigning to ensure that it is within their zone of possibility. In addition, teachers can strategically pair or group students within their stations for peer support.

Teachers should also think about how they are going to engage students at this station.

  • How will students actively engage at this station?
  • What role will they play in driving this learning experience?
  • Will they have an opportunity to voice opinions or ask questions?

Online Station: 4 Cs of 21st Century Learning

When I work with teachers, I encourage them to design their online station to prioritize at least one of the 4Cs of 21st-century learning: (1) critical thinking, (2) communication, (3) collaboration, and (4) creativity.

Critical Thinking“Tell me how” challenges on FlipGrid to get students to surface their thinking or reasoning.
CommunicationAsynchronous online discussions in your learning management system so everyone gets to participate in the class dialogue.
CollaborationUse a collaborative suite (Google or Microsoft) to get students collaborating in digital spaces around shared tasks.
CreativityAllow students to use digital tools to create artifacts of their learning (e.g., digital stories, infographics, multimedia timelines)

If we design our online station with one or more of these Cs in mind, students are more likely to stay engaged in the learning activity. Too often, the online station is relegated to individual work with adaptive software or watching a video. As a result, students quickly become bored or distracted.

Offline Station: Student Agency

Every student is different, so one task is unlikely to appeal to all learners. I encourage teachers to design this station through the lens of student agency. Student agency refers to the students’ ability to make key decisions about their learning. Agency and autonomy can yield higher levels of motivation over time.

I suggest that teachers begin simply with a “would you rather” approach to agency so they do not feel overwhelmed by the prospect of generating many options. They can give students the chance to work alone or with a partner, make connections in a paragraph or visually in a concept map, annotate a text or draw sketchnotes. A simple but meaningful choice is more likely to keep students engaged at this station.

As I reflect on my early experiences with the station rotation model, I am grateful I had to begin designing collaborative tasks around a shared device. It helped me learn three important lessons that still inform my work in this space.

  1. Learning is, in part, a social endeavor. As such, technology should not be used to isolate learners. It must be used to foster communication and collaboration among members of a learning community.
  2. Technology is simply a vehicle. We can use it to connect students to information, resources, online tools, an audience, and each other. Technology should not be used for technology’s sake.
  3. Learning that is student-centered, student-driven, and student-paced is more meaningful, relevant, and engaging for learners.

Teachers shifting to blended learning and specifically using the station rotation model should “think big, but start small.” Don’t worry about differentiating, building in student agency, and prioritizing the 4Cs on your first attempt at a station rotation; however, know that there is always more you can do with this dynamic and flexible blended learning model!

Want to learn more about blended learning and the station rotation model? Check out my station rotation mini-course!

54 Responses

  1. I like the idea of stations in my world language classroom. I have tired it before a d it worked pretty well with behaved groups. During Covid, I had to re-think almost everything
    . Now that we are back full time in the classroom, I have been using more whole group instruction with smaller group breakdowns for talking in German. I would like to get my student out of whole group more frequently. Thanks for the suggestions.

  2. Loved the “would you rather” pointer! I’ve seen my students become overwhelmed when ask open-ended questions requiring them to generate ideas. This is a good way to “start small” but “think big”. Thanks so much!

  3. I am very interested in your Rotation Station Class. How long will I have access to it?

  4. Hello! One question I have is how you manage the noise level in the room with groups of students working at the different stations, plus what you’re working on at the teacher-led station. Any thoughts about this are appreciated! Thanks.

    • Hi Anthony,

      There is going to be a degree of chatter and noise when one group is engaged in discussion and collaboration, but you can position the stations so that the collaborative station is farthest away from the teacher-led station. When I coach teachers, we often set up the teacher-led at the front of the room with a U-shape configuration so the teacher can work at the front board and students are facing forward. Then in the middle of the room is any individual work (e.g., online video lesson). The at the back of the room (farthest from the teacher-led) is the collaborative station. That tends to keep the notice from the collaborative group from interrupting the teacher-led.

      You can also include a noise meter in your directions so students know what level of volume is acceptable at each station.

      Take care.
      Catlin

      • Thinking about Differentiation in a station rotation..

