Need a creative approach to your next short story? Or short story unit? (By the way, here are some fabulous classic and contemporary short stories if you need some). Stations can provide so many inroads, while allowing students to proceed at their own pace and based on their own interests. PLUS, they give you a chance to move around the room and help out individual students or small groups that need you.
So today on the podcast, I want to share some creative options when it comes to short story stations. We’ll talk about the fundamental elements that can help make stations a success (like clear tasks, resources, scaffolds, and models) as well as ideas specific to approaching the key elements of short stories.
Could you use all these activities with short stories even if you WEREN’T doing stations? Sure, that’s definitely an option too. But they would make excellent stations.
You can listen in to this episode below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.
OK, let’s start with how to build your stations. Stations do require more prep than a lot of other activities, but once you’re set up, the lesson takes care of itself. Which for me is always a good trade off!
Start by pulling your seating into stations. How many kids at each station depends on your numbers, your room and your students’ ability to focus. You can always have multiple versions of each station if you need to spread your students out more. Find a way to label each station, either with a poster or a laminated handout or a big craft number from Michael’s. Whatever works for you. You want students to be able to easily see what station is where when they look around the room, so they can find what they need to do.
At each station you’ll want to have resources or prompts of some kind and a task or two for students to complete. Be sure you have enough copies of the resources for the number of chairs you have at the station, so no one will be sitting around waiting for a turn with the resource. If you want one of the stations to be watching a movie clip or listening to a part of a podcast, either use QR codes so students can use their own devices, or have enough devices set up with headphones for the number of chairs you have available.
In addition to the resources needed to complete the task, consider what scaffolds you can put in place for students who might find the task especially challenging. Whether that’s sentence stems, additional models, or a chance to work individually with you, you can provide support built into the station. On the flip side, if you think some students are going to zoom through a station easily, consider creating a bonus challenge for kids who want to do it.
To help the process be successfully, consider giving each student a handout that lists the stations and tasks at each. You can have them check off the stations as they work through them, or better yet, put out a unique stamp or sticker page at each station and have them stamp/sticker their papers as they move around the room. Let them know they’ll need to show you their completed process handout at the end.
Finally, know what your expectations are for how students will move through the station activities, so you can let them know clearly and avoid trouble later. If they should be aiming for about ten minutes per station, let them know. If they’re allowed to work with partners at stations if they want to, let them know. If the room should be completely silent during the station work, let them know. You’ll save yourself headaches by making your expectations really clear before the kids launch into stations and you lose their attention.
OK, with these station fundamentals in mind, let’s turn to our short story stations! You can use all or some of these, and you can either have your students complete them all (perhaps or several days) or choose the ones they find more interesting.
Station #1: Setting
While setting can easily blend into the background (literally), stations are a great chance to draw students’ attention to it. Here are three ideas for setting station activities.
Create a handout with the top half covered in magnifying glass images. Invite students to fill each magnifying glass with a quotation from the book that shows details of the setting. Here they’re engaging in close reading, finding the evidence for how the setting is demonstrated throughout the book. Then let them share their findings with a partner if they wish, and talk about how they would describe the setting overall, based on these specific details. Then they can write their setting description down at the bottom, under all of their magnifying glasses.
Annotated maps are another fun way to explore setting. Students can use the text to figure out the key locations shared so far (big picture) and then dig deeper into it to annotate those locations on the maps they’re drawing with quotations (zooming in). Put out colorful art supplies to help them create detailed maps.
Finally, mood boards are another fun option. Invite students to use an online program like Canva or Slides to create a mood board that represents the setting. They can use elements like colors, textures, photos, and even emojis and cartoon graphics to share the feeling they get from various setting descriptions. They should include both quotations and imagery, then describe what they’ve created and how it represents the setting in an analysis paragraph.
Remember, for this station you’ll want to have a label that says “STATION ONE: SETTING,” a task card clearly explaining what students should do, any resources they need to complete it, scaffolding that can help students who might need extra support, and a model or two to help lead the way. I know it sounds like a lot, but once you set up these stations the lesson will run itself and you can use them year after year, even if you switch out the short stories you’re focusing on.
Station #2: Style
OK, next we’re turning to author style. These two activities are fun ways to help draw students’ attention to what makes an author’s style unique.
