First Day Stations


I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE doing first day stations. I learned about them from Laura’s post on PBL in the TL . First day stations are so much fun and send a clear message. This class is going to be different. That being said, they do present a few challenges.

 Challenge 1: You have a brand-new batch of students you don’t know.

How will you anticipate who gets along with whom?  As in who are friends, enemies, and frenemies.

Well, you can’t always tell but you can read their body language. So be extra vigilant in your observations. Also, set the tone that you are in charge and will be making seating and grouping decisions.

Use a grouping strategy.   Since I’ll be using Martina’s First Day Seating Cards (free download) I can group:  all same color, all same character, or get crazy specific with different monsters of different colors for each group. I might call one character give him/her the group sheet (printed in color with L2 words next to each character) and then teach the L2 phrases: “Who is ____? I am ____.”

Challenge 2: You don’t know how long it will take students to complete a station.

From experience, some classes work through stations much faster than others. So how long should they spend at each station? I’ll be using this interval timer to keep them moving.

Our classes run about 45 minutes. I know I’ll need to do a brief introduction, take attendance, give a rundown of the stations, set the expectations (6 inch voices, all hands up if you have a questions, re-read the directions, stay together no matter what) and save a few minutes for clean up/pack up and to teach the closing call-and-response (a la Bryce Hedstrom).

So that leaves about 30 minutes for stations including transition time. Now because my kiddos are Middles I know they need to move every 11-13 minutes (1 minute of sustained attention for each year of their life) which is just about perfect. They’ll have 10 minutes at each station. But there are 7 stations! Yes, this is true. From experience, I’ve found that having an extra station is a good idea for your kiddos who are zippy at completing tasks. If you have an early finishing group just guide them to the incognito station (that’s right, don’t put it on their handout). Also, have students reflect on how they worked as a team, how much they liked the station and what contributions they made as individuals. Use a handout for accountability.

 Challenge 3: You don’t have a ton of space

Go vertical! Use your wall space for a Gallery Walk version of the station. You don’t have to limit your students to desks or tables.

Use the floor. Especially if you do something like the Cup Challenge or Marshmallow Towers. Besides, kids love sitting on the floor. Someone is always asking if s/he can work on the floor in my class.

If you have tables stack your chairs out of the way. Don’t worry, the kids will probably spend the rest of their day sitting…

 Challenge 4: You have monster sized classes.

Kim Campbell suggests groups of 3 and I’m on board with her reasoning. For regular stations during the year or group work, I’ll be using 3. For First Day Stations I go for 4 but no more than that.

Consider making double stations: Make 2 sets of materials including directions, and separate stacks of handouts instead of a communal pile. If you have tables divide the table into 2 parts-one for each group. Set clear expectations about staying with your own group and not interfering with the other group.

Try compound stations. Have 2 distinct activities within the stations. Assign two groups to the station with clear instructions that they must switch tasks half-way through the time interval.

Punish yourself and make enough stations for each group. So if you have a class of 30 with groups of three you need 10+ stations. Yay for you!

 Challenge 5: You really want to do stations but are feeling a little chicken.

That’s ok! Stations can be very intimidating. Stuff goes wrong and it’s hard to anticipate the randomness of an adolescent. Try controlled stations. This is what I used to do until I felt comfortable.

Controlled Stations

Make enough station tasks for as many (horizontal) rows of desks/chairs/tables you have in your classroom. Duplicate each task for each pair of students. If you have six students in each row you need three sets of each station task.

Set the timer. When the time is up everyone from the first row, having completed task 1 moves to the row directly behind him to work on task 2. Students from the very last row move to the first row. Continue until all tasks have been completed.

You technically have groups of 6 in this situation but because students are working in pairs, everyone knows to move at the same time and directly back one row in a super controlled fashion it feels a tiny bit less chaotic. Here’s a picture if my explanation is a little convoluted.


I prefer to do low tech stations for a couple of reasons.  Laptops aren’t handed out when we first go back and cell phones are strictly forbidden and I’d hate for internet issues to derail my first day plans. Here are some activities I’ve tried with great success.

1. First Day Graffiti: For the life of me I can’t remember where I learned about this activity (so no link). All I have are my notes. What you need: big paper, markers, sentence starters, and stapler or tape (if you want to go vertical). It’s fun to see what your students say in this activity.

On big paper write one sentence starter at the top and leave space for students to write at the bottom. The first time I did this I was very silly. I made 6 sets of these! But I learned. Instead of handwriting everything, multiple times use it as a permanent header and divide the bottom paper into enough sections for each class or replace the paper after each class.

first day stations jpeg.png

Some sentence starters I found:

  • “I learn best in classes where the teacher…”
  • “Students in courses help me learn when they…”
  • “I am most likely to participate in classes when…”
  • “Here’s something that makes it hard to learn in a course…”

2. Team Work: This will be a compound station with 2 activities. What you need: cups, rubber bands, string, direction sheet, marshmallows, spaghetti, tape.

