Station rotation: Save time, engage students in any K-12 classroom

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Thursday, March 24, 2022

Station rotation: Save time, engage students in any K-12 classroom

Station rotation keeps students engaged in multiple activities. Plus, it isn't hard to set up! Here are some ideas.


When we think of stations or centers we often think of young children moving around the room to various activities. While stations can, and do, work well in lower elementary classrooms they also have a very important role in upper elementary, middle and high school.

Stations can provide time for practice, preview, review, collaboration, choice work time, and small group or individual teacher time.

What does station rotation look like in the classroom?

The number and type of stations might look different in every classroom but the basic idea usually stays the same. Students are in small groups and rotate around from station to station to complete a series of tasks while the teacher works with groups or individual students. Students may rotate to a teacher station as a group or the teacher may pull small groups or individual students out of the rotation to meet with them as needed.

Station rotation in high school

High school might be the last place you would think of when you picture stations in the classroom but they can provide valuable opportunities to meet with small groups of students. In the video below, How and Why to Integrate Station Rotation into Your Classroom, Catlin Tucker shows us what station rotation looks like in her high school classroom. 

Click to play

Station rotation in middle school

Kristin Daley Conti uses stations in her 7th grade science classroom all the time. She contributed the ideas below to give us an example of what stations might look like in a middle school science classroom. Click on the colored buttons to see the specific task cards for each station. 

Station rotation in the elementary classroom

The elementary classroom is a fun and exciting place to bring in stations. You can keep all of the stations planned around one subject or use your station rotation time to incorporate practice in every subject area. Below is an example of what an ELA station rotation might look like in an elementary school classroom. Click on the colored buttons to see the specific task cards for each station. 

Getting started with station rotation in your classroom

Effective station rotation doesn't just happen overnight. It does take some planning and teaching of procedures and expectations. Luckily there are lots of resources out there to help you . Here are a few of our favorites.

FREE station rotation task cards!

If you have never done stations before then planning them out might seem like a daunting and time consuming task.  But helping you teach better and save time is what EfficienTEACH is all about! That's why we, along with the amazing Ditchbook community, have created these station rotation task cards that you can copy and adapt to your classroom. Just go to "file" then "make a copy" to add it to your Google drive. Or go to "file" then "download "  and choose "Microsoft PowerPoint" if you are a Microsoft user. 

You can make a copy of these cards anytime and edit them to fit your class. Be sure to check the original file as more cards will be added as other community members share their ideas. Just go to "file" then "make a copy" to add it to your Google drive. Or go to "file" then "download "  and choose "Microsoft PowerPoint" if you are a Microsoft user.

Want to contribute a station rotation task card idea? It's easy! Just make a copy of this template and follow the directions on the slide.

10 tips for efficient station rotation in any class

We reached out the the incredible Ditchbook community to share their tips and resources for implementing station rotation in the classroom and we got some fantastic responses! Below you will find 10 tips, including more resources, from other teachers who are using stations in their classroom. 

1. Utilize pre-created resources to save time.

Contributed by Gabriele Hughes

I found this  instructional strategies playlist very helpful especially to new teachers. When you scroll to page 2, all the strategies are listed under the different topics. When you click on a strategy, for example ‘Brainiac’  (rehearsal and practice playlist) it takes you to the page where the activity is explained in detail. Some of the activities, like this one, also have links provided on the left side for templates. This resource is like a one-stop-shop.

Source: lead4ward instructional strategies playlists

2. Use Teacherstack.com to set up your groups and rotations.

Contributed by Lindsey Cary

I wanted to share a few tips I've learned in the past few years of using stations in my seventh grade language arts classes.  I use the free website called teacherstack.com.  It is a game changer for me.  It allows me to create classes and set up rotation series.  If I'm using timed rotations, I can project which group everyone is in, what the stations are, and the time remaining in an easy to follow grid.  

Teacherstack.com has taken away the problem of kids not remembering which station/task they rotate to.  It also allows me to focus on working with my small groups instead of watching the time or starting a timer.  There are even choices for transition music you can play in between stations. This helps my students with cleaning up and preparing for the next station in a more orderly and quicker manner.  I know not all station rotation models are this structured and time dependent, but for when you want stations to be just that, this website is so helpful!  (There are other great features on this site as well.) 

3. Have a variety of stations to increase engagement.

Have a variety of centers - some that will be easy for students to manage on their own and some that require more supervision from the teacher. 

Music room rotation ideas shared by Amber Houk

  • Reading Center - Students are listening and reading along with the book "The Jazz Fly" by Matthew Gollub
  • Instrument Center - Students are using the boomwhacker instruments to figure out the mystery songs.
  • Listening Center - Students are listening to Celtic music and free drawing if they would like.
  • Activity Center - Students discover clues about an instrument inside a paper bag. They organize their clues on a worksheet that's inside a dry erase pocket.
  • Movement Center - Students play two movement games that we've played in class - statue cards and movement word wall.
  • Music Game Center - Students create music using one of the games on the Chrome Music Lab. 

