With the start of another school year around the corner, it’s time to begin thinking about those first-day activities. Consider switching it up with highly engaging and effective back-to-school learning stations this year. Read this post for all the details!
Are you tired of kicking off the new school year with overused icebreakers and boring syllabus reviews? Well, guess what? Your students are too!
Sure, reviewing important information and getting to know your students’ names in those first days serve a purpose—but it can get incredibly dull fast. Unless you shake things up, that is. Back-to-school learning stations are the perfect way to switch up your approach to the first days of school.
What Are Learning Stations?
If you’re unfamiliar with learning stations, let’s back up because, my friend, they are a real game changer for the first days of school—and all year.
Learning stations are an organized set of engaging and diversified activity stations where students work independently or in small groups to accomplish various tasks. Each station focuses on a specific skill, concept, topic, question, text, or learning material. They can involve reading, writing, discussing, and anything in between. As students rotate through stations, they engage in a holistic and student-centered approach to learning.
That said, trust me, they will liven up those first days in your classroom.
Why Back to School Learning Stations?
Back-to-school learning stations are an effective way to check classic “start of the year” to-dos off your list while creating a positive, engaging classroom culture that puts students at the center of learning. Rather than reading the syllabus to students, for example, they are the ones diving in and finding the important info. Not only does this help students have autonomy over their learning and take ownership of the information, but it sets the tone and expectation for the rest of the year. Right away, you are setting the stage for them to show up as active and engaged learners.
There are numerous ways to approach and organize learning stations, allowing you to incorporate engaging activities for multiple learning styles. This flexibility adds variety for students as they move through the stations and allows everyone to exercise their strengths from day one. Additionally, while some learning stations require independent work, others rely on collaboration, enabling you to build a sense of classroom community right out of the gate.
How Many Learning Stations Should I Have?
There is no exact number for how many back-to-school learning stations you need to (or should) have. However, I recommend keeping the length of the class period and how long each activity will take to complete in mind as you find your “sweet spot” number of stations. Remember, the goal is to move students through a variety of activities while still giving them enough time to complete the task at hand.
Can’t fit it all into one class period? No worries! Back-to-school learning stations can be a multi-day activity.
9 Ideas for Back-to-School Learning Stations
While these learning stations are already low prep and low stress, I’m going to take it one step further and share 9 engaging, effective, and practical back-to-school learning stations you can use this year.
1. Syllabus Quiz Station
Try this interactive alternative instead of spending an hour droning on your syllabus (boring!). Have the syllabus printed out or pulled up on a computer. Then, have students work independently or together to read through it and identify the most important information. This way, your students are responsible for gathering essential information about the class, rules, and expectations. By the end, have each student turn in a “quiz” to hold them accountable.
Teacher tip: I recommend bringing the class together to answer syllabus-related questions and review the answers to the quiz at the end of the learning station activity.
2. Letter to Self Station
I know a lot of teachers who like to kick off the year by encouraging students to set goals. However, instead of going about goal setting in a traditional way, this station encourages students to dig deeper by writing a letter to their future selves. In their letters, have students outline their personal and academic goals and intentions for the year. Encourage them to write about things they are looking forward to this year as well as their strengths, areas they want to improve, and things they hope to learn, too. This activity encourages students to start the year off with introspection and intention. The best part? Save these letters to hand back to students during the last weeks of school so they can reflect on their growth and celebrate the goals they accomplished.
3. Student Survey Station
One of the keys to fostering a welcoming and positive classroom culture is getting to know your students beyond a name and number in your grade book. A fun way to accomplish this is through student surveys. Rather than suffering through cheesy icebreakers, ask your students pointed and purposeful questions in a survey. Include questions about their academic strengths and struggles, preferred ways to learn, personal interests, favorite books, and more! Not only does this information help you get to know your students, but it also provides valuable insights into how to teach them more effectively. Additionally, these surveys can give you some great intel into student interests to consider as you look to add new high-interest books to your classroom library throughout the year.
4. Get to Know Your Students (with a One Pager) Station
If student surveys aren’t your thing, get to know your new class with an About Me one-pager activity. This creative project allows students to express themselves creatively while sharing information about themselves. In addition to writing their name, students can decorate their one-pager with drawings, doodles, quotes, words, and more. These mini posters will give you insight into your students’ interests and personalities (and teach you their names), and they can double as classroom décor, too! Adorning your classroom walls with students working right out of the gate creates a sense of ownership and belonging in the classroom.
Teacher Tip: If you’re already using the Student Survey station, have each student create a one-pager about their summer reading books!
5. Unit Exploration Station
Why waste valuable classroom time when you can use back-to-school learning stations to jump into your first unit? I’m not talking about overwhelming students with new information or a bunch of notes. Instead, use a unit exploration station to dip students’ toes into the essential questions or themes they’ll encounter in your first unit. Have them fill out a KWL chart, complete an anticipation guide, respond to journal prompts, engage in a friendly debate, or watch and discuss a relevant YouTube video. The unit exploration station will lay the groundwork for the first unit while getting students thinking critically and making connections from day one!
Teacher tip: Looking to span your back-to-school learning stations across multiple days? Engage students in more “housekeeping” stations on the first day. Then, on day two, have multiple unit exploration stations to build anticipation and base knowledge around your first unit.
6. Tech Smart Station
With technology quickly becoming a cornerstone in the modern classroom, the only thing worse than technology not cooperating when we need it to (ugh) is hearing the excuse of “I couldn’t access [INSERT PLATFORM HERE]” for the millionth time during those first few weeks. Use this station as an opportunity for students to create accounts for all the tech platforms you will use throughout the year to ensure they are ready at the start of the year. It’s also a great time to let students explore your digital classroom space (like Google Classroom) to get comfortable navigating the platform and understand how you expect them to use it. For the latter, keep students accountable by posting an easy assignment to complete during the station, like responding to a silly question. That way, the “I didn’t know how to access/post on/use Google Classroom” goes right out the window.
7. Book Browsing Station
If you’re anything like me, you love your classroom library and don’t want the books to sit there all year collecting dust. Get students engaging with your books from day one with the book browsing station. This station is a perfect way to familiarize students with your classroom library, including your systems of checking books in and out, and have students start exploring all the books you offer. Plus it gets kids up from their seats and moving around! As students browse the titles in your classroom library, encourage them to flip through books and keep track of books that pique their interest. This station gets students excited about books and can jump-start their independent reading journey.
8. Summer BookTok Station
Since we’re on the topic of books, let’s talk about the summer BookTok station! At this station, students can discuss their summer reading and recommend their favorite titles to their peers. If your school doesn’t require summer reading, students can share the last book they enjoyed reading. Either way, have students focus on explaining what the book is about (no spoilers allowed!), what they enjoyed most about it, and why they would recommend it to their peers. Not only does this get students talking about literature and sharing high-interest titles, but it also helps build a sense of classroom community. (Double win!)
9. Classroom Scavenger Hunt
A new year means a new classroom with new norms and expectations for students. To help them become familiar with the features and expectations of this year’s ELA learning environment, design a classroom scavenger hunt. At this station, give students a list of important places and vital information they need to locate around the room. For example, they may need to locate where they can turn in assignments, sign out books from your classroom library, or pick up late work when absent. Additionally, you can have them find the bathroom pass, the supplies corner, or the daily agenda. The options are endless! This station will encourage students to explore the room and help them become familiar with important procedures and general expectations they will be asked to follow throughout the year.
Have any other ideas for back-to-school learning stations? Do tell! Share your favorite back-to-school activities and learning station ideas in the comments below. Together, we can make the first week of school exciting again!