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How To Scaffold Learning Through Station Teaching

by TeachThought Staff

Teaching through stations—or ‘station teaching’—is a flexible and underrated teaching and learning strategy that can add versatility to your craft.

This approach requires unique classroom management strategies, precise time management, and a clear relationship between the design of each station and the learning objective itself. If you can meet these demands, station teaching can allow you to differentiate and personalize learning for students, meeting their needs while reducing your workload.

See also 12 Types Of Blended Learning

One key to station teaching is planning—having a clear sense not just of what ‘students should do at each station,’ but rather ‘what each station should do for students.’ This allows differentiation to be possible through scaffolding, awhen it comes to scaffolding, the gradual release of responsibility model is a fantastic way to get started.

Differentiation Starts With Adjustability

In 4 Strategies For Implementing Learning Stations In Your Classroom, we recommended differentiation as a key strategy in teaching and learning through stations.

‘2. Differentiate the work in your centers and stations: Take each station and think of it as a common core or state standard. Make levels of difficulty A-D of each standard for your groups and neatly organize your packets A-D. “A” being the foundational skill and “D” being mastery. You can come up with your own system, but there needs to be levels of increasing comprehension they can access independently. Sometimes it’s best to have different levels or learners in a center around the same activity. The more advanced children can help the students that are struggling on their A or B level packets. The key is the center is differentiated for all learners at the table for each learner at their level.’

This is a notion shared by teacher Stephanie Van Horn on her blog,, where a 2013 post of hers (that’s been shared over 200,000 times) discusses her own experience with teaching math through stations.

‘As with everything, the devil is in the details, so prepping is the key. I spent a looooooong time making sure the kids had activities and trying to account for “dead time”– thus, the Fact Practice option. I also wanted to make materials accessible and easy to get to, so there wouldn’t be any excuse for not getting started right away.’

The ‘dead time’ is, of course, different for every student. Because of varying levels of readiness, background knowledge, and even student motivation, students ‘move’ at different speeds.

Station teaching doesn’t automatically correct for this. You can setup learning stations, set a timer, have activities for each station, and still slow some students while rushing others.

One solution could be stations separated by function which closely follow the common approach of learning through stations, which is the application of the gradual release of responsibility model: Show me, help me, let me.

Below, we’ve created four possible models for station teaching based on the GRR model that can be used at any grade level, and with a little tweaking, for any content area.

Using Station Teaching To Scaffold Learning For Any Grade Level Or Content Area

Station 1: Show me

Purpose: Introduce new topic

Useful Teaching & Learning Strategies: Think-Alouds, Direct Instruction, Modeling, Concept Mapping

In the first station, the teacher introduces new content. This can be a new principle in math, concept in science, reading strategy in Language Arts, or even an extension of previous learning. It can be done in small groups (i.e., a station), or the entire class as well through whole class instruction.

Station 2: Watch me

Purpose: To provide close support as students begin to experiment with the ‘new content’

Useful Teaching & Learning Strategies: Jigsaw, Scaffolding, 5 Questions, Inquiry, Emotional/Cognitive ‘Coaching’

In the second station, students begin to apply the previously introduced concept or skill. This can be done in pairs within the small group, individually, or in a mixed setting where some students are paired and some work alone, based on student ability, background knowledge, or other need.

See also The Definition Of Personalized Learning

Station 3: Help me

Purpose: To increase student fluency/autonomy with the new content based on personalized learning need

Useful Teaching & Learning Strategies: Conferencing, Workshopping, Differentiation, Scaffolding, Chunking

In the third station, the teacher will observe the students continue to apply the concept or skill, and do so in small enough groups where individual feedback can be given in a ‘just the right time’ approach.

This is also the station where the personalization and scaffolding of learning really start to take shape. Some students may need emotional support while others may benefit from simply having the task broken up into smaller steps, or ‘chunks.’

The right pairing could be the tool some students need, while others may need a re-worded definition or pop culture analogy to make sense of a new idea. This group can also be differentiated by readyness–‘ready’ students can pass this station on the way to the ‘Let me’ station.

In some cases, some students may even need to return to a previous station. In this case, consider encouraging students to ‘pass go’ and go back around rather than ‘move backwards.’

Station 4: Let me

Purpose: Further ‘splinter’ topic/skills; become more specific with personalization; adjusting pacing based on available time based on data from the previous station; provide opportunities for creative transfer

Useful Teaching & Learning Strategies: Pair-share, Inquiry, Correct Misconceptions, Learning through Play

In the final station, students rotating more slowly may never reach this center, while students may spend the majority of their time here clarifying, reinforcing, and otherwise extend their learning through structured and open-ended learning activities.

*previously published at



  1. Melanie Eisen

    While I love the idea of centers and stations, I wonder how it would feel to be the student who never gets to experience learning through play- who never reaches that independent stage… Can the structure ever shift to ensure that all students are able to reach the Let Me stage?

    • Drew Perkins

      Good question Melanie. I would encourage a real balance between this type of approach and other less structured opportunities. This approach might be a great fit for learning of certain kinds of complex ideas and concepts but unnecessary for others that may be more simple or ripe for a more constructivist approach.


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