If you’d like students to dig into the author’s style by imitating it in their own writing, try the mentor sentences activity. For this one, students choose moments in the text that show the author’s style, then write them down and try writing similar sentences for a story of their own. Whatever the author’s strengths are – beautifully sparse prose, incredible metaphors, surprising adjectives – students get a chance to try it for themselves.
If you want to focus more on analysis, a post-it style collage on the wall is a fun option. Give students one color for finding sentences that demonstrate the author’s style, and another color for analyzing the patterns they see in the collage.
Again, remember that for this station you’ll want to have a label that says “STATION TWO: STYLE,” a task card clearly explaining what students should do, any resources they need to complete it, scaffolding that can help students who might need extra support, and a model or two to help lead the way.
Station #3: Characterization
Characterization might be my favorite station of these five, because there are so many fun creative ways to explore it.
You might have students create a one-pager featuring one or several key characters. Invite them to showcase the character’s traits, dreams, weaknesses, changes, and key moments through their own words, icons, doodles, imagery, quotations, and more.
Or you might invite them to create a six word memoir for a character, taking what they’ve learned and boiling it down into a memoir (grab the free templates featured above left right here), then explaining their choices with reference to the text in a paragraph or two of analysis.
Last but not least, you might have them create an open mind for a character. This is similar to a one-pager, but with a different visual spin. Canva is a fantastic platform for these, since students have access to a barrage of images and colors to help them express the details of a character’s growth and personality, but you could also do them on paper. Just decide what you want students to include in terms of quotations, traits, etc., then have them draw character silhouettes, create them yourself, or grab mine (TPT link – Lighthouse members, these are in your membership under “Projects for any Novel.”).
Once again, remember that for this station you’ll want to have a label that says “STATION THREE: CHARACTERIZATION,” a task card clearly explaining what students should do, any resources they need to complete it, scaffolding that can help students who might need extra support, and a model or two to help lead the way.
Station #4: Argument
There are many ways you could build argument into a station, depending on what you’re working on with your students in terms of argumentation.
Students could work on developing an original thesis about a story, respond to a text-specific prompt, respond to a real world prompt related to the story, or even take a thesis that is given to them and develop a counterargument to refute, build an outline, etc.
Once again, remember that for this station you’ll want to have a label that says “STATION FOUR: ARGUMENT,” a task card clearly explaining what students should do, any resources they need to complete it, scaffolding that can help students who might need extra support, and a model or two to help lead the way.
Station #5: Creative Writing
There are about a million directions you could go with helping students get started on a short story of their own at this station, but here are three possibilities.
Students might create a character with writing makerspace items, then write the first few paragraphs introducing this character. Maybe you’ve got playdoh, legos, markers and sketch paper, felt and scissors – the making part doesn’t have to be too complex, but it helps students vault over writer’s block when they can craft a character and start to imagine what that character is like before ever writing a word.
Another option, if you’ve got a bit of a postcard collection like me (ha, actually I have a HUGE postcard collection), would be to lay out postcards and let students choose one as a setting, then begin to write a story located inside the scene they’re looking at.
Finally, you might use story cards to help students get started. Story cards are quite fun to make in Canva – you just grab photos you think would appeal to students in categories like “characters,” “conflicts,” and “settings.” Then print them, cut them out, and make them available. Students can choose as many characters, conflicts, and settings as they wish to help inspire their writing. One kid might just take a conflict, while another grabs three characters and a setting. Whatever works.
Once again, remember that for this station you’ll want to have a label that says “STATION FIVE: CREATIVE WRITING,” a task card clearly explaining what students should do, any resources they need to complete it, scaffolding that can help students who might need extra support, and a model or two to help lead the way. (Sound familiar? I know. But you really do want to include all of this at every station!)
So now you’ve got some ideas for your short story stations, and I bet more are coming to you right now! Of course, these activities would all work as whole-class activities as well, but stations add in that element of choice and self-pacing, plus they give you the ability to help kids working at stations that are challenging for them.
If you’re looking for a done-for-you version, you can grab my own set of short story stations here on TPT (Lighthouse members, yours are in our Short Stories section). Otherwise, I hope you’ll get a kick out of making your own! I’d love to see your set-up if you’re in the mood to tag me on Instagram, @nowsparkcreativity.