ELA Circuit Stations—Maximizing the Benefits of Independent Learning

February 19, 2019


In a recent post, Pump Up Engagement with Math Circuit Training, I introduced the concept of setting up classroom learning stations as "training circuits." Learning training circuits provide a way of progressively increasing the rigor and cognitive complexity of a content area skill in the same manner that workout training circuits are arranged to isolate specific muscle groups. Types of stations in this model include:

  • Warm-Up

  • Moderate Lifting

  • Heavy Lifting

  • Cool-Down

  • Reflection

The rationale behind this concept is that station circuits promote personalized learning, allow students to build upon previously-mastered skills, and inspire different modes of learning.


ELA circuit stations are best structured when only select parts of a broader skill/concept are being addressed at each station. These smaller sub-skills of more complex standards are easier for students to work with. In circuit station terminology, these smaller sub-skill stations constitute the "Warm-Up" or "Moderate Lifting" stages. By the end of the entire station workout, students should be able to address the entire strategy and beyond related to the targeted ELA standard.


In a vertically differentiated ELA training circuit, the teacher would assign students (or students would self-select) specific circuit stations based on their current readiness level involving a reading, writing, or speaking skill/concept. For example, a reading training circuit that targets the skill of making inferences would contain progressively complex inferencing tasks as students move though the circuit. Students would start with practicing annotation, move on to using context clues and prior knowledge to predict the main ideas embedded in a word cloud, and then progress to making inferences from complex paired passages that represent different writing genres (informational text, poetry). 
The manner in which an ELA learning station circuit is organized can also accommodate different modes of learning. In a horizontally differentiated ELA training circuit, for example, a set of character analysis circuit stations might address different student’s modality strengths or learning preferences by offering stations where students: 

  1. create a digital scrapbook of a selected character,

  2. use a GoogleDoc template to design a fake social network profile based on a selected character,

  3. draw a portrait of a selected character that portrays his/her physical attributes,

  4. create a written biographical summary that captures internal traits of a selected character, or

  5. write a song with multiple verses that depicts a selected character.


A personalized learning approach can also be reinforced in ELA circuit stations as students are assigned to (or self-select) different stations based on personal preferences, interests, and/or perceived needs. For example, in a student choice-based ELA training circuit addressing vocabulary development, some students may choose to work at one station developing a word web for a set of vocabulary words while other students may choose to work at a different station determining the meaning of specific words within a short passage using context clues.


The use of ELA circuit stations—or any independent small group learning approach for that matter—offers unique benefits that cannot be addressed during whole group instruction. In Miss G's blog post, 10 Reasons to Implement Learning Stations in the Secondary Classroom, she makes a compelling argument for the use of stations or centers, especially at the secondary level. When you're ready to try your own ELA circuit stations, remember these three important tips for success:

  1. Prepare students ahead of time with the skills to work independently in small groups.

  2. Create stations that work strategically with your current rhythm of instruction.

  3. Avoid station work that will be viewed as busy work by students, teachers, or parents. 



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