Tips and ideas for teaching high school ELA

It seems that high school students have one of two speeds lately: sloth covered in molasses or Sonic the Hedgehog on Red Bull. Both have their challenges. So how do we either (a) bring them out of their stupor or (b) harness that energy for good, not leave-paper-and-candy-wrappers-all-over-my-floor and-I’m-going-to-have-to-duct-tape-you-to-your-chair evil? (Or is that just me?). One word: Learning stations. Okay, two words. 

I know, I know. “Learning stations” gives off very elementary-classroom vibes. But what if I told you that they can not only work in the secondary ELA classroom, but they can actually help engage your students, get them up and moving (and burning off that energy – or waking them up, whichever the case may be), collaborating, and interacting with a variety of texts? 

Curious? Keep reading for 5 easy ways to incorporate learning stations in your classroom today. 

Introducing material

One of my favorite uses for stations is introducing material. I’m a big believer that students need to know a least some of the historical context of a piece of literature in order to really understand the text (plus, it helps with that “Author’s Purpose” standard). 

When I first started teaching, I relied very heavily on PowerPoint presentations. I’d talk. Students would copy down the bullet points or fill in the guided notes.  Don’t get me wrong – I still think PPT has its place. But as I’ve improved my craft, I’ve come to realize that that method can be… well, boring. Students zone out. They write down things, but they don’t really understand or interact with them. 

So, I decided to try something different. For our most recent unit on The Crucible, I ditched my trusty Google Slides presentation and turned that material into a series of four stations. Now, instead of listening to me drone on and on, students were up and moving, watching short video clips and Ted Ed talks, reading a biography on Arthur Miller, and thinking about the themes we’ll be discussing. 

This method would be perfect to introduce any long piece of text; I personally plan to use it for my next unit on Their Eyes Were Watching God. 

Jigsaw

Another tried and true method of handling material (old or new) is jigsawing. Assign each group a different task. This can be a certain number of study guide questions (such as we did with our Crucible unit); an article; a character to analyze; or a poem to read. Really, the possibilities are endless. 

Once students have had a chance to complete their assigned station’s task, have them split up so that each station now has a member from every group. Students then teach their classmates about their assigned topic. Less stress for you. More collaboration and ownership for the students. Win-win. 

text annotation and analysis

Admittedly, nonfiction and informational texts really aren’t my thing. I’ve never enjoyed teaching them (please don’t shoot me), and my students have never really bought into them. However, I know that, besides hitting those pesky informational text standards, students need to be exposed to this type of writing – even if (or maybe especially because) it can be challenging.

One of the ways I’ve made this more enjoyable is to break up the annotation and analysis process into learning stations. Rather than tackling every aspect of the text at once, students are given time to really hone in on a specific skill or focus: vocabulary, historical context, tone and diction, author’s purpose – whatever skill(s) you choose. 

 

gallery walk

Gallery walks are another one of my favorite ways to get students up and moving. The great thing about gallery walks is that they can be set up to cover pretty much anything you want. Take any of the ideas above, post the different stations on the walls around the room (or, if you’re brave, in the hallways), and turn the students loose. 

One particularly effective gallery walk for me was based on student writing samples. The last year that I taught AICE General Papermy students prepared for the writing portion of the exam by reviewing sample responses from previous exams. Students were given examples of high, medium, and low responses, as well as the scorer’s notes. Each group had to walk around, read the response and the corresponding notes, and then explain why the scorer gave the paper the score they did. Each group cycled through all three responses, then synthesized that information into three things they wanted to do and three things they needed to avoid. It was infinitely more effective than just watching me point out all the things that made a “high” paper. 

Skills-based activities & practice

My final suggestion is more of a catch-all. Learning stations are a great way to practice any specific skills: whether it’s vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension, or analyzing different mediums, such as advertisements, videos, and infographics. 

Just like with text analysis and annotation, using stations to break down and reinforce these skills in smaller chunks will help students focus on the task at hand and really dig deep into the skill. Plus, it’ll be easier for you to quickly monitor their comprehension and grasp of the skill and content if you’re looking for one thing at a time instead of ten or fifteen. 

In short, learning stations are a great way to create a more student-centered classroom by putting the responsibility back on the students. They may even ::gasp:: find English class enjoyable again. 

What are your favorite ways to use learning stations in the classroom? Hit “Reply” and let me know. 

Until next time – happy teaching 😀

Heidi