Have Total Engagement in High School with Stations Lessons

Do you want to engage your students in social studies? Would you like to get them out of their seats and moving around? Do you want them to critically analyze your content? The answer to all of these questions is a station lesson! 

From middle school to AP classes station lessons are sure to engage, encourage participation, and motivate your students in any subject area. Stations are embedded in many of the units I teach, and I’ve even used them to earn “highly effective” teacher evaluations. I love stations because they allow me to: encourage cooperative learning,  encourage critical thinking about content, differentiate by meeting the needs of different learning styles, and get students up and moving.

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My students have internalized my procedures and expectations, so facilitating stations is like “watching the magic happen.”  When I was teaching my interest group stations lesson, my students were so engaged that I could have walked out of the room and they would have still been learning. This is how you successfully teach a station lesson in your classroom. 

Planning is Key!

First, think of a topic you want to design as a station lesson. I usually think of a lesson that can have many moving parts such as notes, images, political cartoons, videos, primary sources, etc. Stations lessons are best when there are differentiated activities to engage all learners. I usually make: 

  • station one a notes station
  • station two a visual station
  •  station three an application station
  • station four a reading station
  • station five can be an additional activity

 The key to stations is making each station independent of the others and engaging! 

During stations, you’re not exactly “teaching” in the traditional sense of the word, but you’ve designed and orchestrated the entire learning experience behind the scenes. During my first year teaching in 2007, I had a principal come to observe my classroom and proceeded to say “I will come back when you are teaching.” Little did he know that I was teaching and so much work went into my lesson! With stations, you have created the conditions in which your students can learn, and that is better than merely “teaching” your students.  


I set up each station with folders and clear instructions in steps on what to do at each station. Each Folder says Station 1, Station 2, Station 3, etc. The folders stay at each station so it keeps your lesson organizing. I copy each station’s lessons on different colored paper. So when they finish at a station, I tell them to put the paper back into the folder. I make one handout that they carry around to each station that is clearly labeled Station 1, Station 2, Station 3, etc. This handout and their writing utensils stay with them.  

Directions are Important

Before I start a station lesson, I set up my desks into groups of 4 or 5 depending on how big my class is and how many stations I have. Having the desks already set up before they arrive helps with organization. When they walk in the door, I hand them a colored popsicle stick. I have the colors displayed on each station. For example, if they have a blue popsicle stick they go to to the blue station etc. I also have the station signs clearly displayed.  This set up allows for students to be with mixed abilities and different friends. I also make sure certain problem students are not in the same group. 

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I give clear instructions to take out a pen or pencil and put their belongings to the side of the room. I once forgot to do this and I had one student trip on a classmate’s backpack! Lesson learned!  Thankfully he was fine. 🙂 I introduce that we are doing a station lesson today and that they will have 6 or 8 minutes a station. I also explain which direction we are going to rotate–the first time I taught a station lesson I didn’t explain this and some of my students were confused about which way to go!

I use an online timer, so students can keep track of their pacing within the station. I once forgot a timer and I found my kids were getting distracted. The timer helps keep them focused and excited to move to the next station. 

What if they finish a station early? 

If they finish a station early they may work on their homework in the back of the station packet. I always have a homework assignment available when we do a station lesson. This helps if one station is shorter or longer than the others. It also helps minimize distractions and problems if a student finishes a station early, as well as giving the gifted students a chance to get ahead–which they love! 

Debriefing Stations 

I always have a series of debriefing questions at the end of the station’s lesson to review key concepts. This allows me to gauge their understanding and make sure the most important concepts really hit home.  I also walk around and check their station’s note packet for completion and give them a participation grade for the day. 

Like simulations, students will be engaged during the stations, which means you will not have to redirect students as much. You will need to “train” students on what is appropriate and expected behavior during stations, but once you have done this, the activity should be pretty routine. Also, students have less time to be off-task because each station ideally lasts about 6-8 minutes, so students (hopefully!) will not begin to drift off or get distracted before they change to a new station.

Remember the wise words of Albert Einstein: “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”  Stations will not be perfect the first time you facilitate them. Embrace the mistakes that may happen, the sometimes-too-loud noise level, and the constant reinforcement of your procedures. Soon, you’ll be embracing the joy that comes with creating an engaging, student-centered learning experience for your students. 

Here are some of my favorite station’s lessons! 

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