George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

Using Learning Stations to Kick Off the Year

An engaging way for students to get to know each other, review the syllabus, and decide on classroom agreements.

August 13, 2019
kali9 / iStock

In the past, the first day of school typically ran the same way for me every year: Pass out the syllabus, quick introduction to who I am and what our class is about, an overview of the year, and then a brief ice breaker to end the class. While this format did provide some information to students, it didn’t accurately portray what our class would look, sound, or feel like. In a classroom rooted in collaboration, community, and student voice, it came to seem inauthentic for me to start our year off as a talking head in front of the class.

To remedy this, I’m going to use learning stations on the first day of school in an attempt to break up the routine, add movement, and increase engagement for both students and me.

Depending on your class size and the time you have with students, you may change how many stations you’ll have and how long you have students spend at each station. If you have a lot of different ideas for your stations and limited time, a station activity can last more than one day because stations allow a lot of flexibility and the ability to adjust based on the available time and the needs of your students. During these stations, you can circulate around the room, check in with students, make sure they understand the tasks, and start to get to know them.

Four Stations to Consider

Here are the stations I’ll be implementing in my classroom.

Syllabus station: Students will pick up a copy of the syllabus and an outline of the units of study for the year at this station. I’ll ask my students to read this with their peers in their group. After reading, they can take a sticky note and write down any reactions or questions they have and place it on a poster board. We’ll address these questions or concerns the next day.

Introduction station: This station has two tasks. The first is for students to use Flipgrid to film themselves saying their preferred name (first name, nickname, etc.). I’ll use the videos to learn all student names and their proper pronunciation quickly. You can do this with any video recording website or software your school uses.

The second task at this station will be for students to fill out a short questionnaire that includes a place to write their names and gender pronouns (she/her, he/him, or they/them) as well as questions about their interests. You can decide what other questions are important for you to know—perhaps what they are passionate about, what is their strength in your course subject matter, or any concerns they have.

Name tag station: I’ll use this station to give students paper and markers to create a name tent that will be displayed on their desk for the first few weeks so they can learn their classmates’ names. I’ll ask students to write their preferred name and three to five symbols, words, or drawings that best represent them. After they finish, they can share their name tent and their symbols with their group mates.

Community agreement station: At this station, students will collaborate with their group members to come up with at least seven class community agreement statements. I’ll ask, “How do we create a safe and empowering learning environment?” My students will think of behavioral norms that they need their peers and me to abide by in order to feel safe, respected, and empowered in our classroom. I’ll ask them to be as specific as possible.

If you try this, you might offer up a few examples so they get the picture: “One voice, one mic,” “be kind and respectful to everyone,” or “be a good listener.”

At the end of class or the next day, we’ll discuss what they wrote and I’ll make a master list of their agreements on poster paper. All students will sign this paper, and it will be on display in the classroom throughout the year.

Customizing Learning Stations

These are just a few station options—you can customize this in any way that makes sense for your classroom and your age group of students. Perhaps there is a station specifically for you to sit down and meet students, or you want a station where students can sign up for any technology or programs you use throughout the year, or maybe you’ll set up an ice breaker game.

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