Student rotation ideas shared by Rebecca Crim

  • A QR code (to a website, video, interactive learning game, etc.)
  • Manipulatives (board game, flashcards, pictures...really anything they can hold, touch, and move)
  • With the teacher (it's great to have a moment to check in with the students)
  • Create something as a group (an ad, a meme, a new invention related to the topic...the ideas are endless)
  • Create something as an individual (similar to above, only done on their own, usually back in their seats)

Favorite station or center activities shared by Jaime Rowland

Poetry Museum - allow your students to appreciate poetry before you begin to analyze poetry by putting up lots of different poems around your room. Students view the poems like they might view paintings in a museum. You can tie an assignment or just allow them to select a favorite.

Meet the teacher stations (I learned about this on Tik Tok ).


Station 1: Investigate the teacher - students look around the room and make inferences about their findings.
Station 2: Close Read the syllabus
Station 3: Student survey
Station 4: Collaborate with others to develop 5 teacher expectations
Station 5: Email Etiquette - email the teacher

Choice station rotation ideas shared by Stacy Benton

I am a second grade teacher who has tried every way to set up station rotations and centers since I started teaching 11 years ago. I have found a fluid approach most effective and engaging for my students. This approach gives my students choice as to the order in which they want to visit each rotation. It is their responsibility to visit and complete each rotation activity by the end of rotation time on the fourth day. The rotations remain the same each week. I just change the content being addressed. I also differentiate activities for certain students.

We use rotations four days a week for thirty minutes each day. The rotations are:
  • Vocabulary
  • Write and Video (using Flipgrid)
  • Seesaw Scavenger Hunt (using the week's decodable reader to search for a phonics skill)
  • Teacher Talk (I pull small groups or individual students to conference or practice with me)

Exemplar station rotation idea shared by Jane Schuster

As a science teacher station rotation is easily incorporated into many of our labs. For example, in my anatomy classes if we are doing dissections I will have each group of students locate a different structure and ‘pin’ it. Then the groups will rotate through to see each example before finding it on their own specimen.

4. Start small and go slow.

Contributed by Melanie Winstead

Teach the station / center expectations and process with a low/no-stakes task. Once students understand expectations and procedures, then add in content.

Start small--Begin with station/center activities that are short (5 minutes) to teach and reinforce expectations and build from there.

Try a few station / center activities prior to working in a teacher-led station so that students are used to the process. 

5. Have some sort of product, outcome or exit ticket for each station.

Contributed by Julie Cremin

When doing station rotation activities with older students (middle and high school), it's essential to have a "deliverable" for each station -- something they complete and turn in, or have you check off, before moving to the next station.

Sometimes this might look like:

  • After reading an article at Station 1, create an Adobe Spark Post (now CC Express) with a PDA about the topic.
  • After analyzing primary source documents at Station 2, submit a thesis statement that answers the question at the station.
  • Or, it might mean that they're adding information to a table or chart (hard copy or digital) as they visit each station, in which case I check their work after they're done with each station before they move on, to make sure they have all the info/content/skills they need. 

6. Be flexible and add in some fun!

Contributed by Liz Goetze

An argument FOR stations 

The reason that more teachers don’t use stations is that teachers all feel there is too much curriculum to cover and we know that letting students out of their seats increases transition time. Therefore one might reason less teaching time is available with stations.

That said, I teach grade 9 and 10 science along with grade 11 University level chemistry. I use station labs all the time. Yes, we do lose transition time. BUT working with their friends and allowing students to move at their own pace reignites the joy in learning. So students are more willing to concentrate during longer lessons - so we actually cover more! Ironic, isn’t it?

And I am also finding the pandemic has caused a hard reset in student behaviour. Students are grateful for everything again. They say thank you for lessons; they help clean up after labs; they are so happy and grateful for labs. And they are listening better and thinking about little ways to honour their friends. Hey - we’re turning back into Canadians again!! As a person who is Canadian first, and any genetic heritage as a strong second, I love this.

Planning for stations 

Station labs require much more thinking and advanced planning on the teacher’s part as well. I have to backmap my planning so that students receive enough formative assessment in the type and quantity of observations to make, the type of vocabulary I need to assess, the type of calculations I need them to understand and work through and a balance of fun reactions (generally involving Bunsen burners or something they can eat 🙂 along with slower reactions that are more like “a dry toast”- necessary but a bit boring because they take longer - like waiting for silver to precipitate.

