Chat stations are low-prep, small-group discussions on different topics that allow students to practice asking and answering questions. This is a nonthreatening way to engage all students in interpersonal speaking and can be used at different times throughout a unit to explore new material, analyze a text, debate a controversial issue, or review before an assessment. This activity also allows students to work with a topic in a small-group environment before engaging in larger class discussions, allowing students to build fluency and confidence before speaking in front of the class at a later time. This activity is adapted from Cult of Pedagogy: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/chat-stations/
The teacher posts signs with discussion prompts around the classroom, to serve as stations.
The teacher assigns the students to small groups or pairs. The teacher may consider assigning roles to group members as well (e.g. prompt reader, discussion facilitator, note taker, etc.)
Each group is directed to move to a specific station to begin the activity, with one group per station.
One student reads the prompt posted at the station aloud to the group. Students may take a few moments to come up with their own individual answers to the prompt before discussing as a group.
Students participate in a group discussion to come up with one or more answers to the assigned prompt.
(Optional) The teacher may ask a note taker in each group to record group responses. This role can switch between group members each time the group rotates to a new station.
The teacher rotates around the room, listening to conversations, providing support or feedback, and asking follow-up questions as appropriate.
Adaptation for Online/Distance Learning
Students are separated into either random or intentional groups. A speaking prompt, question, or image—either one for the whole class or a unique one for each group. Groups are told that they have a specific time limit and that a random volunteer from each group will be expected to report out. Groups are sent into breakout rooms for a limited time to chat about the assigned topic. Students go into their breakout rooms, chat, and return to the main room. The teacher requests that random students share. The teacher then displays the next round of prompts and repeats the process.
For individual accountability within groups, the teacher may wish to create a protocol to ensure that all group members speak. Groups may benefit from having an assigned moderator, time keeper, etc. As an alternative to having random individuals share out, the teacher may ask that all students take a certain amount of time when they return from the groups to note what they heard and submit their writing by taking an image or by sharing on a discussion board.
The teacher may pose questions to the whole class and allow for individual brainstorming for 10-15 minutes, depending on complexity and number of questions, before breaking students into small groups. This modification further engages less-talkative students.
Before engaging in stations, it is important to have:
- Clear instructions (so that everyone knows exactly what they should be doing at all times)
- An established route (so that everyone knows where they are supposed to go next; this should remain visible either on the station desks or on the board)
- A large and loud timer (Google has a free timer, and there are many available online) so that everyone knows when to stop and move on to the next station
If your classroom is not suitable for movement, groups may remain seated and the teacher can employ one of the following options:
- print out copies of the questions for each group on separate sheets of paper, and hand them out individually when time is called
- rotate station sheets between groups instead of groups physically moving to different stations
For novice learners, the prompts can be questions related to the unit theme, a specific text, a familiar topic, or may be used to review content; for higher proficiency levels, the prompts might require students to debate an issue, take a stand on an issue, make predictions about a text, or prepare for a whole-class discussion on a specific topic or theme.
For intermediate proficiency levels and above, groups can be asked to generate their own discussion questions about each topic instead of only using the teacher-provided questions. This could be done as a class, in groups, or individually before the activity begins.
Depending on familiarity with and mastery of content or language, the teacher may choose to make this a “we do” activity instead of a “you do” activity by providing sentence-starters. This could also be done on an individual basis for those students that need the additional support in an otherwise “you-do” activity.
Students can be asked to summarize final responses to each question based on the entire group's opinions or thoughts. This can be facilitated using a graphic organizer, and can be completed either in class or at home.
Depending on the class size, proficiency level of students and number of questions being used, the teacher may have students work in pairs instead of small groups to put more responsibility on each pair to come up with lots of possible responses (instead of just their own personal perspectives). This might decrease the amount of student-to-student input, however.
The teacher may give higher-proficiency students more difficult questions to answer, less time to answer each question, or both.
The teacher may choose to have a group of higher-proficiency students prepare in advance and have a model discussion in front of the class, which can be analyzed and discussed by the class to determine behavior norms and etiquette for effective group discussions (in the target language).
Signs (printed or digital) with discussion prompts for each chat station
Classroom that is suitable for movement
(Optional) Graphic organizer