Cup Challenge: For this activity make sure your instructions are clear and make a visual for each part of the challenge. If you want the cups stacked pyramid-style show them the pyramid. If you want a vertical line show them a picture of the cups in a vertical line. I found this activity on a science teacher’s blog (linked above).

Marshmallow Challenge (Tower Challenge)  This links you to a free handout on TPT. It has clear directions.  

3.Consensogram Gallery WalkHere you get to find out about students preferences. This is a great mass-data-gathering tool for guiding your lessons and stories. Students can remain anonymous with this activity by making a mark to cast their votes. I like to go vertical with this activity because there’s not too much writing involved. On Pinterest, I saw something similar with paper chains so this year I’m going to modify by having students make a paper-chain link to “vote.” You can use the target language with many of these because the pictures will make it comprehensible. Just don’t go overboard and freak all your students out.


Topics to Poll:

  • Favorite class/elective (don’t get your feelings hurt if it’s not your class)
  • Favorite food (you can use sticky notes for this one. Students can draw a picture of the food)
  • How do you do your best work?  groups/partner/alone

4. Photo Booth: Compound station. What you need: Camera, name tags, photo booth, novles, magazines, story books, markers, scissors, bookmarks. I figured taking 4 pictures wouldn’t take much time some I made sure to give them several tasks.  In addition to the photos, my students will cut out a bookmark from Bryce Hedstrom (can you tell I’m a huge fan?!)  and answer some questions about the strategies he suggests.  I’ll also have a QAR (another Martina resource) anchor chart at this station for students to familiarize themselves with those strategies.  

What’s your name?: Students will make name cards and take a picture with their card. I picked up this trick from Martina Bex for learning your students’ names.

Shelfies: Several teachers use this activity to pique their students’ interest in reading. Laura’s post (linked above) gives a great explanation that she picked up from Sandy Otto.

Instagram Photo Booth from Allison Wienhold! I had a poster made using this template. The kids love it.

5. R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Compound station. This one will lead into 2nd and 3rd-day activities including an open discussion about the RULES of our classroom. What you need: sticky notes, markers, paper.

Characteristics of a Good Classmate I think for this activity I will match marker color to sticky note color so that I don’t have to make 6 different charts. With the answers color-coded I can easily sort into piles and use as a discussion tool later.

Defining Respect: I learned a lot from Kim Campbell’s book If You Can’t Manage Them, You Can’t Teach Them. Kim gives solid advice on how to help students really understand the concept of respect. You need to first find out what it means to them then make sure everyone understands what respect looks and sounds like as well as what disrespect looks and sounds like. I might even have students make their own behavior rubrics.

6. Syllabus Speed-Dating: I’m still working out the details but I did find a word document file (no link because it starts an automatic download) from a science teacher’s blog. These are her instructions:

Hand out syllabus and Class Procedures and Expectations.  Allow students to look them over briefly.

Form 2 lines of chairs facing each other.  May have to have a second group.

Ask students a question from the syllabus and one that is more personal.  They take turns answering with their partner.  One group shifts seats so they are sitting across from someone new and play again until they have had the opportunity to talk to many other students.

or Scavenger Hunt: I’m leaning in this direction so that I can be free to walk around and supervise. 

My first day stations will span 2 days, the Thursday and Friday students start back. Hopefully, by Monday my rosters will be (mostly) set and I can facilitate a discussion based on their responses from the R-E-S-P-E-C-T Station. I’m really looking forward to this discussion because I think (hope) the pay-out will be significant in terms of building a positive classroom community.

7. Some other stations I’d like to include (but need more time to figure out):

  • Preview of activities with opportunity for students to ask questions and make suggestions
  • ACTFL Proficiency descriptors with information about the standards, benchmarks and Can Do statements.
  • The methods behind the madness of E-104. Information about why I teach the way I do. This is usually in the syllabus and PowerPoint presentation but it’s kinda boring presented that way.

Tips for your sanity:

  • Give each group a sheet for recording their names, put a spot for misbehaviors and give them a check or initial if they don’t behave, give stamp for completion.
  • If your students will rotate in a specific order (numerical or clockwise) make sure to alternate the order of activities. For example, First Day Graffiti involves writing. That station would rotate to the Cup Challenge because it involves movement.
  • I strongly suggest you act as dictator and control the rotation order to avoid arguments and fights.
  • Have an extra camera for taking photos of your kiddos in action!

Find more great first day ideas on this Pinterest Board or this helpful blog

See you at the next Puente.

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