        You mentioned that all kids go to all stations. Do they have differentiated tubs or folders with work for each group>? For example your high achievers have their own folder or tub with work in it. your needs improvement have their own tub or folder with work in it

        • Hello Neftali,

          In a typical station rotation students do go to each station. The goal of the teacher-led station is to differentiate instruction, models, and support or provide personalize feedback on work in progress. The tasks at the online and offline stations can also be differentiated by presenting students with texts, problems, prompts, and tasks at different levels of rigor and complexity or with different supports and scaffolds. Some teachers assign different versions of work using their learning management system to ensure each student gets what they need or as you mentioned there can be different color folders or buckets with the work.

          However, the design is not set in stone and can be adapted to better cater to individual student needs. For example, a teacher might implement a “must-do, may-do” system, where certain stations are mandatory for all students based on their unique learning requirements, while others are optional and can be chosen based on interest or learning goals. This flexible model allows educators to apply the station rotation method in diverse ways to optimally address their students’ needs.

          Take care.
          Catlin

  5. This sounds awesome! Iā€™m wondering when you first start and have your first group at the teacher led station, what the other two groups are doing, having not yet had the instruction.

  6. I love rotations, especially with labs! Unfortunately, it requires students to be proactive and I still have to supervise and redirect many students.

    • Hi Jo-Ann,

      Yes, it takes students time to develop their self-regulation skills when we use blended learning models that give them more control over their learning experience. As frustrating as those off-task behaviors can be, students need opportunities to direct their learning to improve self-management and responsible decision-making. I’m glad to hear that despite the challenges, you enjoy rotations!

      Take care.
      Catlin

    • Hey Jo-Ann. I love the rotations also. It gives me a better view on my struggling students and the more independent ones. It also helps the students self-pace and make independent decisions on what they are curious about. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Hi
    I love the station rotation mainly for collaboration. I will definitely explore using it for more of the C’s.

    • Definitely, Khaleil.

      When I work with teachers, I encourage them to consider how they can prioritize the 4Cs when designing online learning. It comes more naturally to teachers to think about the 4Cs when designing offline learning, but there is huge potential to drive critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity online too!

      Take care.
      Catlin

    • I agree with you, Khaleil. I have used stations since back when I first started teaching at elementary level. Once I transitioned to middle school, the Blended Learning model worked exceptionally well with these students. One thing I noticed was that students entering my 6th grade class were very familiar with station rotations and worked without hesitation. I don’t think I can think of any behavioral issues arising as students knew the expectations set out for them. It made it all too easy when students have already been familiarized with the process.

  8. I prefer this station rotation to group work. I feel like group work 1 kid does all the work and everyone gets the credit. In a rotation model all participates would have to participate. I have created and completed my rotation station. It went very well did see a few changes I will make in the next one.

  9. Station Rotation was something that Teachers used to do all the time when I was Teaching at the Elementary School level.
    It only makes sense that Students in Middle and Secondary Grades could benefit as well from this type of Blended learning

  10. Echo Jo-Ann Stephens re: off task behavior and Paula re: one student work in groups. As a long term substitute who started mid-year and did not know the students, I started without much guidance or curriculum. As I got to know the students, I moved from presenting information (which was not being received) to adding on-line lessons (CK12 and EdPuzzles) which only some students completed), to emphasizing project work (while including short presentations of science and a few on-line self learning assignments related to the project) before starting project activities.

    I designed the projects designed for groups but some students preferred to work on their own. I included time management, cooperation, collaboration, and persistence (if at first …) in the rubric for each activity. The station mode; would have been a great way for me to “check-in with groups by pulling them aside and offering to answer questions and to provide coaching. My problem was trying to manage the off task disruptive behavior of the majority of students. I never felt like I could “abandon” the supervisor/manager role for the multiple groups to adopt the coach role for smaller groups.

    Recognizing the value of getting to the smaller groups or individuals to coach them on the values I wanted them to embrace (time on task, self and peer management, collaboration and cooperation), I wish I could go back to my start with them and skip the teacher centered and self
    directed approaches and go directly to coaching groups on a regular (station concept) basis.

    Thanks for the coaching – there’s always more to learn.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, John!

      So much of what you describe mirrors some of my own journey from whole group to small group. I have often felt bad that the students at the start of my career did not get the experience that the students later on enjoyed. At the end of the day, we do the best we can in the moment! Now, I work with aspiring teachers to help them cultivate the mindset and skillset needed to enter the classroom with this mentality of teacher as facilitator, who prioritizes small group and individual interactions. It’s so much easier to start that way then change practice after teaching for several years.

