Fluency Station {Keeping Students "Busy"}

Am I the only one who has early finishers or 10 minute blocks of time with no real purpose (isn't master scheduling grand....)? Today I would like you to meet two of my Personal Teaching Commandments:
  • Busy work is a crime.
  • Keep reading sacred.

Allow me to explain...

Busy work is a crime.
I do not like keeping students busy with busy work. I think that like anything in life, we need to know what our purpose is behind our tasks because it drives intrinsic motivation. This especially holds true in elementary school. Believe it or not ( and those who know me personally will believe it), I was the kid in school that used to say (in a whining voice); "When are we ever gonna have to use this!? Why do we have to do this?!" Now, I teach that kid, and that kid is the reason for my fourth cup of coffee every day.  My point being, if kids don't feel like what they are doing matters, they aren't going to really learn from it and they certainly aren't going to enjoy it. If I throw a worksheet at them that has nothing to do with what we are learning, and then tell them to recycle it when they are done, I don't really think they will be trying their best on it. I certainly didn't as a child. I also believe that busy work and boredom breed behaviors, and who has time for that? Furthermore, with all of the new learning standards and expectations of our kiddos, who has time or can even justify busy work?

Keep reading sacred.
When I was getting my master's in reading, I had an incredible professor, Dr. Zimmer. If you're reading this, hi Dr. Zimmer! One of his personal teaching commandments was that reading should be a reward; a positive; a priority. This really resonated with me and I have carried it with me ever since. So often (and I am just as guilty as the next teacher but I have been trying to change), we say "Go get a book." Well, I teach students with reading difficulties and I teach students with behavior problems. "Go get a book" doesn't keep students busy when they:
a) can't read
b) don't want to
c) both a and b

Reading should be sacred- it should not be a last resort and it should not only happen when "all of the important stuff is finished." It IS the important stuff. (Don't even get me started on a child having to read when the other kids are having a privilege. Reading is not punishment!!!)  

Enter the Fluency Station. I had the idea for the Fluency Station after I read this post from The Autism Helper (who is so so so awesome, by the way). I knew that I couldn't commit the adult supervision and the reading block time to it like she did, so I needed to make it something that would be fun, engaging and somewhat independent. I thought, how can I make this work for a variety of times, students, skills and subjects? Someday, I want to make one as organized and amazing as hers, but for this year, I can't. There is so much I want to fit into my school day but there is just never enough time. But if I maximized the 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there, I realized my kids could gain some practice of the skills they needed most. So many of my students needed skill and drill practice of multiplication and division facts, sight words and content vocabulary but it would be impossible for me to plan to address all of those pieces throughout the day. Here's what I came up with.

For starters, I'd like to make a shout out to my mom who held on to this old colorful shelf in the basement for 4+ years while I told her someday I would need it for my classroom. It was the home to my little sisters' arts and crafts supplies when they were younger.

What's In It?
There are four levels to the Fluency Station. Level 1 is home to pretty "dry" but purposeful content. Mainly activities that make students more fluent readers and mathematicians. 
Math Words: These are words to help my students with math word problems- e.g.: how many, count, according to the graph, etc.
Practice Cards: My practice cards are decks of reading comprehension practice cards, decks of multiplication and division facts, content area vocabulary words (relevant to the unit they are on) and test preparation words.
High Frequency Words: This bin holds a bunch of decks of the 800 most high frequency words. This coordinates with the high frequency pages that my students have in their Reading Notebook (from Beth Newingham's Word Study ideas).
Game: This bin holds a math review game that has been pre-taught in math class that week and is relevant to the current math skill. 

As you progress through the levels, the bins become more appealing to the kids. For example, in Level 2 there are word builders, Scrabble Slam, board games and Turbo Slam. Level 3 holds blank bingo boards, sudoku puzzles and other games. Level 4 has comic books, holiday crossword puzzles and doodling how-to books. You can fill Levels 2-4 with pretty much anything!

How To Use It
When I realized that I could coax my students into doing independent skill and drill practice at Level 1, I went crazy trying to gather fun stuff for the other levels that would motivate them to use the Fluency Station. I decided to have it be a gradual activity center, meaning the students have to complete one activity from Level 1 to move on to the next, and so on. Really, the only Level that drives fluency is Level 1, but the kiddos don't need to know that. 

The frequently asked questions posters were my attempt at keeping repeated questions to a minimum. 

With my ratio of boys to girls being 13:2, the comic books were a steal at 3/$1 at The Dollar Tree. The only drawback was that I had to read them all first to make sure they were appropriate. Comic books can be very....inappropriate. Other great finds at The Dollar Tree- sudoku puzzles, crossword puzzles and map books. 

I found Count Down Spell Up for $5.99 at Ollie's Bargain Outlet right before Christmas. As it turns out, December is the best time to stock up on board games for your classroom because discount stores are selling brand name games for great prices. I also got extra decks of Scrabble Slam for $3.99 and Scrabble Turbo Slam for $9.99. DEALS!

This creative writing center was a collection of left over materials from many of my friends and family. I put out an all-call on Facebook asking for office supplies- envelopes, paper, pens, stamps, stickers, Post-Its, etc. and the response was amazing. I am certainly set for quite a while (thanks everyone!). Who knew there were so many brides out there with 75 extra envelopes? Since my kids LOVE to write- I allowed them to choose this writing center at any level after Level 1. 

What's the Point?
So again, I don't like busy work. In a perfect world, all of my students would finish their work at the same time and they would all be ready for the next activity together. They would all have speech and lessons at the same time so we would always be on the same page. But, the world isn't perfect. So for the imperfect world, I made the Fluency Station. It gets used for early finishers, free time and me time. With the Level 1 tasks being skill and drill, I decided to use it as an opportunity for progress monitoring and data collection. Since the kids are responsible for it themselves, it was not intended to be completely accurate for data collection, but I wanted the kids to track their progress and their use of the Fluency Station. I don't have a photo of it in action, but here is a link to download it. "Mastery" is complete when the student knows all of the cards in a deck and has a teacher check and initial it. 

So there you have it. My big idea so that there would always be a "last resort" station for my kiddos that was relevant to their IEP goals, their current subjects and their interests. Like anything else, I wish I would have started this sooner and I wish there was more time for each student to use it. As you can imagine, it's the same few kids who get through all four levels, and the same few students who never really use it. But, c'est la vie!


  1. Oh my goodness girl - I love this! SO many of my students need more practice in fluency with reading and mathematics and it can be such a difficulty to fit it in every single day! I am so glad you posted abut this. I know what I will be doing this weekend!


    Teaching Special Thinkers

  2. Thank you for posting this. I am always looking for things for those fast finishers to do, and I hate the idea of throwing more worksheets at them. I'll need the summer to gather materials and organize it, but I'll definitely be using this idea next year!
    Teachin' First

  3. Wow! Amazing! I absolutely love this idea. I have been using Sasha's fluency center in my classroom and it is awesome but I can see this being awesome for all those moments when students are finished early and it will reinforce the skills we are doing during fluency drills! This is just great. Thanks for sharing!

    Teaching in a Special Place

  4. LOVE your multicolor chevron rug! Would you mind sharing where you purchased it? Thanks!


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