We are heading into the stretch of the academic year in which you and/or your students may be feeling a little bit of a slump or what I call the winter blahs–that time after the winter holidays and before spring break in which school life seems to move a little more slowly and students might feel a little lethargic!

This time last year I was trying to think of a way to energize my 8th graders in 9th Literature/Composition who were reading Romeo and Juliet.  While we listened to the play and did some light discussion while listening, students did their reflections and our small and/or whole group discussions afterwards.  While I had a diverse range of discussion and learning structures in my teacher toolkit, I wanted to try something a little different that did not involve a tremendous amount of work or prep for me.

Enter the amazing Laura Randazzo!  If you don’t follow her blog, go there now and check out all of her terrific resources.  I came across her post, Conquering Question Fatigue, a really smart set of ways to get away from the traditional written Q&A model.  While she offers many clever options and ideas, choices 6 and 8 really stood out to me as something a little different from what I had been doing.  I did actually try strategy 6 with my 9th graders, and it worked beautifully!

However, option 8 really seemed to resonate with my students, so I downloaded her free Station Rotation grid template, made copies for my kids, created six questions at the end of one of our readings of R&J and printed them on pretty paper using Microsoft Word, and gave students the option to work alone or with a partner.  Each person or pair could sign up for a question or two to share out their thinking to the whole class (I think I used the phrase “sign up to be an expert/genius on this question” with everyone opting for at least two, but they could do more than two for bonus points.  I gave them a class period to work through the questions, and then following day they had a few minutes to polish and rehearse their written responses to share aloud with the class.  This method resulted in a two day discussion as groups fielded questions or feedback from their peers after sharing aloud.  I was blown away by their collaboration and engagement with the text as well as each other, so I began incorporating it into all my classes.

My other 8th grade ELA students loved this strategy as well!  Qualities about the station grid they loved included:

  • Movement around the room (this is especially important in middle school classrooms!)
  • The freedom to work alone or with a partner
  • Having control of the questions they wanted to be an expert on and getting to field questions or follow-up thinking from peers
  • Getting to hear ideas from others both during the rotation and work period as well as the whole class share

This strategy is ideal for any time of the year, but I found it to be energizing during that winter blah stretch as well as late April and May when students are wearing of spring testing but also getting a little antsy as the end of the school year approaches.  It’s a perfect way to channel energy or ignite energy in a positive way!  It was especially effective for our class studies of novels in verse (see photos below).

For me as the teacher, I was able to observe academic ELA skills in action as well as soft but important skills of teamwork and speaking publicly.  I gave my students a performance assessment grade for the rotation work period portion as well as the sharing out part of our activity.  It also enabled me to “grade” student work quickly, and you can also incorporate your regular rubrics for these kinds of activities.  Last year I also incorporated students evaluating themselves before I evaluated their work with a rubric (a post is coming on that), and you can use that strategy with the station rotation grid learning structure as well.

This is a strategy you could adapt for any subject area as well as high school and upper elementary students as well.  Like many of Laura Randazzo’s strategies, you can take the station rotation grid and modify it to work for your learners and their point of need.  It is seemingly simple but really powerful; I want to encourage you to try it out and see the magic happen with your students!