Guided Reading and Literacy Learning Stations Part 5: The Flexible System

by Cindy Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

In part 4, I discussed the most common literacy station organization system – what I call the Rotation System. This week I will focus on one I refer to as the Flexible System. After reading this article, you should see why I gave it that name. Many of the points I made in the previous post about Organization, Management, and Behavior still apply to this Flexible System. I know several teachers who switched to this system and absolutely love it. Read on . . .

Flexible Station System:

  • Students can start out at their desks with a “must do” assignment of your choice. This provides a staggered start to center time. Then as they finish, they go to a station of their choice – but they can only visit it once a week. They stay at the station until it is complete, then go to another as time allows. The student chooses from whatever is open at the time. The idea is to complete as many stations as possible during the week.
  • Students can work independently, in pairs, or small groups of up to 3-4 students. They can work with the same or different students each day.
  • Teacher calls their small group for instruction daily from wherever they might be in the room. For example, if you call Group A – they might be at different locations in the room. They come to you for their lesson and return to their work station when you are finished with them. You can determine the amount of time you need to spend with each group since your time is also flexible.


  • The teacher provides several different learning activities — usually 12-15 for a larger class.  Ideas: Computer, library for silent or familiar reading, listening station, spelling, letter work, word work, writing, sight words, and various folder, game or boxed activities which address learning needs in reading and language arts. You might also add in some math or science activities (if it is ok with your principal). See my previous 2 posts and grab your copy of “Literacy Station Ideas.”
  • With this many stations, some of them can be the same from week to week (such as computer or spelling) so you don’t have a lot of changing to do. It’s the words that change, not the activity.
  • This is also a way to differentiate instruction at stations — you can suggest or assign certain stations to specific students. Or within a station you can differentiate: “Red group students choose the red word bag, Blue group students choose the blue word bag . . .”
  • Activities can be stored in tubs on classroom shelves and then pulled out at work station time. Put a number on each activity or station (a colorful laminated square might work well). This number will help keep track of which activities have been used during the week.
  • A simple recording sheet can be kept by each student to keep track of which stations they have visited. When I did this I provided a page with numbered boxes (the number of boxes matches the number of activities you have available). The name of the activity was also listed to put a reference with the number. As an activity is completed, the student simply crosses it out. If you prefer, the student could put a date in the box. Each student had a pocket folder with this sheet in it. I reviewed the pocket folder when needed, but it was fully evaluated at the end of each week. It was also a place to keep any papers associated with stations.
  • Some stations can also be required or assigned so you control what day students visit a station. Example: Red group students visit computer station every Monday and Wednesday for 20 minutes.


  • Since you aren’t tied to a 15 minute-per-group schedule, you can call students to your teacher table from wherever they happen to be in the room.
  • You have the flexibility to spend less or more time with a group because you aren’t tied to the rotation schedule clock.  This may help if you have a large class and need to call some groups every day and others 3-4 times per week. Or some need 20 minutes, while others only need 10.
  • Students aren’t locked into working with the same group of students at each work station. They can work with friends and may tend to get more done because they aren’t arguing.
  • No more need to figure out what to do with students who finish early or don’t finish (which is a problem with a fixed rotation system). Students move to a new station when they are done – no particular order required.
  • You might be able keep some stations active throughout the whole month, rather than change out weekly.
  • This system makes it easy to differentiate activities. For example, “Group A students work on activities from the red tub at word work station. Group B students work on blue tub activities . . .”
  • No more wasted transition time.


  • This requires more work stations or activities (a worksheet, matching, sight word cards, word sorting, making words with magnetic letters, putting words in abc order, a math game, math flash cards, etc.).
  • It may take a month of using this system to determine the actual number of stations you need per week or month. This is partially determined by the number of students in your class, the number of students you allow at each station, the required station assignments, and how many stations your students average per week. So a record keeping system might be needed (see above).

I know several teachers who have implemented this (from KG to 4th grade) and love it because of its flexibility. Would love to hear if any of you have tried this or something similar.


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