Building language arts skills in our students through literacy stations.
Literacy centres or literacy stations is a part of the reading workshop that provides space for students to work on their different literacy needs. Reading Rockets defines it as a physical area "for students to read, write, participate in meaningful experiences, and collaborate with others so that they can develop their ability to read and comprehend text(s)." Teacher Vision explains that "the teacher is able to provide reading instruction to small groups of students without interruption." As a result, literacy stations can be a space where differentiation can come alive in the greatest form.
As a result, literacy stations have become widely used in many classrooms. However, planning and implementing stations requires consideration. To provide context, I have outlined two approaches that I find useful when planning and implementing — one through an activity-based approach and the other through a central text approach.
Activity-based stations are quite self explanatory. These are stations that are planned based on different activities, allowing students to focus on a specific objective or skill. These activities are based around a connection to the language arts, including but not limited to guided reading, independent reading, sight words, spelling, vocabulary, and writing.
Step 1: Think of four to five stations to prepare for the activity-based stations. These stations should reflect what the students are learning. For example, if students are learning sight words then it would be beneficial to plan and implement a sight words station. Then, think of the specific activity that students will be experiencing. Again, for example, a sight words station could include one of the sight words activities like Boom or Sparkle. The possibilities are endless with the number of station ideas that are available online. However, I recommend selecting activities that encourage learning and not just ones that keep students occupied.
Step 2: Make either heterogenous or homogenous groups based on the needs of the classroom. Then, write down all the groups on a chart paper, so the students know where they are supposed to be. You can also make a chart with where each group has to go, but that can be done orally as well, especially if the students know well enough by now where to go after one station (our classroom simply moves clockwise after 15 to 20 minutes at a station). Some teachers keep a schedule for stations, noting where each group is supposed to be on a particular day.
Step 3: If introducing stations at the beginning of the year, scaffold the way the stations in terms of their introduction. For instance, model one activity at a time and then implement the activities in steps. Here, in the first week, practice a reading fluency and writing station. Show students the appropriate behaviour (i.e. how to manage themselves at the station). This really helps make expectations clear to our students. In fact, at the beginning of the year, I even have students practice how to rotate from one station to the next. Once students ease into stations, you can then have them jump into the weekly stations with a brief explanation of the four to five stations. Literacy stations based on different activities and games are one of my favourite ways to do stations. Students love the activities and games so much that they even use them at recess. If that does not melt a teacher's heart then I do not know what will.
Literacy stations based on a central text are an excellent way to plan and implement stations, which I first learned from one of my Program Mangers at Teach for India, Sapna Shah. Here, while students can still engage in some form of an activity, the stations are all based on one central text that the students have already been exposed to during the reader's workshop. For example, if the central text happens to be around the children's book, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, then all the stations would be linked to that specific book.
Step 1: The first step for planning literacy stations based on a central text is to select a text. As a suggestion, it should be a text that has been already read to the students through the reader's workshop. It means that students have had exposure to the text as a whole class, having an idea of the characters, setting, and other literary elements. The text should also be versatile in nature in the sense that it should lend itself to enough material to plan literacy stations.
Step 2: The second step is to group the students together either through the heterogenous or homogenous groups. As a preference, I usually put students in heterogenous groups to allow for a bit of diversity in terms of the literacy levels. However, every classroom is different and it makes sense to move forward accordingly. Once that is decided, it is ideal to put students into groups of four to five. Again, this may have to be realistically altered for a classroom with more students.
Step 3: Then, it is time to think about the specific stations based on the central text. I approach this through four stations: reading, speaking and listening, word play, and writing. At the reading station, students re-read the text independently or with the teacher along with a formative assessment. The speaking and listening station usually involves a Reader's Theatre based off the text or a drama activity (e.g. re-enact a scene from the text). The word play stations varies depending on the text, drawing ideas on several vocabulary activities from online. Finally, the writing station includes a writing prompt related to the text, where students draw an illustration and write accordingly.
Here is an example based on The Paper Bag Princess, which I thoroughly enjoy using as a central text for literacy stations:
Reading: Sit with the teacher and read the text + answer questions.
Speaking & Listening: Practice a script in a group.
Writing: Draft a story about the princess after leaving the prince.
You can find A Guide to Literacy Stations for a more comprehensive explanation of my experience with planning and executing literacy stations based on a central text. This provides a detailed explanation of all the steps and it provides an overview of what is needed at each station.