Incorporating fun 

I also love and use escape rooms, gallery walks, sidewalk chalk outside in warmer weather. Right before a holiday kids are wired, so right before March break we did a tie dye lab as a stations lab that was completely optional. There was no quiz, and nothing to hand in. Some students tie dyed their socks because they forgot to bring anything. Some students had a nap because they had written a Chem test for me, a physics quiz, a French immersion essay and they were ‘burnt out. And some students had a math test on the the last day before the break, so they studied. And some meditated or chatted with their friends. It was perfect.

So, really, I guess what I am saying is that a teacher has to start building a positive and trusting relationship with students starting on the very first day of class.


Students have to understand why we need a safety agreement, how to build positive relationships with their peers and the teacher, how to pay it forward for their families. And mental health for students has to be number 1. I have to trust the students; they have to trust me. And if you’ve got that rapport with your students, there is absolutely no reason that any discipline should not be using station work! 

7. Incorporate stations virtually.

Contributed by Cheryl Bischof

I have found that creating Zoom Rooms (named by starting center name) and creating a google sheet with a tab for each "rotation" has been super helpful. This way students can see the task, pertinent links/resources, and outcomes they need for each rotation. If they are staying together as a group, they can "rotate" to the next center by clicking on the next tab (no need to actually change rooms-more efficient!) and I can send an announcement "time to go to next tab" as the next rotation at the designated time interval.

It takes a bit of time to set up, but once they get the hang of it, it is really fun. And (added bonus) you can quickly modify groups by exchanging students in different rooms as you feel is needed. Just remember to allow screen share from multiple participants and you are ready to go! Fun collaborative learning! 

8. Use stations for timely feedback

Contributed by Jennifer Utt

One of my favorite teacher-led stations is feedback on writing. While students are working at the station on a portion of the writing, I meet with students one-on-one about a previously completed part of the task. If they are working on body paragraphs, I will meet with them about their introductions for instance. 

9. If you’re short on time pass the station

Contributed by Lisa Stevens

I teach U.S. History. I've found the quickest way to complete stations is to have all materials in a big envelope or folder. I arrange desks in groups and pass the folders from one group to the next. My classes are only 50 minutes, so time moving from one station to another often takes away from work time.

I don't always use this method. Sometimes I still have students travel around the room, but if we have a lot to work through, having them stay in their seats works much better. 

10. Don’t give up!

Contributed by Lisa Brown

Don’t give up if it’s not perfect the first hundred times you try it. These are kids, not robots. They need training on stations. 

Example: Using Padlet to Organize Station Rotations

Contributed by Donna Schies

You may have heard that station rotations are one of the best ways to meet all of your students’ learning needs, and as true as that may be, it can be a nightmare to organize.

To streamline this process, I decided to use the EfficienTEACH station rotation task cards. They have a great layout with a consistent format that students can easily understand. 

1. Provide task cards to students. I decided to embed these station rotation task cards into a Padlet (padlet.com) so everything could be easily accessible from one simple link. Padlet allows you to organize resources under specific categories in their shelf format, which is what I used for my station rotations. See the image below.


2. Create a station rotation classroom map. I also used the task cards to create a station rotation classroom map so students would know exactly where they are going when they rotate, and exactly what they are supposed to be doing when they get there. Below is a picture of my classroom station rotation map which I also easily embedded on the Station Rotation Padlet.


3. Quickly student groups. Creating groups that work well together can be a tricky formula for teachers, but I have found a pretty easy way to generate some quick groups by using the toolkit in ClassDojo (classdojo.com). I prefer groups of 3, because sometimes 4 can be too many. Plus, if you have partner groups, it never fails, someone is always absent. Below is an image of the groups created on ClassDojo. I hid their names, but you get the idea. Student groups were also easily included on the Padlet.


4. Use timers to manage time. I added two YouTube timer video links to my Padlet, one for 20 minutes and the other one for 15. This is mostly because some of my classes need more time to complete their work at each station. The timers that I used were both Among Us themed and my students really enjoyed that, but you could use any type of timer that you like. On the picture below you can see the teacher support that I have embedded in my padlet. 


5. Wrap it up with reflection. For reflection and accountability to the station rotation model, I included a Google Form survey on my Padlet that students complete at the end of the period. The survey that I use has reflection sentence stems to make the reflecting process more thoughtful. You can check it out below.


My students LOVED the station rotation activities and the organization of it all was made incredibly easy by using Padlet. Check out the big picture of it all below. I strongly suggest you try it out. It will make your life as a teacher so much easier and the quality and efficiency of your stations will create better learning outcomes for your students. 


Here is a picture of my students working on their station rotation activities. They really did a great job collaborating and working together because they knew exactly what to do. After trying my stations this way, I honestly would not want to run stations any other way.


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