When first implementing the station rotation model, many teachers express concern about designing offline student-led collaborative stations. Although they understand the benefits of these collaborative conversations in station rotation, including increased self-efficacy, relationship building, and constructing knowledge together,  teachers usually feel more comfortable designing teacher-led collaborative stations where they can control the discussion and ensure everyone is on task. However, the goal of the station rotation model, specifically and blended learning more generally, is to provide students with opportunities for agency, including selecting the questions they choose to answer and working at their own pace.  

A simple strategy that I have used to help teachers design offline student-led collaborative stations is talking chips, also known as discussion chips. The process itself is simple:

  1. The teacher provides a list of questions for students to discuss.  
  2. The students are each given a set amount of talking chips. 
  3. Each time a student contributes to the discussion, they put a chip in the center of the table.  
  4. Once all the chips are used, the students collect their chips and continue the conversation until the time is up. 

Station Set Up

When designing these student-led offline stations, I encourage teachers to arrange the desks and chairs into groups of 4-5. That way, there are enough students to keep the conversation going but not too many students, which can make it easy for students to stay quiet and not contribute to the discussion. 

At each table group, place the talking chips at the center of the table in a basket or bag. Teachers can create their talking chips using anything from plastic poker chips to laminated pieces of paper. Decide on how many chips students will use during the discussion; I personally like to provide each student with six chips, but anywhere in the range of four to eight chips works well. I also recommend that each set of chips is a different color, which allows the teacher to see at-a-glance who has been contributing to the discussion. 

In addition to having clear written directions at each table, provide multiple copies of the questions that the students will be discussing. I recommend providing each group with a list of six to ten related questions. Let your students know that they do not need to answer every question, and they do not need to answer the questions in order. This is an easy way to promote student choice in the classroom and allow the conversation to feel more natural and free-flowing.  

If students are referring to a text or other materials, you should have copies of those texts or materials at each table group. 

Keep the Conversation Going

Depending on the needs or dynamics of the class, teachers may also want to assign a “conversation captain” for each group. This student encourages others to share and helps to keep the group on task. Teachers indicate who the conversation captains are by putting an asterisk next to their names on whatever document they use to project the student groups.

If needed, the teacher can also provide a tent for the conversation captain in each group. On the back side of the tent are tips to help the captains facilitate the conversation. To make a copy, click here. 

A blue rectangular sign with white text

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To help students clearly articulate their ideas and opinions, teachers can also provide sentence frames for students to refer to as they participate in the discussion. This is a helpful strategy for English Learners and students who need extra support when formulating their thoughts. 


At the end of the activity, ask students to reflect upon their collaborative discussion, assessing their personal contributions as well as the overall quality of the conversation. Teachers can facilitate this metacognitive practice by having students reflect in writing or using a Google Form like the one pictured below.

Student reflections provide teachers insight into what the group discussed as well as the overall effectiveness of and engagement during the conversations. It also provides students an opportunity to set a goal for the next time they encounter talking chips during station rotation. 

Additional Tips

  • Have students participate in talking chips as a whole group activity before implementing it during station rotation. This is an important scaffold that allows you to monitor all students as they first use the discussion strategy and address any issues.  
  • While designing the teacher-led station, incorporate a two-minute activity in which students are working independently. Take these two minutes to circulate the room and monitor the groups using talking chips. If you are using different colored chips for each member of the group, you can see who has been contributing to the conversation and who needs encouragement.  
  • If you want students to fill out the reflection form during the station, provide the groups with a timer. If your stations are 20 minutes each, on your written directions, instruct students to set the timer for 16 minutes for discussion, so they can spend the last 4 minutes filling out the reflection piece.
  • Meet with your conversation captains prior to the station rotation. Explain to them what their role is in the station. Their goal is not just to share their own ideas but to help others share their ideas.  

In their book, The Shift to Student-Led, Dr. Catlin Tucker and Dr. Katie Novak write, “When we shift toward student-led discussions, we are supporting the development of expert learning as well as critical social-emotions learning skills, including self-awareness, empathy, perspective-taking, and responsible decision making.” Implementing the talking chips during an offline student-led collaborative station is one strategy to help students build upon these necessary 21st-century skills. More often than not, students find this strategy both engaging and fun. 

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