Using stations in the social studies classroom can increase student engagement, and stations aren’t just for elementary school kids!
Be sure to check out the blog posts I wrote about how you can use simulations and interactive notebooks in your classroom as an instructional strategy instead of lecturing. Or you can read about how you can incorporate political cartoons in your classroom (with a FREE analysis page!). Want to learn more about social studies escape rooms? Yep, I got that, too!
Again, I am definitely NOT trying to knock lecturing as an instructional strategy because there IS a time and place for it in the classroom. However, I want to encourage you to expand your teaching strategies beyond lecturing and PowerPoints.
The second instruction strategy I am going to share with you during my “7 Ways to Step Away From the Lecture Podium & Revitalize Your Social Studies Classroom” blog series is Social Studies STATIONS.
WHAT ARE Social Studies STATIONS?
Stations are kind of like centers (BTW- I learned the first day of 6th grade NOT to call centers “centers”! Stations. Call them stations!) Each station is on a small card, and it contains instructions on what the student needs to do, and each station is different. I like to try and incorporate multiple intelligences within the stations so that every student has at least one station he/she looks forward to. I create stations so that each one focuses on a different sub-topic and has a different type of output. Once you have your stations set up, small groups of students move through them. Stations can last however long you want. I typically have stations that last 1-2 days. This works best if stations are independent of one another so that students can complete them in any order. This keeps it from being too many students waiting to work at one station, and it also keeps you from having to make tons of copies.
WHY USE Social Studies STATIONS?
- Easy yet effective- You don’t need a lot of materials for stations. In some cases, you only need the card and recording sheet for students. You don’t even have to have technology to implement stations!
- Perfect if you are limited in your technology access- Some of the stations I create do use QR codes because my students have easy access to technology. However, if you only have a handful of laptops or iPads available, or maybe even less, you can have one station use technology. Students can rotate through this station, so you really only need a couple of laptops or iPads.
- Fewer discipline issues- Like simulations, students will be engaged during the stations, which means you will have to redirect students less. You will need to “train” students on what is appropriate and expected behavior during stations, but once you have done this, stations should be pretty routine. Also, students have less time to be off-task because each station ideally lasts about 15 minutes, so students won’t begin to drift off or get distracted before they change to a new station.
- Great for review- I usually use social studies stations as a review of a unit we just finished. Each station focuses on one major sub-topic of that unit, so after students have completed the stations, they will have had a nice, quick review of the important concepts from that unit.
- Offers differentiation- Stations are a great way to differentiate for your students. You can have students complete specific stations if they need extra practice, or you can include higher-level thinking stations for your advanced learners. Since you are in control of creating the stations, you can tailor them to meet the specific needs of your learners.
- Critical thinking- If you include primary documents in your social studies stations, students will have to analyze those sources in order to complete them. We all know primary documents are not always easy to understand! Students also have to draw upon the knowledge they already learned to know which skills they need to apply at what station.
- Stations are fun- Stations offer novelty in the classroom, and since students are in charge of their learning at each station, they really enjoy it! It gives them a sense of independence, and because each station only lasts for a short time, students don’t get bored. My students looked forward to station days because they knew they would hear less of me talking and more of them taking. What student doesn’t want that?!
HOW DO I IMPLEMENT Social Studies STATIONS?
- First, make sure you have adequate time. You don’t want to rush students through them. My class periods typically were 55 minutes long, and I usually allowed 2 days for stations. The first 1o minutes of my class was spent watching CNN Ten (if you haven’t watched it, please do. It is the PERFECT way to keep students informed of daily events around the world in a non-partisan way. My students LOVED watching it!), so I really had about 45 minutes of instruction time. The first day I explained each station so students knew what to do, and that usually took about 15 minutes. Students worked the remaining 30 minutes until the bell rang, and then the following day they had 45 minutes to finish them. This was plenty of time for my students to complete all the stations. Some stations will take longer than others, so make sure as you are creating the stations, you take this into account. If you have two stations that will take 20-25 minutes to complete, you will have fewer total stations.
