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Small group instruction is essential to every classroom. In order to have successful small groups, you need to set up organized rotations. Rotations are when small groups of students rotate through various activities after a fixed amount of time. These activities can be determined by the teacher or students can have a choice of their rotations. In my classroom, students rotate through five centers in the morning. In the afternoon, my colleague and I have both of our classes join together to form groups and rotate through a new activity each day of the week. There are so many different ways to set up a daily rotation in your classroom! Here are five tips to get you started:

1. Plan Ahead

This year, I had a lot of new students in my classroom so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. In order to serve many different needs, I set up multiple stations around the room in order to have options for all my students. Not every student will use every station and some years, I don’t need to use certain stations in my classroom. For example, the year I only had one classroom paraprofessional, I set up an independent station with mini-schedules because I had three groups of students and two adult-run stations.

Planning exactly what type of work or activity that will be  at each station ahead of time will also be extremely helpful, even for students who are new to your class. If you plan out which stations will be independent, teacher-led or paraprofessional led, then you will be able to determine if the work at that station will be at each students’ independent level or at their instructional level.

Another rotation that my college and introduced this year was a daily special activity that follows a weekly rotation. Each day of the week, we wanted to rotate through a different functional activity that we felt like we were not able to get to do. For example, we incorporated leisure skills as one of the days to help students develop puzzle and board game skills (which are standards included on the ABLLS!).

2. Pick a Location

No matter where your rotations occur, you need to ensure that the location within the room or school is available at the time and makes sense to the activity at the center. For example, my work station is an independent station, so I have students in desks, facing the wall in order to emphasize this is work you do on your own and not have distractions. I have teacher-led or paraprofessional led stations at table, so everyone in the small group is able to see and hear the instructor and visuals for the lesson. It also makes it easier for students to participate in games or work together when seated at tables.

In addition to picking locations for specific centers, it is important to consider which centers to use during specific rotations. For example, one year I only had one classroom paraprofessional, we had three groups rotate through an independent station and two adult-led stations. These three stations were close together, so the paraprofessional and I could also keep a closer eye on the independent group. If you have multiple adult-led groups, you may want the stations to be spaced out throughout the classroom so the students are able to hear the adult at their station.

For our two-class special activity rotation this year, my college is having her class meet in my classroom or a classroom on our floor due to mobility. This year, I have students in my class with visual impairments and students with physical disabilities, so transitions are an issue. Since her students do not have these issues and are older, they transition to our floor in order to make the transition quick and efficient.

3. Consider the Flow

This definitely goes with location-it is important to consider how students move through the stations. Usually, having students move clockwise or counterclockwise through the stations makes for an efficient flow and helps students to determine where they are going next. If possible, have rotations be somewhat close together so students spend less time transitioning and more time engaged in instruction.

You should also take into consideration the type of instruction at each station within the rotation. For example, having students go from one independent station to another may not be very balanced. Instead, maybe have students rotate through a paraprofessional-led station, to an independent station, to a teacher-lead station and finally another independent station or break.

For our joint classes special activity time this year, my colleague and I also had to consider the the flow of the week. We had scheduled students’ movement (yoga, indoor games, Special Olympics practice) on gym day and realized that it needed to be changed. Students were tiring of the activities halfway through and we also needed to consider that the students with physical disabilities would be extra tired on that day. I know telling teachers who teach students with autism to change a schedule can be a little controversial, but if it’s in the best interest of the students and you prepare them, it will be better in the long run!

4. Create Schedules

As cluster program teachers, we know the importance of schedules! Creating the schedule of the rotations is essential for students and staff. Each student in my classroom has an individual schedule based on their needs (see Sasha’s recent blog post about picking the right type of schedule for each student) to help them seamlessly transition through the different stations.

My colleague and I created a weekly activity schedule that rotates through five different activities/skill sets weekly (Monday is Life Skills, Tuesday is Art/Drama, etc.). We display it as a mini-schedule in each of our classrooms. We are currently working on having rotations within these activities (e.g. having different stations or rotations during Wednesday’s Movement time), but so far the students are enjoying the different activities. Since it closely mimics their specials time (rotating a different class each day of the week), it was easy for them to get used to.

5. Group Students

Determining how you group students is an important part of the process. Ability grouping is often common when setting up rotations through centers in the classroom; however, you don’t always have to group students this way-it depends on your unique group of students. For example, last school year I had a smaller than usual class, so when I tried to group them by ability, I had a couple of groups with only one student. I ended up putting a student who had lower functioning skills in a group with a student who had higher functioning skills. This ended up working out because I was able to have the higher functioning student independent work at the station first, while I gave direct instruction to the lower functioning student. After I was finished with the first student, I was table to give him a task or break and focus on my other student for the last half of the time.

During our special activity time this year, my colleague and I are doing flexible grouping depending on the activity. We have been letting students pick their groups, but there needs to be two students from her class and two students with my class in each group. Depending on the activity, we also may assign groups based on ability or adaptations. For example, during art, we may group students who are visually impaired together to compete a more tactile art project, but also invite other students who would like to do this option.

Another consideration is behavior and compatibility. Most teachers have grouped in this way. We know there are certain students who don’t get along or get along too well. Keeping those students separate during times of the day students need to complete academic work can be helpful for efficiency. There are also times it’s better to keep siblings in separate groups in order to focus on the individual students and help make the student more independent, especially if the student is a twin or triplet.

I hope you are able to use these tips to create or add to your classroom rotations. Check out The Autism Helper store on Teachers Pay Teachers for products and materials to help you set up rotations in your classroom!

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