Giving your students autonomy will help increase enthusiasm and energy in the classroom and will help them develop the skills they need to work in teams and evaluate choices. These skills are critical for students. Help your students improve by allowing them to make choices in the classroom.
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All teachers want to have a classroom full of students who are eager learners, who are engaged in whatever task is put before them, and who are inspired to perform at a very high level. Not all teachers are aware of how providing choice in the classroom is one of the most powerful tools we can use to not only empower, but to inspire our kids.
Imagine a Burger King where they won’t hold the pickles…a movie theater with only one show playing, a library where all the books are about astrophysics… Without being offered a choice, we feel unmotivated, and without any control of our own. Providing a classroom environment that is open to choice will lead to greater student buy-in, higher motivation, and better behavior. In addition, it has been shown to increase feelings of happiness and to decrease stress levels and anxiety in students.
Here are seven simple ways to provide choice for students in the classroom:
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1. Research Projects
Giving kids a choice of topics boosts engagement. Doing a state report? They pick the state. Learning about animals? They choose which one.
Project extensions are an easy way for kids to incorporate their own interests. After completing the required report, kids can choose from a laundry list of different ways to present what they’ve learned, whether it is making am PowerPoint, creating a picture book, or making a video. Students are much more engaged when they take ownership in their learning.
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2. Assignment Completion Order
When students have several things to complete, I write the required jobs on the board and then tell the kids they can complete them in any order. They love being able to have the freedom to choose even something this simple.
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3. Choice Boards
Anyone who has taught for awhile is familiar with using menus and tic tac toe boards. These activity lists provide a number of choices that appeal to a wide range of learning styles. Being able to choose from the menu allows kids to follow their own preferences, creating buy-in.
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4. Task Card Completion
One of the best way to use task cards is to set them up around the room for kids to complete. While some teachers may have kids complete the cards in a designated order, I think allowing students to complete the task cards in any order is a better idea. It makes it more fun for the kids, eliminating that feeling of being “stuck" behind someone moving more slowly. Ever been in a Target line? Then you know exactly what I mean.
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5. Early Finishers Work
In a perfect world, all students would finish every assignment AT THE SAME TIME…but you know that will never happen. By choosing from a list of pre-approved activities, early finishers are engaged and much better behaved.
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6. Where to Work
Sometimes, we just need all of our students to work at their desks. Other times though, we can allow kids to work in a variety of places, as long as they stay on task. I love to have kids working in small groups at the table, on the floor, on our classroom porch, or at the very coveted meeting area with a sofa and cozy chairs (this is one spot that is assigned on a weekly basis to avoid conflict).
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7. Choose Partners or Small Groups
I often like to choose kids randomly for day to day group work, but occasionally I like kids to work with friends of their choice, with the agreement that the focus is on work and not on socializing. I actually changed the way I do math this year to allow kids to collaborate more and I was happily surprised by the actual math conversations that I heard taking place. Miracles do occur!
Partners can also be made by make ‘appointments’ for every hour of a day with other students. Providing a paper where they add partners for every hour of the school day. When it comes time to work with partners or groups, have them work with their 2:00 pm partner or their 11:00 am. You can either have the partner group correspond with the time of day, or you could switch it up calling on random times of day.
Finally, changing the way we do things in the classroom can sometimes be a scary thing. It helps to start small and to try one at a time, remembering to go over expectations as you go. Once you see what a difference choice makes in the classroom, I’m betting that you’ll embrace this teaching tool and it’ll become part of your teaching repertoire.
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About the Author: Jenn Larson has been a teacher for 20 years and has taught every grade (K - 5) at least once! Jenn is a curriculum designer at Teachers Pay Teachers. Jenn has two children and lives in Northern California. In her spare time, she loves to travel. Get ideas from her website and blog. For the latest in educational resources and curriculum products click here. Connect with Jenn on Facebook , Pinterest, and Instagram.