      Take care.
      Catlin

    • One thing I noticed when students worked under the Blended Learning Model, even when a substitute would cover my class, students remained on task, ready to tackle either a previously visited station (continuation) or rotate within their group to the next station left for the upcoming days. All in all, the sub would tell me how well behaved and actively working every student was. If any questions arose, either a student from that group would clarify or a student based on observation (from the previously visited group) would step in as they had already completed the assignment for that station. The sub would clearly state as to how pleased they were upon observing the station rotations at its best and could tell how students knew classroom procedures and expectations.

  11. Blended Learning in middle school has worked out exceptionally great. Teachers within the 6th grade RLA and Math felt as if they were able to reach students at a deeper level when breaking the content down to small groups. From my experience, I was able to see how within small group instruction, students were able to collaborate, share ideas, and complete the assignment and/or group task together without hesitation. Blended Learning has been a positive attribute in my class and will continue implementing this model altogether.

  12. I like the would you rather approach to student agency. It does leave a wide open window of ideas, but it does give students a variety of options for showing what they know.

  13. Rotation stations allow for students to work collaboratively in a non-threatening way. Depending on the tasks, students can find certain stations appeal to their unique learning style — which is tremendous for student buy-in!

  14. In our state, some academies are completely asynchronous. How would you suggest implementing blended learning in a completely asynchronous learning environment?

    • Hi Michael, Loreal, and Katrice,

      One of the most fascinating outcomes of the pandemic was witnessing the smooth transition of blended learning models into the online environment. I had the opportunity to implement various virtual teaching strategies that proved to be highly effective. For instance, I regularly conducted virtual station rotations, which allowed students to move between different online learning activities. Additionally, I utilized playlists to provide asynchronous self-paced work for students, while still maintaining regular check-ins with them through video conferencing.

      Another engaging approach I employed was the blended 5Es inquiry model, which combined online and offline learning tasks. This method encouraged students to explore and investigate concepts through a mix of digital resources and hands-on activities. Furthermore, I incorporated flipped content, where students would review instructional materials at home before class, allowing for more interactive and engaging discussions during our virtual sessions.

      What truly excites me about these models is their flexibility. They can seamlessly adapt to various learning environments, whether it’s entirely in-person, a hybrid mode, or fully online. This adaptability ensures that students can continue their education effectively, regardless of the circumstances. The pandemic has truly accelerated the exploration and implementation of these innovative approaches, opening up a world of possibilities for teaching and learning in the future.

      Take care!
      Catlin

  15. Good Morning! We enjoyed reading your article here at our North Carolina Virtual School Symposium. We are discovering that we all do things in a unique way at our prospective virtual/remote schools. Those of us that operate synchronously can easily implement rotation using breakout rooms. We’re discussing best practices for those of us in an asynchronous setting. What are your thoughts on this? Seems like the 4Cs could easily be implemented in that setting. Thank you for any insight or feedback that you may be able to offer.

    • Hi Tonya,

      When implementing the station rotation model in an entirely asynchronous setting, there are ways to adapt the model to provide a similar experience for students. While it may not be possible to replicate a synchronous teacher-led station exactly, you can still incorporate elements of differentiation, modeling, and feedback to support your students’ learning. Here’s how you can adapt the model:

      Pre-recorded Instructional Videos: Instead of a real-time teacher-led station, create pre-recorded instructional videos where you can provide direct instruction, demonstrate problem-solving strategies, and introduce new concepts. These videos can be shared with students to watch at their own pace and serve as a substitute for the synchronous teacher-led station. You may even want to record videos at different levels of rigor and complexity to differentiate the actual instruction or models.

      Differentiated Online Learning Resources: Provide a variety of learning resources that cater to different skill levels and learning preferences. This could include interactive online activities, educational games, or simulations. Assign specific resources based on individual student needs, allowing them to engage with materials that are appropriate for their skill level and provide opportunities for differentiation.

      Discussion Boards or Online Forums: Set up online discussion boards or forums where students can engage in asynchronous discussions related to the subject matter. Assign prompts or discussion topics that encourage students to share their thoughts, ask questions, and respond to their peers. This fosters a sense of community and allows for peer-to-peer interaction, even without real-time meetings.

