This post originally appeared on the blog The Literary Maven.

In my first year of teaching, all of my students did the same assignment at the same time. Choices were limited. Maybe students could pick one of two extension activities at the end of reading a short story, but individual students working on different assignments of their choosing did not happen.
As I grew more experienced in the classroom, I also grew more comfortable with students making choices and working independently. As the teacher, I didn’t have to have the control all of the time.
When I did relax a little bit and hand some of that control over to my students, I realized I was also increasing the level of responsibility students had for completing their own work. When all of my students were doing the same thing at the same time, it required very little effort on the students’ part. Giving them choices meant now they had options, but they had to do the work individually rather than relying on the teacher or other classmates.

One of my favorite ways to give students choices is using choice boards.

Choice Boards: The Basics
A choice board is just what it sounds like, a board of choices. The choices might be questions to answer or activities to complete related to a short story read in English Language Arts, a concept in mathematics, a unit in science, or a time period in history. The possibilities are endless.

The formatting and directions for choice boards are also flexible. You could create a 3×3 board and ask the students to make “tic-tac-toe” by completing any three choices in a row, column, or diagonally. You could create a 5×5 board and ask students to make “BINGO” by completing any five choices in a row, column, or diagonally. You could also make a choice board of any size and require students to complete a certain number of choices from each row or column, or a total number from the board as a whole.
Using Choice Boards During Novel Units
Meet your students' varying needs by using choice boards in the classroom to differentiate during novel units, homework assignments, author studies, and other units of study.

Instead of requiring all students to answer the same questions as they read a whole class text, literature circle novel, or book club selection, you can use a choice board to offer a variety of questions and activities. 

For example, as my students were reading Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen, I created choice boards for every two chapters, four in total (it is a pretty short book). The choice boards were broken down into four columns of questions/activities marked “knowledge & comprehension,” “application & analysis,” “synthesis,” “and “evaluation.” As the column titles suggest, different questions/activities were different levels of difficulty.

For this type of choice board, I assign a certain number of choices per column. That number can be modified to meet the needs of special education students or when a student is absent from class. For that reason, at the top of each column it says “choose __”; students individually write in the number of choices I assign them. This also makes it easy to be flexible when we have a short week or unexpectedly miss a class period for a school event. Similarly, I created a set of choice boards for my Romeo & Juliet unit where students choose a set number of activities from the choice board as a whole, but I can adjust that required number and whether they are completed in class, for homework, or a combination of both.

Using Choice Boards for Homework Assignments

Meet your students' varying needs by using choice boards in the classroom to differentiate during novel units, homework assignments, author studies, and other units of study.

If students have the same kind of homework each night or week, such as independent reading or practice with spelling words, choice boards are a great way to mix things up.

To accompany their independent reading, students might have choices like describe the setting of your novel and draw a map to accompany your description, create a Venn diagram comparing the protagonist and the antagonist in your novel, or write a letter from one character to another explaining a conflict he is facing and the steps he is taking to try to resolve the conflict. All of these choices would apply to any book a student is reading. 

While creating this type of choice board might take some time and creativity, it would save you from creating and assigning homework each night, and with enough choices, this choice board could be used over and over throughout the year as students read different books. 

At the high school level, vocabulary exercises are a part of my students’ homework. I use a root based vocabulary system of instruction and I created a homework choice board that students could use all year. This meant I only had to make copies once, though I kept extra copies in the classroom, and I never had to waste time discussing the students’ homework assignment as it was the same each week: choose activities from your vocabulary homework choice board). I divided the choice board into four sections to appeal to students’ different learning styles: practice/word relationships, writing, visualization, and movement/kinesthetic. To receive a free copy of this vocabulary homework choice board, sign up for my monthly newsletter here.

Using Choice Boards At the End of an Author Study

Meet your students' varying needs with motivating student through choice by using choice boards in the classroom to differentiate during novel units, homework assignments, author studies, and other units of study.

To wrap up an author study (reading several texts by and/or about the same author) or genre study (reading several texts within the same genre, i.e. mystery or historical fiction), students are often asked to write a culminating writing piece, perhaps an essay synthesizing information about an author and his writing style or defining the characteristics of a genre. Working through the writing process can take different amounts of time for different students, with some students requiring intense amounts of support. 

Using a choice board of activities in conjunction with the assigned essay allows students to work independently while you facilitate small group lessons throughout the writing process. The choice board activities must be activities students can truly complete independently or your small group lessons will face constant interruption. The activities must also be ones that students are motivated and excited to complete so that you don’t have to constantly redirect students who are supposed to be working independently.

During a unit on Edgar Allan Poe, one of my favorite authors, my classes read one of his short stories, “The Black Cat,” and one of his poems, “The Raven,” as well as a series of nonfiction readings on the different possible causes of Poe’s death. As a culminating writing assignment, students must select and defend one of the theories about his death. While I work one-on-one or with small groups of students to collect evidence, outline arguments, or craft rebuttal paragraphs, other students work on activities from their choice board, including writing their own tale of terror, creating a comic version of one of Poe’s short stories, or recording a podcast of one of Poe’s poems.

Using Choice Boards to Culminate a Unit
Meet your students' varying needs by using choice boards in the classroom to differentiate during novel units, homework assignments, author studies, and other units of study.

Sometimes at the end of a unit, I want to reinforce concepts, but also let students explore topics of interest to them. While having total free choice can be overwhelming, I also don’t want to dictate a final product or project since student buy-in is much higher if they make the decision for themselves.

By the final week of my poetry unit, for example, students have been exposed to many different figurative language terms, sound and rhyme techniques, and forms of poetry. Instead of requiring all students to complete the same poetry project, I use a choice board to allow students to do an in-depth examination of topics of interest to them. Some students might opt to analyze additional examples of a certain type of poetry and write their own poem in that form or style while other students create a storyboard to accompany a favorite poem.

You can find all of my teaching resources that include choice boards here.


Brynn Allison, The Literary MavenAfter teaching middle and high school English for 10 years, Brynn Allison (also known as The Literary Maven) currently specializes in delivering literacy interventions for grades 6-8. Her past and present work as an educator has emphasized the need for differentiation in the classroom. You can find resources that support all levels of students, especially struggling readers and writers, in her TpT store. Brynn co-hosts a #2ndaryELA Twitter chat and Facebook group to support middle and high school English Language Arts teachers. You can find her writing about teaching and young adult literature on her her blog, or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.