crumpled paper with stations written in pen. Two plastic boxes with game pieces inside. Best Activities

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Best Activities For Independent Learning

Set-Up? Now What?

You’ve set up your independent work station system in your classroom. The rotation chart is up.

You’ve designated areas in your classroom for each station. Now you are asking yourself the hardest question of all.

What are the best activities for my students to do during independent work stations?

Criteria For Good Independent Work Station Activities

  1. Engaging and Fun (But Not So Fun That It Will Distract Others)
  2. Learning and Skill Practice Based
  3. At The Student’s Independent Level (Not too hard)
  4. Fast set-up and Clean-up (Student Set-up/clean-up Friendly)
  5. Easy/Fast Prep For The Teacher
  6. Easily Differentiated
  7. Individual or Partner Learning

The Best Activities For Independent Work Stations Criteria

The more of these criteria an independent work station activity has going for it the better it, the better it will perform during station time. 

Let’s look at each of these criteria and then watch the video for some real life examples. 

Also scroll to the bottom to get the 12 station categories I used in my classroom during literacy stations.

Best Activities For Independent Learning- Fun But Not Too Fun

These stations need to be fun.  If they aren’t fun, the kids are going to hate station time. 

So what makes a learning activity fun? 

One way to make it fun is to turn it into a game. Gamification is a huge hook for kids. (and adults too… Right?)

Foam letter puzzle spelling FUN to show the best activities for independent learning should be fun

Another way to make it fun is to let them do something they don’t get to do very often. A good example of this is the Big Book Station. When students go to the Big Book Independent Work Station, they get to read the big books that are normally reserved for only whole group circle time. And they get to use fun and novel pointers to point at words. 

Here are some pointers that your students are going to love. 

Affiliate Discloser

In the spirit of transparency and honesty I must disclose:

Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase, I will earn a commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. Please understand that I have experience with, or have seen the value of all of these resources for teachers, and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals. 

As always, if you have any questions about any of the resources for teachers found on this page I’d be very happy to help you.  I am here for you.

Here are some pointers that your students are going to love. Click on each. 

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Learning And Skill Practice Based

Making sure these independent activities are learning and skill based is important. If kids had their way they’d be playing a video game or searching for cat memes. 

Working independently or in a paired group on a skill is valuable. Not all learning should come from the teacher. They can teach each other and they can teach themselves. 

kindergarten hand writing letter h

Giving them time to practice independently and with a buddy is not only strengthening their academics but also their self-esteem. 

It shows them that learning and practice is fun.

Goldilocks Was A Teacher- Always Looking For ‘Just Right’

Independent work station materials can’t be too hard and they can’t be too easy. They have to be just right. 

Too hard and your students will get frustrated and quit. And when they quit they get naughty.

Too hard and your students will get bored and they will find a way to make it fun which mean… they will get naughty.

One way to hit that sweet spot is play the game or demo the activity as a whole group before you put it into a station rotation. Then students will know how to do the activity because they have done it before. 

And if it seems too easy swap out the content with higher level skills or as stated before make a game out of it.

small girl doing a coloring activity independently in a classroom

Fast Set-Up and Clean-Up

My students were responsible for set-up and clean-up of all the stations. My room was way too small to have the stations up all the time so students were responsible for getting the work bins, setting-up the activity and then when done with station time cleaning up and putting everything away..

young child practicing fine-motor skill by drawing a line with a marker on a napkin

Here’s a tough lesson I learned. At fine-motor station I started with playdough. It’s perfect for a fine motor station right… WRONG. It’s the WORST. Sure they can get it out but no matter what I did there was playdough everywhere and I had to clean it up.  So for my taste, playdough doesn’t belong in an independent station.

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A good solution for fine-motor is pipe cleaner, WikkiStix, foam shapes, foam blocks, tweezer activities, beading, etc. 

Check out a few fine motor items for your classroom.

Fast Teacher Prep

Let’s face it one of the big drawbacks to stations is the sheer volume of stuff that you need. But don’t buy into that mind-set. I used to and it almost burned me out and worst of all I almost quit doing stations. 

A good work station activity should take you less than 5 minutes to prep. Just think about it. If it takes you 5 minutes and you have 12 stations you just spent an hour of your precious prep time.

One way to avoid this is to pick activities that are print and play games, done for you (iPad, computer, listening,) and activities that you have used during whole group instructions so they are literally a ZERO prep activity for station time.

young happy man in t-shirt raising arms to show happiness

And remember, students can and SHOULD interact with the same materials again and again. That’s how they are going to get good at the skill they are practicing. 

You should be swapping out 2-3 stations a week, not all 12. Trust me I’ve done it both ways and the easy way works just as good as the hard way. (No that’s not true- it works better)

The Best Activities for Independent Learning Are Easily Differentiated

This one can get tricky if you let it. Remember you have a jump on this with computer and ipad stations. That’s what makes these activities shine, especially for station time.

To differentiate other materials either modify the content, the time, or the specific learner outcome.

two boys with heads close together work on an activity

So if students are looking for sight words in big books you red group kids have to find 6, blue group 5 and green group 4.

Individual And Partner Learning

During independent work stations times I think it’s important to keep the groups small. Real small. 

If this is going to be an independent learning activity then your students need to do the activity alone or with a partner. It’s not about group learning.

two students sitting across from each other doing a writing activity

Plus, when a group of 5 and 6 year old’s are left to their own devices, well let’s just say things are going to get loud and crazy real fast.

My Big 12 Station Categories

When I did literacy stations in my classroom I had 9-12 main stations my students rotated in and out of. Some of them were:

  • Big Books
  • Listening
  • Computer
  • iPad
  • Fine Motor
  • Writing
  • Word or Letter Work
  • Book Bins
  • Game 1
  • Game 2
  • Game 3
  • Game 4

If you are looking for more info on independent work stations and activities that work. Check-out this post on Common Sense Media. Click Here.

Don’t Miss The Other Posts and Videos About Independent Work Stations

Leave a comment about doing stations. Do you have a set of best activities for independent learning in your teacher toolbox? 

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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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