The Complete Guide to Setting Up Effective Science Stations

Why Use Science Stations?

Science stations are a staple in my classroom and have made the biggest impact on student mastery.  I’m a firm believer in student-led learning in any subject, but in science it is so important that hands-on exploration is part of the learning process.

Teacher led demos are a fantastic tool to get kids engaged about a particular topic, but science station labs allow students to immerse themselves in the topic.  They allow students to experience science on their own and then reflect back on their learning.  Through this process the students get to participate with the content.

Complete Guide to Effective Station Labs

I’ve always felt that science is one of the most active teaching jobs.  Many states require a certain percentage of the curriculum to be hands-on learning and science stations fit the bill very nicely.  Once the science stations have been setup one time it is very easy to plug and play new information into the setup.  This keeps lab prep times much more manageable and allows the teacher to breathe.

One nice byproduct of station labs work is the teacher is able to become the facilitator in the room rather than the direct instructor.  This is better for student achievement, and your administration will also love it.

Science station labs can also be easily modified for students with IEP’s or those who need extra help.

I’ve created a massive series of science station labs for the classroom, but this article will focus on how you can setup your own station labs effectively.

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What are Science Stations?

Science stations or centers mean something different to many people.  The station labs in my room are setup for students to use several different learning styles to explore new information and reflect on their learning.

Differentiated Learning

Science stations are truly differentiated learning.  I’m sure the word “differentiated” makes your head spin when you start to think about all different levels of students in your classroom.  Stations allow you to present information using many different learning styles.

I setup eight different stations around the room.  Four of the stations are for exploring new information about the concept, and the other four stations help students to reflect and assess their learning.

Science Station Labs

Students will be in groups of 2-3 and will each have a lab sheet that goes with them around the room.  The teacher will assume the role of facilitator and ensure students are on task and understanding the new information rather than feeding it to them.

What Does Each Station Look Like?

Each station is setup with a different learning style in mind.  This helps to differentiate the content.  Below is a list of each of the different stations I use in my class.

Kesler Science Labs

Input Stations

  1. Explore It! – At this station students will get to explore the concept with hands on learning.  This station is meant to get the students thinking about the topic being taught.  You can relate it to previous knowledge, use a demonstration, or have the students do an activity that helps explain the concept.  The point of this station is to allow students to explore.
  2. Research It! – This station allows the student to get online and research the topic being taught.  I usually hunt for interactive activities, or grade-level articles for this station.  I incorporate technology at this station because I’ve found students are much more engaged when technology is present.
  3. Watch It! – At the watch it station students will watch a video about the content.  Videos are the medium that students are familiar with and how many of them receive their information (good or bad).  A 5-minute video can be extremely more productive than a student having to listen to a teacher lecture for 45 minutes.
  4. Read It! – The read it station is setup to allow students to gain information from a traditional reading passage.  The reading is generally a one page article which is relevant to the content.  I always include 4 reading comprehension questions that come from the reading.

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Output Stations

  1. Write It! – This station will challenge the student to write out responses to open-ended questions.  This provides the students the opportunity to write in complete sentences while reflecting on the information.
  2. Organize It! – This is a hands-on station which allows students to work with a manipulative in order to show mastery of the concept.  I often use card sorts at this station.  Vocabulary and definitions are an easy go-to, but I would suggest something that applies the knowledge rather than resorting to memorization.
  3. Assess It! – This station is setup as a set of traditional multiple choice questions and answers.  At the end of the day I need students to be able to apply their new learning to this type of questioning. This station provides yet another opportunity prove mastery.
  4. Illustrate It! – One of my favorite stations allows students to connect their learning with a sketch or illustration.  This station is not only for creative students.  I’ve seen many students benefit from drawing their reflection and making those connections.

Illustrate it kesler science

At each station I use small baskets that contain all of the cards (instructions for the station) and any materials that are needed.  You can download all of my signage for free.  This format makes it very easy for students to understand.  It also makes it very easy for the teacher to clean up and setup the next station lab.

Tips and Strategies to Setup Science Stations

The first time you try this format for the station lab you’re likely going to be nervous.  Is this going to work?  Are kids going to get it?  This next section will address all of those fears and will set you on the path to having a great experience with the station labs.

I highly suggest requiring each student to turn in a lab sheet to ensure everyone is working on something within the group.  I allow them to work in groups of 2-3, but have found that 4 is just too many for a group.  I would also highly encourage  you to choose the lab groups.  This is a far more effective method for quality work.

In my classes I allowed students to move to the next available station when they finished a station.  This stops a lot of the nonsense that comes with downtime, and generally speaking there will be different time requirements at each lab station.  I had 45 minute class periods, and most students were able to complete a lab in that time period.

Station Labs

What about classes that have 30+ students in them?  There’s a simple solution for that.  You need to double up the stations.  If you were really ambitious you could double every station, but I only duplicated, or even triplicated, the input stations.  I would highly suggest having students start off at the input stations.  These are the stations that new information is gained.  It doesn’t make sense for students to start with the output stations if they don’t know anything yet.

My paraprofessionals who worked with students with modifications loved the station labs because they could easily modify the assignment.  I would typically have them do the Explore, Research, Watch and Assess stations, but you could do any combination of input/output you wanted.

Students aren’t going to need much help with the station labs if they are setup properly, but I always found it most effective to hangout by the Explore and Organize stations (put those two together).  At the explore station you can help students to process new information and at the organize station you can visually determine if they understand the content.

science labs

Don’t think technology is a requirement for this type of lab setup.  You could easily substitute textbooks or supplemental materials at these stations.  Don’t forget you likely have a SMART board or teacher computer that could be used for one of the stations.

At the technology stations make sure the students leave the webpage up that is required for that station.  You will save a lot of time if each student doesn’t have to go to a new webpage every time.  Also, use URL shorteners like or to shorten long website names.  These are generally case-sensitive and you would want to note that to your classes.

The reading passages don’t have to suck!  I always try to write or pick a passage that is relevant to the topic, but it doesn’t have to specific and factual information about that concept.  What would be engaging to students?

Science Reading Passages

I required the write it stations to be done in complete sentences.  This is an area that you can modify, but middle school students really need practice in this area.

If you have a question or comment about the setup please let me know in the comments section below.  I’ll be glad to answer them

Grading Science Stations

I know you’re probably thinking about grading a stack of lab write-ups but this doesn’t have to be a difficult process.  The goal for students is mastery of a particular piece of content.  I can easily verify this by grading only the Read, Assess, and Illustrate section.  I know immediately if the concept was obtained.

Assess It Station Lab

What about students that eventually figure out that you only grade a few sections?  Don’t let them see behind the curtain and change up  your grading!  My point is this doesn’t have to be a difficult 5-hour job.  Make it easy on yourself.

Those students that didn’t perform well on the lab can easily be identified and are ideal candidates for extra help or tutoring.

You Don’t Have To Do It Alone

Setting up science stations are something that you could do by yourself, but if time is a concern I’ve done all of the work for you.

I’ve created 100+ science station labs that cover a huge variety of common science concepts.  You can buy each lab individually, as a unit bundle, or save a massive amount buy buying the entire lab bundle.
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