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10 Mistakes I Made Setting-Up Independent Work Stations

Mistakes.. Yah, I made um’. Setting up independent work stations requires a little extra finesse and planning. 

Read these 10 mistakes I made setting-up my kindergarten and first grade independent work stations in the classroom. Hopefully, after you are done reading you won’t make the same mistakes I made.

Listen or Watch Option

Rather listen or watch about the mistakes I made setting up independent work stations in kindergarten and first-grade? Below is the Podcast episode from Rockin’ This Teacher Thing and YouTube Video from Teachers Making The Basics Fun.  Make sure to subscribe to these resources to get the newest updates on stations and other teachery things in the future. 

Rockin’ This Teacher Thing- Setting-up Independent Work Stations

10 Mistakes I Made Setting-Up and Running Learning stations in Kindergarten and First-Grade Podcast Episode 031

Teachers Making The Basics Fun YouTube

If you’d rather watch here’s the YouTube option.

Mistake 1: Putting Students Into Partner Groups Right Away In Independent Work Stations

When I started independent work stations for the first time, I jumped my kids right into partner learning. I was setting them up for failure when I didn’t teach them the basics of how to work independently in a group. 

What I didn’t realize is that kids don’t automatically know how to work in a group independently. They need support. The best way to teach them is with a gradual release.

Divide your group in half. One group does one activity and the other group does the other activity. Then show them how to switch. 

Because it’s a bigger group you can show them the basics of independent learning centers and stations AND they have the benefit of watching their peers for cues on what to do.


Divide your group in half. One group does one activity and the other group does the other activity. Then show them how to switch. 

Because it’s a bigger group you can show them the basics of independent learning centers and stations AND they have the benefit of watching their peers for cues on what to do.

Mistakes I Made Setting-Up Independent work stations

If you put them in pairs right away you have 9-12 little groups to direct and assist. Bad idea.

Having 2 groups is way easier when starting out. 

Do 2 big groups for a couple days and then move to 4 groups. I think you can see that this strategy is not only better for the kids but better for you. You don’t have to be in 9 places at once. 

Then place them into partners. It’s a seamless transition. 

You can teach them a lot during this phase of learning about being how to behave during  independent work stations and learning centers. Keep reading for more tips.

Mistake 2: Not Giving Them Truly Independent Activities

The whole idea of INDEPENDENT stations and learning centers is to give kids the time to practice learning independently. 

Here’s the tough thing about kindergarten and first grade students. THEY CAN’T READ even the simplest of directions. They can’t even logically look at a worksheet and know what to do. 

So don’t get mad when they are shouting across the room “Teacher I don’t get it. What are we supposed to do?”

2 kids at independent work stations doing an activity

When you are doing the whole 2 groups to 4 groups to pairs thing explained in Mistake 1 take that time to teach them some stations that you will have up all the time. Here are my go-tos. 

  1. Big Book Station- They get out the big books then look at them and/or find sight words using big pointers.
  2. Sight Word Station- They do the same activity week after week after week except they do it with a different sight word.
  3. Book Bin- They have a bin of books that have been curated just for them. They sit in a fun bean bag or comfy pillow and read their book bin.
  4. Timed Reading- This is a binder of pictures, abc, sight words printables etc. They practice reading their chosen skill for one minute. One partner is in charge of the clock and the other does their timed reading. 

Then they switch. 


Mistake 3: Not Giving Them Something To Do After They Are Finished

It’s a problem as old as teaching. What do students do if they get done early. 

Ugg. It’s a big problem and not one that’s going to be fixed with the words, “Just wait patiently.”

Umm yeah that’s what 5 and 6 year olds are… patient… NOT.

You have to give them something. Don’t leave it to them. (That’s a big mistake. Again speaking from experience.)

It’s always a good idea to have something for them to do after they are done.

girl sitting by a stack of books, reading a book

One fun thing to do is give them a game that they know how to play. I have a gigantic set of games that students can do independently once you’ve shown them how to play. 

These are great because they’re fun and kids can practice skills. 

So put away the color sheets and keep them for indoor recess days.

Give them a game.


So put away the color sheets and keep them for indoor recess days.

Give them a game.

Mistake 4: Not Showing Them How To Follow The Station Rotation Chart

Okay so I just thought they’d figure it out. Nope. 

You have to show them, quiz them. Have them show you that they know what to do. 

And here’s the thing.

And I’m sorry to say it’s true… you might have some students who aren’t going to be able to follow it for months. 

