About Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, at http://jenniferwolfe.net, and grab a free copy of "8 Tips For A Successful School Year" while you're there.
Author's Back to School Passports

Author’s Back to School Passports

I’m not a direct instruction kind of teacher. I’ve learned after 25 years of teaching junior high that kids need to be moving, thinking, collaborating and switching activities frequently during a 50 minute class period – especially on the first day of school.

When I think of the years I spent the first day talking at the students, not to them, I cringe. What a boring introduction to my class – and my class is definitely not one for passive learning.

The last several years I’ve experimented with group activities on the first day of school. I’ve done everything from partner work to dividing the class into four medium sized groups for rotations. I’ve used poster paper, post its and handouts with varying degrees of success. This year, however, was the best yet – with a little help from some teacher friend websites, I created my Back To School Stations – and they were a huge hit!

I have really large classes – between 33 and 36 – so I created between 8 and 9 stations. I like having kids work in quads; it’s a good number for dialogue without having too much distraction, and it’s easy to put my desks together into four.Jennifer2

Next, I collected lots of Back to School ideas from websites, Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers. I found a variety of lessons, including reading, writing, speaking and art focused ideas.

I tried to divide them up so every station would switch up the learning modality. I decided the theme would be ‘Back To School passports” after finding this lesson on TPT.

Kids started at the station where they were seated. I typed up cheerful, motivating and clear directions for each station, and put them inside sheet protectors to keep them from accidentally getting scooped up or wrinkled. The order they traveled didn’t really matter; I asked kids to keep their papers with them as they moved.

I found that between 7-9 minutes per station worked well. I wasn’t worried about them completely finishing each station; I told them if they finished early they could pull out a station they hadn’t completed, and when we got to the end of the rotation, they would have time for ‘finishing touches’. It worked great – when kids were done, they were able to talk about what they were writing/drawing/reading, or just chat about their summer. In 7-9 minutes there wasn’t much time to goof off, but it created a nice, busy hum in the classroom.

Jennifer3While the kids were working it allowed me to wander around the room, observing the personalities, watching their work habits and stop and comment on what they were doing. With these stations I felt as if I really had a better sense of who they were as people than I ever have before – the lessons created easy openings for dialogue about their interests, their families, their experiences and their hopes for 8th grade.

All together the stations took about three days – we had a few other mini-lessons each day, but the main portion of class time involved the rotations. At the end, I walked them through how to assemble the passport page by page. They stapled them together and turned them in – giving me only one assignment to record for that week, and some super cool decorations for Back To School Night!

Reviewing the syllabus

Reviewing the syllabus

I created a Pinterest Back to School Board here. The passport idea came from Presto Plans, and I modified my stations to reflect

my syllabus and classroom goals. If you’d like a copy of my station directions, just let me know in the comments or send me an email and I’ll share the Google Docs.

Stations work well with many different kinds of lessons – they get kids moving, interacting, and engaged. Try stations the next time you feel like you’ve got a lot to cover and want to make it more fun – your students will love you for it!


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