- Also, make sure each station has everything needed for students readily available. You don’t want students to waste time gathering materials. My stations usually consisted of the station card and access to technology if the station used a QR code. A couple of my stations also needed individual cards printed out. For example, I always had an “Assess It” station. This station consisted of 18 questions students had to answer, so each question was on its own smaller card. If you have something like this, make sure all the question cards are ready to go in a small baggie so they don’t get lost. You can also put them on a small ring to keep them organized. If a station requires a map or globe, make sure the map or globe is sitting at the station, ready to go. Some of my stations required coloring, so my students knew to take their coloring utensils with them. Just make sure students have what they need as soon as they get to that particular station. You don’t want any wasted time!
- You also need to decide if students are going to be moving around the room. I had my students rotate to a different table (I used tables in my classroom, not desks). Each table had a different station set out. Students were able to move around to get their wiggles out in between stations. You might rather have the students stay in one spot and rotate the stations around.
- You want students to be held accountable for the stations, so they need some type of recording sheet you can grade or look over. I made booklets for my students (well, not really booklets. I just stapled the recording pages together so students couldn’t lose them). When students finished the stations, they knew they needed to turn them in the basket.
- You will also need to decide if you are going to grade them or just look over them. I always took a grade because students should know the information since I used stations as a review, and I wanted students to know they needed to put forth their best effort on these. If I didn’t take a grade, some of my lovelies would have rushed through, not giving their best effort.
- What will students do when they are finished? Some of my students needed the entire second day to finish, while others did not. Make sure students know what they will do when they are finished with the stations. You might not want to give them free time because this could turn into them distracting those students who are still working. When my students finished, I had different options for them.
»One option was History Vaults. I had sets of “vaults” with a little-known fact written on them. Students would need to discuss and decide if the fact was true or false before opening the vault (or turning the card over) to see if they were right. I wrote a blog post about this activity that goes into detail on how I set this activity up. My students LOVED it! The best part was that they didn’t need a ton of time. They could complete one vault in less than 10 minutes.
»Another option was a simulation we had already completed. This was only if students finished up the second day pretty quickly, and we had around 25-30 minutes left of class. My students completed a simulation for each unit, and by the time we got to the stations for the unit, we had already completed the simulation. My students always begged to do the simulation multiple times because each time is a different outcome based on their choices, what card they draw, or what number they roll. I had a simulation set created and ready-to-go for each simulation we had already done just for early finishers. Students already knew what to do, so they could jump right in without my help. You can read more about how I ran simulations in my classroom.
»If my students still needed to find an event for their date for our “This Day in History” project, they could use their remaining time to use our classroom computers (or their own technology) to do this. Students had 4-5 dates per quarter, so this was always a good early finisher choice for them.
»Some of my students preferred to look over their interactive notebooks and review because they knew our unit test would be coming up soon.
»If the majority of my students finished early enough that second day, I went ahead and passed out their study guides for the unit test because the stations were the last activity we did before the test. My students appreciated the extra time given to complete their study guides 🙂 If you need a comprehensive social studies unit that includes everything you need to teach a topic, I do have social studies curriculum units available.
READY TO TRY social studies STATIONS IN YOUR CLASSROOM?
If you are ready to give social studies stations a try, I created this Reconstruction Era mini-stations pack you can download for FREE! Try it out, and see how your students like it. This is a mini-pack, so there are just 4 stations included, but it is the perfect amount to see if you want to continue using stations in your classroom 🙂 If you know you want to use stations in your classroom, I have several social studies stations packs available. Just print and go!
I would love to hear about your experience using social studies stations in your classroom in the comment section below!
Todd Gallen says
You are very welcome!
Marian Hill says
I love the concept and would like to implement the station/ simulation in my classroom. Is there anyone who has done stations for 6th grade social studies?
Hi, Marian! It depends on which topics you are looking for. Which ones do you need stations for?
Richard Bretz says
It looks like something I could use in my station rotations.
Love these ideas!