Teaching with Chat Stations

The next time you're looking for a quick and easy way to introduce a new topic or subject, consider using the Chat Stations teaching strategy!  Chat stations require very little effort on your part to set up, with the added bonus of getting your students up and moving as they learn.

This teaching strategy allows students to work in small groups, rotating around the classroom to examine photographs, objects, and/or prompting questions.  Students talk with each other about the chat station topic, documenting their ideas, responses and questions on a communal recording sheet.

After all groups have rotated through all of the chat stations, they return to their seats or carpet for a whole class discussion of their observations and questions.

What is a "chat station"?

A chat station is a photograph, illustration, object and/or a written prompt.  

When would I use chat stations?

What kinds of information do different maps give us?
I generally use chat stations on the first day of a new topic or theme.  In the example to the right, for example, I am introducing maps to my Grade 5 students.  I want them to consider that there are a wide variety of maps, each type highlighting different information.

What materials do I need to use Chat Stations?

1.  One photo, object and/or question/teacher prompt for each station.

2. One paper per group to record their responses as they rotate through stations.  You can either give students blank paper and have them divide it into enough sections so that they have one section per station, OR give them a sheet that you have already prepared for this purpose.  In the example above you can see that the page has been divided into 6 sections, ready to be filled in.  (With a large class I will have up to 12 stations, so students would respond to 6 prompts on each side of their recording sheet.)

3. Pencils
How can citizens voice their concerns?

How large should my groups be?

I usually have about 4-5 students per group, but it can depend upon how large the class is, and how many chat stations I have.

How long should groups stay at each station?

Three to five minutes works well.  You want enough time for students to get engaged in the topic, but not so long that they become bored and get off-task.

What topics work well with Chat Stations?

The possibilities are endless:
How might grocers use math?
  • Art:  Posters/prints of different types of art, or different artwork from one artist.
  • Language:  Before beginning a new novel or read-aloud, put a different quotation from the book at each station.

Math:  Place a photograph at each station, and ask students to discuss how math might be involved in that image.  For example, pictures of the fruit in a grocery store, a restaurant menu, or a bridge all have rich potential to help students consider how math is used in the world around them.
  • Science:  At the beginning of a unit on space, place a true/false sentence at each station and have groups come to a consensus about their answer.
  • Social Studies:  Before starting a government unit, place pictures of important people, buildings, and symbols at stations, and ask students to identify the image AND reflect on its importance to the smooth running of the country (or state/province/municipality).
What math can you see in this photograph?

What happens after students finish rotating through all of the centres?

I call the class back together, and spend a few minutes discussing each of the stations.  I choose a different group to offer up the first observations of each station, and then other students can piggyback on that group's ideas.  (Ahead of time I have decided what I feel the most important concepts are for each station!)

Can I assess this activity?

I keep a simple checklist with me during this activity, checking off when I've heard from each student, and noting any particularly insightful comments.  As I generally use this as a introductory activity, I consider this an opportunity for diagnostic assessment, to help me identify gaps in learning before beginning the unit.

Where can I get images to use with Chat Stations?

I find images everywhere:  newspapers, flyers, the internet, on packaging...there are endless possibilities!

How can I get started?

While you don't need anything fancy to create chat stations (some photographs, written prompts, and one blank paper & pencil per group), if you'd like a little bit more of an organized structure, click here to access the templates freebie below!.  Just print them off, fill them in, and you're good to go!