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!


  1. Bunny says

    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.

      • Amy Blythe says

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

        • Patty Yocum says

          OMG! You just changed my life!! I knew about the Destiny Quest App, and use it all the time, but I had no idea Follett had an app that would allow me to EASILY do circulation from my phone!! Thank you for enlightening me! :)

  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.

    • says

      I’ve been coming up with ideas for stations and maker spaces for the 3 elementary libraries (K-5) in our district. I think I’m going to start by introducing the different stations and allowing students to choose their station. I know it might not work, but all kids have different interests and strengths that I hope they can expand/develop in library class. I plan to make a sign for each station with the Essential Question, CCS, and maybe even a QR code to correlating website. Here are some ideas that I have so far:

      1. Science Center – Each school has science kits that are no longer being used. I’d like students to explore, experiment, and discover what they can about the resources in the kits. I’ll bring one kit to the center per cycle. Maybe have a half-sheet KWL for them to jot down their ideas in the 40 minute class period.
      2. Puzzle Center – display a few books that go along with a puzzle for students to work on (more pieces for older students for a school community group project…easier ones for the younger/less skilled puzzlers).
      3. Love to Read Center – bean bags and possibly broken headphones students can use to muffle other noises (the clunky type)
      4. Destiny Quest – add to their virtual book club that was introduced at the beginning of the year (4th and 5th grades)
      5. iPads – create a book trailer or book review
      6. LEGO table/blocks – build, imagine, create (display the ever popular LEGO books)
      7. JENGA blocks – build, imagine, create (tape words on the blocks and have students create a “Story Tower” (I purchased JENGA blocks for $5/set at the store called Five Below.)
      8. Origami – display how-to books, provide a variety of paper (create and take/display their works of art)
      9. Library Scavenger Hunts (find books with this call number…author…title…theme)
      10. Mad Libs – students can fill one out or create a new story for the center

      These are just some ideas that I’ve gathered from a variety of sources on the internet and my own teaching experience.

  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.

    • Jocelyn says

      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. Marlene says

    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?

    • Jocelyn says

      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. Karrie says

    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.

  7. Renee says

    I also have 45 minute sessions with grades K-4 and some of the classes have 28-30 students. I also have students come and go during that 45 minutes so for some classes I don’t even have the whole class at once. That makes it very difficult to teach any kind of lesson. For 2 of my 4th grades classes, I have 8 students who are only there for the first 10 minutes! I liked the library center idea. I have 6 round tables in the back of my library (my library is a big rectangle). I set up 6 different stations and change them every month. In the past, students chose whatever station they wanted, knowing that once they had the opportunity at one station, they had to chose a different one next time. I have “I can” instructions at every station and ask them to “ask 3 and then me” also. I really like the idea of creating groups. I will have to try that this coming school year. I do whole classes lessons and find on those days we do not do centers. I work that into my monthly rotation. I’m pulled for car duty, among other things, and also have to create my own lesson plans, shelf books, manage a budget, etc. etc. I have found that the kids love having the activities to do. I do have some kids that would rather read (it’s their only chance to read for pleasure) which is why I sometimes do whole group lessons.

  8. Mary Kate Witry says

    Thank you so much for this overview. My situation is almost identical to your original one. I see 23 classes per week/1 hour each session/grades k-8. In addition, I have to assign grades for exams, homework, classwork, and quizzes.
    In my K-3 building, I have lots of space and materials for potential centers.
    In my 4-8, I have 4 tables/3 computers/ limited floor space.
    Any ideas on how I can create centers for the upper graders????
    thanks in advance!
    mary kate

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