Stations in the Library Part 2 – Student Engagement

Last month, I shared easy ideas to get stations started. While making sure you have engaging materials is half the battle, the other half is that the students understand what engagement looks like! They need to know what to do from the time they enter the library until they leave it. And there is only one way to make sure that happens! Teach it, model it, and practice it.

Planning for Engagement

When I first started stations, I didn’t think about teaching behaviors in detail. I set up 10 stations, and told the students they could choose which ones to go to. You know what happened? Chaos! I’d neglected to teach many of the behavior-related skills that would lead to their authentic involvement. Consequently, I quickly regrouped and settled on a plan I’ve used ever since. This was a staggering lesson for me. It is just as important for students to master behaviors as it is for them to master content. In fact, lack of mastery in behaviors may be a serious detriment to engaging with content. 

Frequently students are missing a behavior-related skill that we would categorize as ridiculously easy, but they truly don’t understand it. Or maybe they can do it, but don’t understand its relationship to the other skills in the continuum. They may not even understand the personal value to them. Because of this, I’ve found it helpful to write down everything that is important to me for students to be doing in class. I write down what I want a class to to be doing from the time they walk in the door to the time they exit. How do they move? What do they do if they have a question? What’s the voice level for each activity? and How will I get their attention? are just a few of the questions to answer before you start.  

Behavior Mastery

When students have little experience with stations or the class has behaviors that need some gentle nudging in the right direction, it’s time to focus on teaching, modeling, and practicing. Below is what I do when I move into a school that has not been doing stations.  

Week 1:

  • Students have been assigned a table, so they know which table to go to when they come in.
  • All tables have the same or a similar activity like games or puzzles.
  • We talk about expected behaviors in stations. 
  • Students do the station activity at their table but the focus is on behaviors. 
  • Two tables get to check out at a time, while everyone else stays at their tables working on the station activity. 
  • At the end of class, celebrate the parts they did well and discuss plans for improvements!

Week 2:

  • Same procedures as week 1, but you can rotate the activities, intersperse some new ones, or change them out all together (if you used puzzles week 1, you could do games for week 2). You might start adding in the stations you will use when they get to move and choose. This way, students aren’t doing exactly the same thing each time week. 
  • The trick here is to make sure the station activities are easy enough that everyone can still focus on behaviors. 

Week 3+:

  • Same procedures as week 2. 
  • Continue doing this until you think students are ready to start moving!

Next Steps:

  • Move the stations to their permanent locations. 
  • Students go to their assigned tables when they enter the library. 
  • Explain that activities have moved from their tables to the station areas.
  • Discuss expectations with the class (these are some things I’d include):
    • How will you know which station to go to?
    • How do we need to move?
    • What does our noise level need to be?
    • How will you know when to clean up? 
    • What should that look like?
  • Practice!

Before you know it, students will get to choose their own stations! They may even want to suggest some and help you pull them together.

I choose a different table to go first each week. That way everyone gets a chance to be first throughout the quarter. And beginning year two with students, everything above is greatly reduced as students build on previously learned skills. They come back to school eager to start stations!

Hiccups along the Way?

Sometimes, classes need to move back a few steps and intentionally practice again. A new student, a change in routine, or even holidays can throw things off. That’s OK. Other classes will rarely need to be redirected because this is a structure in which they can thrive. 

Picture your library with your students making independent choices, collaborating with their peers, and creating items that are important to them. Implementing stations is a way to make all those things happen.

Please share your station success stories with us! I’d love to hear what works best for you!


Author: Bitsy Griffin

Bitsy Griffin is the school librarian for Chatham Grove ES in Chapel Hill NC. She has 25+ years experience in elementary, middle, and high schools as a math teacher and librarian. She is active in AASL and the North Carolina School Library Media Association. Find her blog at .

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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7 replies

  1. Thanks, these details are really helpful! I’m thinking of incorporating stations before Christmas and in the new year.

  2. I’ve used center activities for several years. The way I organize the centers is to come up with 5 different activities. The students rotate through the centers as table groups. They each participate in one center per week for five weeks. One example of this is a Nursery Rhyme center with K. The five activities are: flannel board nursery rhymes, NR puzzles, make a pocket NR book, listening center, & lastly an app on the iPads similar to a flannel board but with music. This allows all of the students to participate in each center each week while still allowing a small bit of time for book selection at the end of class.

  3. How does everyone incorporate reading aloud time into stations?

  4. Hello Lacy,
    That’s what I’ve been researching. So far, I found an idea from Mrs. Hodges Library that she presented at MSLA on Library Centers is that she uses them during book checkout. She does a lesson (you could have a read aloud lesson during this time) and then book check out (while one or two tables are checking out, the others are in centers).

  5. Keely Schuppert—I,too, used my 5 library tables as a station/center . Rotation was each week. so 5 stations. a 6th week was “catch up”tie up lose ends. School libraries who are short on space can use centers as a teaching strategy. Mine was for instruction NOT the fun and games. I like your N R center ! and for K

  6. Is there a link to Mrs. Hodges Library?

  7. Did some reference on my own. Mrs. Lodges is the correct name. Great resources on the blog and TPT store!

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