How I Use Library Stations

I’m in the middle of several posts at the moment, but this question keeps coming up, so I feel like I should spend some time on it. Every day people want to know more about my library stations (or library centers). I gave a brief explanation of my schedule on this page, but I hope this post will help clear up any confusion.

Why Do You Use Library Stations?

I have been using stations in my library for about 4 years. My primary reasoning for using them the first two years is because I worked at a school where I saw each homeroom for an hour each week. The students were not very well-behaved, and standing in front of them the entire class period just wasn’t working. I needed to work with smaller groups to keep their behavior in check, so I thought we’d try something new. I was surprised to discover that it worked really well. The students liked it better, I liked it better, and they were learning much more in a small group than they were learning in the whole group. Win-win situation for all involved.

I don’t see my students for an hour. Will this still work?

Fast forward two years to my current school. I see these students for only 35 minutes each week, so I wasn’t convinced I could make library stations work. At my former school, I had 3 groups and switched stations every 15 minutes, leaving about 15 minutes for checkout at the end of class. I was  discussing this with my husband one day, and he said, “Why can’t you just rotate every week instead of spending just 10 minutes per station during a single class?” Brilliant! Sometimes you just need a little kick in the pants to realize you don’t have to do things the way they’ve always been done in order for them to work. Rotating each week means that students get at least 30 minutes in each station.

So, how does this work exactly?

I plan my stations according to how many computers I have in the room, because I always have a computer station. My library has 9 working student computers (most of the time), so my groups have no more than 9 students. On the rare occasion that I have a class with 28 students, I form one group of 10 and I let a trustworthy student use one of my teacher stations. This doesn’t happen often, of course, because there’s usually at least one person absent. Have your groups established ahead of time (I display them on the Smartboard each week), and don’t change them unless there’s a problem.

The other two stations vary depending on what we’re working on at the time. I usually set up one station for review. Those students will work on a skill we’ve already discussed, so it requires minimal  teacher involvement. That frees me up to work with the third station. I normally introduce something new in that one.

That sounds pretty good. What are the biggest challenges?

It’s not a perfect system. You do have to teach the same library lesson plans three weeks in a row, and sometimes things come up in the other stations that you have to deal with. My rule is, “Ask three before me.” If you ask three classmates for help and they don’t know the answer, then you can ask me.

I don’t have many behavior problems in stations. Be sure to keep mischief makers separated as much as possible. I use the Group Maker from the Super Teacher Tools website to randomly create my groups. Sometimes you have to switch a few students around, but it’s a real time saver once you get the classes typed in and saved.

If you have to squeeze book checkout into your weekly class time, stations will be even more of a challenge (if you have a limited time period). I think you’ll find it’s worth it in the long run, though, once you get your procedures in place. Try to automate checkout as much as possible, especially if you don’t have an assistant, like me. Make barcode cards for each student to avoid typing their names in. If you have to, make one station the “checkout station” and work with those students until they get the hang of it.

The bottom line is this: you can only do the best you can do with the time and resources you are given to work with. I always try to keep this in mind when I find myself getting frustrated with circumstantial problems.

That doesn’t sound so bad. What are the benefits?

As I discussed with someone on Facebook earlier this week, we don’t always have to come up with the latest and greatest innovative activity to convince our students that library class is awesome. The truth is, kids really don’t want a dog and pony show every time they walk through the doors. They’ll tell you they do, but it’s really not true. Kids need rules and structure. The beauty of what we do in the library is that we can change around the activities within the confines of that structure and it seems like something cool and fun, even though it’s really not that groundbreaking to us.

I love library stations because the kids are working, but they’re doing it in small groups and they do more group teaching than teacher led activities. It gives them different and exciting activities to do each week, but you won’t feel like you always have to put on a show.

If you’re following my library lesson plans, I have stations already set up for you. Each month, I do a station overview in Week 1, then Weeks 2, 3, and 4 are the individual stations. I do my plans this way so they’ll work if you want to use stations, but they’ll also work if you prefer to teach the whole group. I’ll probably switch it up a little in November and December, since they’ll be short months because of the holidays.

Are you using library stations? How are they working for you? How do you make library stations work with your schedule? How are you overcoming challenges? Please share with us in the comments!

Comments

  1. What library program do you use? I would love to not have to leave my kiddos to their own devices while I check out the other kids!

    • Elem_Librarian says:

      My district uses Follett's Destiny. I just click Check Out, then the students scan their own barcode cards and books. It's not perfect, like I said, but it does free me up a little bit so I'm not always tied down to the computer.

      • Have you tried the Follett app for iPad and iPhone that allows you to do circulation away from your computer? It works great!!

  2. Library Sue says:

    I have been trying to revamp my library classes this year and thought of stations/centers. I have been trying to figure out how to do it in the limited class time available, when I saw your post. This could work for me ( though depressingly at the moment I only have 3 student use computers.) I just want to say "Thank you!!!"

    • Elem_Librarian says:

      I appreciate your comment! There's a way to make it work. You may have to double up on the computer stations, or you could always do 4 stations instead of 3. Keep us updated on how it's going!

  3. Karen Combs says:

    If you use stations for lessons, does that mean you don't do any print materials? What kind of lessons are on the station? If I need to create a vision for how I can connect my four libraries on 3 different campuses, what should be my priority? How do I start getting my facility 21st Century ready. My superintendent wants our libraries to be as fun and exciting as the public library branches.

    • Elem_Librarian says:

      Hi Karen! I actually use a variety of technology, printed materials, and hands on materials in my library stations. Your questions are actually quite complex. I'm a little conflicted about the Superintendent's vision and the resources you've been given to work with if you work at 3 different schools! That's a tough pill to swallow, in my opinion.

      I'd love to hear some ideas from my brilliant readers, but my recommendation would be to concentrate on what is best for students. That's what I always go back to every time I'm not sure what to do about any situation. I'd love to hear a little more about your schedule and maybe I (or someone else) could help you further.

  4. Michelle Shuler says:

    The stations idea sounds so interesting. However, I have 20 – 28 students per class/ 19 Library classes per week/ 30 minutes per class/ 2 computers set up with the catalog/ and I do it all (lesson planning, teaching, shelving, cataloging, repairing etc) alone in our K-4 building. Also, while I am out doing lunch duty and reading groups, the Library is used as the Staff lunch room. We have no lounge. I will have to think on this.

    • It can be tough to pull off logistically, especially with large classes, but you can make it work. :) Give it some thought – let me know if I can help in any way.

  5. I’m listening to your station podcast and reading this at the same time. Currently, I am working with SPED students in a private school. How can would you adapt the stations for children who are older but learning at a Kindergarten or First Grade level?

    • I would just use the lower level lesson plans. Maybe the 2nd or 3rd grade lessons, take your time, and do lots of modeling/helping. :)

  6. As far as making lessons work for my schedule….. I have forty five minute sessions and see each class once a week. I teach a 15 minute mini-lesson at the start of the class, ten minute-ish book check out follows, and then I have six stations set up for students to go to when they finish book check out (approx 20 minutes). The stations all follow the mini-lessons I have previously taught or include some form of review activity. Each station has an individual “I Can” chart and directions. I have two sets of stations- grades 2-3 and grades 4-5. This seems to work really well for me! I have the kids choose their own centers but they have to sign in at my desk for the center they want. Yes, the stations are up for six weeks, but I have a chance to chat with the kids and get to know them, I get more of a chance to help find books in book check out, and it also allows me the ability to reteach as needed.

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