World language teachers want to get our students actively using the target language, of course. And if we also want to get them moving and collaborating, an ideal activity is a station rotation—posting a variety of activities, or stations, around the classroom and having students move from one to another to complete each task. We can set up the stations to require individual work or small-group collaboration.
Setting Up the Station Rotation
Preparation is key. Consider the modes of communication: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The goal is to engage students in all of these skills as they work through a station rotation.
Set aside a full class period for your students to engage in a station rotation so that they can get into the groove of working and immersing themselves in the language, while you take on the role of facilitator. Start planning by gathering resources related to the current unit of study.
For example, in my level II unit “A Balanced Lifestyle,” I look for infographics, images, and graphs in Spanish, as well as videos of native speakers, that address eating habits and the Mediterranean diet. This leads to a nice cultural comparison between dietary habits in Spain and the United States. Strive to place culture at the core of your topic, so students can take it into account and learn about it when working through the stations.
After you compile your resources, organize them to create different activities—the stations.
Reading station: One station can focus on a short reading task or infographic in the target language, with comprehension questions, which can be open-ended or true/false. Or you can have students formulate their own questions based on the text.
Listening station: Another station can focus on an audio clip or YouTube video, or a song in the target language. Students can complete questions related to the audio—this is a great station to use a cloze activity. At this station, students will need to use a devise, so you’ll need to ensure that they bring headphones.
Speaking station: Post a speaking prompt for students to follow. If you choose to have students collaborate, they can respond to a series of conversation questions with one another. This allows for a nice interpersonal exchange. Encourage students to time themselves—you might ask them to spend two minutes on each question. This gives them a push to keep using the language, and encourages them to use circumlocutions. It also creates a fun vibe as students work together to complete the challenge of speaking for a certain number of minutes.
If you’re having students work individually, they can participate in a prerecorded simulated conversation or record themselves responding to a prompt on their devices. In a simulated conversation, the teacher typically records his or her voice and students must listen and respond at intervals. This is tricky as students are not in control of the conversation and must listen carefully in order to respond appropriately. If that’s not your preference, you can have students record themselves speaking in response to a question or prompt—they can use Garage Band or Vocaroo, for example, and then share their recording with you.
Writing station: Set out some compelling images related to the unit, and have students narrate a story behind one of the images, or detail their reactions to it.
Depending on your situation, technology can be infused into these stations. If students have access to devices, they can respond to post-reading questions via a Padlet discussion board or answer comprehension questions via Google Forms.
Benefits of Station Rotation
In all of my classes, from level I to pre-AP, student productivity is at an all-time high during a station rotation. The stations allow students to not only move, collaborate, and think critically, but also practice each communicative skill in the target language.
And the station rotation allows me to act as a facilitator. As students work and move from one station to another, I check in with each group or individual student, asking them how they’re progressing, which activities they enjoy most and why, and so on. These check-ins help me measure students’ progress, and they aid in developing a strong, positive classroom rapport.
The logistics and timing of station rotation can be tricky: Students can work at their own pace throughout the stations, or work in groups. You may time them at each station. There are a lot of choices for the teacher to make in setting this up.
If students work individually and move from one station to another at their own speed, certain stations might become overcrowded if a handful of students happen to be working at the same pace. The waiting students can opt for a different station, returning when the station is less crowded.
When students work in groups, it’s not always possible to ensure that each activity will take each group the same amount of time, but you can reserve a few minutes at the end of class for students to go back and complete any activity they missed. I personally enjoy timing my students at each station in groups, as I enjoy seeing them collaborate. I also like having them speak face-to-face in a small group.
My experience with groups is that the maximum effective size is four members each—that enriches speaking activities, allows for collaboration, and is a small enough number that students don’t veer off track.
Reinvigorate your world language classroom and get students moving, collaborating, and most importantly, enjoying the language.