      Feedback and Assessment: Develop a system for providing feedback and assessing student progress. This could involve providing written feedback on assignments using video or audio recordings to make that feedback more personalized and detailed. Establishing consistent feedback loops ensures students receive guidance and support throughout the learning process.

      Virtual Office Hours or Individual Check-Ins: Dedicate specific times for virtual office hours or individual check-ins where students can schedule appointments to meet with you. This provides an opportunity for one-on-one or small-group interactions, allowing you to address specific questions, provide personalized support, and offer individualized feedback.

      By adapting the station rotation model to an asynchronous setting, you can still provide differentiated instruction, models, and feedback to your students. The key is to provide clear instructions, leverage technology tools for engagement and interaction, and establish regular communication channels to support students’ learning journey.

      I hope that helps! I also provided a link to a blog about virtual station rotations I wrote during COVID in my response to Micki.

      Take care.
      Catlin

  16. Dr. Tucker,
    Thank you for your insight. In reading your article, we were wondering how you would adapt this rotation model to fit an asynchronous online classroom.

    Thanks!

  17. Dr. Tucker,
    Thank you for sharing such great information on the Rotation Model. The “Would You Rather” choice option is a great way to frame student voice/choice. I would love to get further information on how to implement the 4 C’s in the virtual setting with overcoming obstacles of constant creation, etc…

  18. Our school is a virtual academy and our students are 100% online with instruction provided through Zoom daily. Do you have any suggestions to implement the rotation model virtually?

  19. As secondary teachers, we often lean to lectures which results in too much teacher talk. The rotations allow opportunities for students to communicate with one another and to work on their own.

    NC Rethink Ed group 4

  20. hello!
    It is very intresting pedagogy, but I think it is preferred to small number of students. do the content/ intended outcome differ to each station? how many stations in some they mention four here are three only.

    • Hi Elias,

      The total number of stations depends on how many students you want in a station. There is no “correct” number. You may have three, four, or six stations depending on the total number of students in your class or how many days you plan to dedicate to a station rotation. It’s totally flexible!

      Catlin

  21. I love the fact that when I am working in small groups I am still able to pay close attention to individual learners and collaborate with them. The ELA students take their learning into their hands and actively consume the content being taught. They think-pair-share with their partners or peers and the station allows the teacher to cater different learning styles. The stations setup allows time for more practice, small group or teacher time, choice work time, independency, and collaboration.

  22. My students typically have autonomy in my class to work in groups or individually…but I do love the would you rather approach! Stealing this idea. šŸ™‚

  23. I recently implemented the Station Rotation method in my Chinese Language writing lesson, and I must say, it proved to be a valuable approach, especially when dealing with limited technology resources. By structuring the activities to cater to each student’s readiness level, I witnessed a high level of engagement among my students.

    The Station Rotation allowed me to make the most of the limited technology available in the classroom. I set up various stations, each offering unique tasks and exercises, tailored to the individual needs and abilities of my students. Some stations involved interactive language learning apps, while others focused on hands-on writing exercises or collaborative discussions.

    As I observed my students moving from one station to another, I was thrilled to see their enthusiasm and focused attention. They actively participated in the activities, and I noticed significant improvements in their language comprehension and writing skills.

    Moreover, the Station Rotation approach encouraged peer-to-peer learning and collaboration. Students were more willing to help each other, share ideas, and exchange feedback, which contributed to a positive and supportive learning atmosphere.

    Overall, implementing the Station Rotation in my Chinese Language writing lesson was a rewarding experience. It not only maximized the use of limited technology but also allowed me to meet the diverse needs of my students effectively. I am excited to continue exploring innovative teaching methods and integrating technology to create more engaging and enriching learning experiences for my students in the future.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience with other educators, Nicole! I love hearing that you had a positive experience with the station rotation and that it allowed you to maximize your limited technology, positively impacted your students engagement and attention, and encouraged peer-to-peer interactions and collaboration. Those are all benefits of this model that I’ve observed as a teacher and coach.

      Take care.
      Catlin

  24. I am liking this idea. I have taught summer school at the elementary and use stations. I haven’t thought about using in high school. I am thinking this would be fun to try. Giving students more time to try some activities independently, while I lead another.

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