They’ll just go over to the chart and stare at it. They have a really hard time. So here are two solutions. 

small boy looking confused while staring at a pocket chart for station rotation

Pair them with a partner who can help them rotate through the stations.


Give them their own rotation chart with only their “schedule” on it. 

I think sometimes some of our students see a rotation chart and it’s just overwhelming. 

It’s like me in the Atlanta Airport looking at the arrival/departure wall. Yikes.

Mistake 5: Not Showing Them How To Clean Up and Move To the Next Station

Kids don’t know what you want until you show them. 

You can’t tell them to clean up and expect them to do it to the level that is acceptable to you. 

I would get frustrated when I saw a workstation in shambles. Big mistake. Instead of getting angry or frustrated or worse yet, cleaning it up myself, I learned.

Kids wandering around the classroom during independent work stations

I learned you have to show them what it looks like to clean up. What the end looks like. They can do it. With a little model, practice and praise they are going to be the little neat freaks you want them to be.

Mistake 6: Me Setting-Up And Putting Away Independent Work Stations and Learning Centers

I would spend recess time setting up stations so we could hit the ground running. I just thought it would be easiest. Then one day I forgot to put out the stations and a few little cuties helped me. The rest of the kids saw them helping and they voiced their frustrations of not being able to help too. 

“Uh -duh Angie.” These kids can set up stations for themselves and what’s even more important is that they WANT to set up stations. Again, when I did it, I was sending the message that I didn’t think they could do it. 

Teacher frustrated with all the work of setting-up materials for independent work stations

So don’t set up stations. Set up a SYSTEM so they can set-up and take down the stations. You’re going to have to model, practice and praise your way through the process but it’s worth it. 

Mistake 7: Me Taking Too Long To Plan, Prep and Organize Independent Work Station and Learning Center Materials

I would spend HOURS and HOURS and HOURS, finding printing, cutting, laminating, storing, organizing materials for center time. Then the kids would do the center for 15 minutes and be done.  Ugggg. Big mistake in so, so, so many ways.

First, I learned the hard way. The more pieces in the game the bigger chance of the piece getting lost and therefore making the game unplayable. 

Independent  work station games need minimal supplies.

Teacher staring at a computer while frantically taking notes

Second, kids can play the same game for weeks in a row. It’s okay. You don’t have to switch out materials after one use. In fact the more they play the game the more they actually get to learn the skill to mastery. That’s pure gold. 

So get yourself games and activities that are easy prep and low materials AND leave them in the station for a few weeks.

Mistake 8: Not Reusing Materials

This goes back to mistake 7. Let’s take it a step further tho. 

Let’s say you have an activity where students place the letters of the alphabet in order.

They get good at it so you put it away thinking you can’t use it anymore.


Think of a way to do a variation on the same material and activity. 

Have them do the alphabet backwards.


seven kids in a group reading books

Take out 5 letters and place them in a mystery envelope. See if they can figure out what they are by placing the remaining letters in order. 

Easy-Done and Independent.

Mistake 9: Having Too Short Or Too Long Of A Time At Each Station

If you think you are going to have 3, 20 minute stations with your kindergarten and first grade students think again. 

I thought my kinders could do a 10 minute station to begin with… WRONG.

It’s a really long time for some of those kids to be independent. You need to start small and increase their stamina for being independent. 

I made a chart that showed their stamina progress. Each week we’d look at it and bump up the time by 1 minute. Lots of praise and encouragement are needed for some kids.

Mistake 10: Using My Voice To Cue Clean-Up and Rotate

As a teacher you use your voice a lot. 

Don’t use your voice to cue the “clean-up and rotate” routine. Instead use music.

It’s one of my favorite things that happens during stations. 

When students would hear the theme song to Charlie Brown they knew they had to clean up their spot and move to their next station. The song is a bit over one minute long. That’s plenty of time for kids to do what they need to do. 

teacher yelling "Time to clean-up."

Again, you have to model, practice and praise while teaching this routine. When they’ve got it down it’s like magic. I loved it. You will too.

How Will You Do Your Independent Work Stations Diferently?

There it is. 10 mistakes I’ve made when doing independent work stations and learning centers with my kindergarten and first grade students. 

Hopefully this list will help you to NOT make the same mistakes I made. 


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Angie K

Angie K

I love to help teachers create an amazing teacher life.
I've taught for 25+ years and I want to help you find joy and energy in each day.

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