Literacy Workstations at Work

Literacy workstations do not have to give the teacher a migraine. Use these tips to make them easy and purposeful.

One observation I've made recently is that not all work stations are equal. Think about these questions. Are your stations connected to your whole group and small group lessons? Are they manageable for the kids to do on their own? Are you able to adjust them with ease so that you can keep focus on small group? It is easy to put a kid on a laptop in front of a website, but is this best? With a very busy schedule and long list of to-dos, one of the biggest challenges for teachers trying to implement small group instruction and a workshop model is planning for work stations. I totally get it and see it! So, let's talk about how to take this headache and turn it into productivity!

What Makes a Quality Work Station?

Practice with Purpose

According to Debbie Diller, literacy work stations should begin with what it is you are teaching in order for the station to provide practice that is purposeful. The key is to focus on the content versus fluff and frills, so when we're planning, the stations should be part of that plan. When student practice is directly tied to instruction, you will KNOW if they're getting concepts or not. One easy way to be sure your station is tied is to model it with your kids as part of the lesson and then, moving that activity into a station for independent practice. 

Slow down to Speed Up

Another tip from Diller is to, "Slow down to speed up."  I love that quote. In my training, I often heard "A Step Back is a Step Forward". I think both quotes get at the same point. As we introduce new concepts, we need to start off a slower pace or even drop back to what the child knows to make sure the foundation is solid. If we pull out loads of games with manipulatives and directions, our kids get overwhelmed and lose the focus which means they don't get the practice needed. (and will probably have hands up to get your help) We also can't expect them to practice what you haven't taught yet. Establishing your routine before even beginning stations is key, and when you do begin, roll out just one option. Keep in mind that the younger the student, the longer it takes to get the routines established. For K/1, that might be as long as 8-10 weeks.

Keep Balance with the Process and Product

As you think about your station goals, it's important to keep balance. Do NOT make too much work for yourself. If we do more work to prep the stations than the kids do IN the station, then that's probably a problem. Kids need to be engaged in real reading skills that build decoding strategies, fluency, improve vocabulary, and deepen comprehension and writing skills. The best stations require kids to think and work without a lot of direction, so using graphic organizers, interactive notebooks, and a great collection of reading material makes prep simple, yet effective. Plus, they provide the assessment you need in order to know whether your students have a grasp of the concepts taught. Diller says, "Less is more. Don’t put out too much stuff at once." The more you put out to make your stations "cute", the more you'll have to clean up and manage which could lead to frustration. I suggest having a basic framework for organization (labeled baskets or work space) where you can just make minor changes as needed each week. One thing you might try to keep in mind with literacy is to hit all five subtopics: word study, fluency, comprehension (tied to your lesson focus), writing, and vocabulary.

Do What Works Best for You and Your Kids

Ask yourself these questions. Is what I have in place working well for my students and I? Am I following my district's expectations? If the answer is yes, you may not need drastic changes to your station routine. Keep your stations running like a machine if they already are. Keep in mind that there is no one way that will help each child. You know your students' needs, and as long as the work your students are doing in their work station gives you the data you need for assessment, then you're good to go. You want high engagement and progress, so keeping it simple, yet purposeful will make a huge difference to your sanity.

Easy to Implement Options

Start with Freebies:

Of course, the first place to check for easy to implement options is on Teachers Pay Teachers and teaching blogs. There are so many free files on TPT which make planning easier for teachers, but you can also find great reasonably priced resources that can be tailored to your needs. In my store, there are many different organizers that you could use in a station. All you'd need to do is give directions and add a book.  Here are a few freebies:
Close Reading about Penguins  Visualizing Using Text Information  Author's Purpose Sorting Practice

Literacy Workstation Bundle:

These print and go literacy work stations require minimal materials and directions. Students practice with real literature and have accountability with each option.
Earlier this year, one of my teachers was looking for a system that would make setting up stations quicker and easier. She was overwhelmed with planning whole group and small group lessons, so I helped her with this set. The basics remain the same, but students have choices in each station. Students work on fluency, comprehension, word study, and writing. The teacher can edit the poetry cards to use favorite fonts and poems that fit her current themes or teaching topics. For the comprehension station, the teacher just needs to gather a collection of good fit picture books that can be used with the organizers, task cards, etc. The word study station is matched to the child's weekly list, so whether he/she is at the Letter Name Stage or Syllable Juncture, the materials work. For more information on this set, [click here] or the image to the right. There is a full preview of each station type. 

Another fun option teachers might be interested in are the paper bag mini book projects that I've been adding to my store. So far, I have created them for Fact and Opinion, Cause and Effect, Synonyms and Antonyms, Fictional Texts, and for Rhyming. Here is a preview of those I have completed. To learn more about them, [click here].

Skill Based Paper Bag Mini Book Projects:

These paper bag mini books are loads of fun for your work stations or small group instruction. Build them over a week and refer to them in future lessons. Great for review.
Stations do not need to be challenging, and this is an area where I'm helping many of the teachers I work with. If you have questions or need help, I am happy to chat with you and offer what I can.

Have a great teaching week, and I hope you'll come back soon. One thing you may wish to do before you sign off is sign up for my newsletter. I'm trying to send out newsletters at least once a month and include things like quick stations or printables you can use in small group. The sign up is a drop down app in the top-left corner.

Have a great day!


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Literacy workstations don't have to give the teacher a migraine. Use these tips to make them easy and purposeful.

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