Decision-making is an important life skill that all children need to develop. As teachers we share the responsibility, not only of providing opportunities in the classroom for our learners to make choices, but also to help them understand that the choices they make have consequences. There are lots of ways we can address this in the classroom but one way that is simple to set up and easy to add to classroom routines, is the use of choice boards.
Choice Boards: What? Why? and How?
A choice board is a board that displays a number of task options for learners to choose from. The exact number isn’t important but in the most successful choice boards the types of tasks vary as much as possible. This means offering tasks with different degrees of challenge as well as with different skills focus. For example, after teaching language related to ‘daily routines’, tasks could be:
- Write a blog post about your daily routines. Write 80 – 100 words.
- Make a poster to show your daily routines. Use pictures and text.
- Make a short audio recording of yourself talking about your daily routines.
- Imagine you are a famous person. Write about your daily routines.
- Write an email to a friend in another country, explaining typical daily routines for a child in your country.
- Work with a partner. Write a dialogue, asking and answering about daily routines. Record or film yourselves acting out the dialogue.
- Interview a family member of friend about their daily routines. Write a summary of the information.
- Write a list of 5 things you do every day and 5 things you only do at the weekend.
As you can see in the examples above, there are options that address learner preferences for writing, drawing, speaking and performing. There are also options for working individually or with a partner, for sharing information about oneself or using imagined information. This appeals to learners who are reluctant to share personal information. The suggested tasks also include a range of challenge grades.
“Besides having a positive effect on a child’s cognitive development, research has shown that when we provide children with choice, we help them develop as confident, independent learners with increased self-esteem.”
(Oswalt, et al. (2008) The Use of Choice in Early Childhood )
Decision-making is a 21st century skill – though in reality, it’s been an important life skill for centuries. While teaching methodologies have come and gone over the years, one thing that many of the great child psychologists and education theorists such as Piaget, Vygotsky, Montessori and many modern experts agree on is the importance of encouraging children to share the responsibility of making decisions about their own learning.
But the main reason I like choice boards so much is because they allow for differentiation in a subtle way. Learners choose tasks they feel most drawn to. All tasks are presented as being equally valid with no one task being worth more or less than any other.
The tasks on choice boards can be done during class time or set as homework.
- Invite children to read all of the options and then give them some thinking time before they tell you which task they have chosen.
- It’s a good idea to get children to talk about the pros and cons of each option in pairs or small groups as they are making their decisions. This mirrors real world decision-making when we consult with those close to us before choosing one option over another.
- For lower levels and younger children, this dialogue can be conducted in L1. After all, they’ll be doing the task itself in English.
- Give children the opportunity to ask questions about anything they aren’t sure about. You might also like to give them a limited time to change their minds – again, this replicates the real world. Some children have a tendency to choose the same as a friend and it isn’t until they start thinking about the task that they realize they might prefer an alternative option.
If you make choice boards a regular feature of your classroom practice, you can also involve learners in the creation of the board itself. Brainstorming ideas for tasks will be motivating and will increase learners’ sense of ownership of their learning.
Try out a choice board with your class and spend some time completing the reflection tasks below. This can be done in a professional development journal or in a discussion with a colleague.
- How many choices did you include on your choice board?
- Did the choices address different levels of challenge and different skills?
- How did the learners respond to the choice board?
- Did all learners successfully complete a task?
- Did any of your learners surprise you by the choices they made?
- Would you use choice boards again?
If ‘No’, why not? If ‘Yes’, would you do anything differently?
If you try choice boards with your class, we’d love to hear how it went in the comments section below.
Author: Katherine Bilsborough
Katherine has been creating ELT materials for 30 years, for her own students and for some of the top ELT Publishers. She has written more than 30 course books and many online courses. . Katherine also writes monthly lesson plans for the British Council/BBC website teachingenglish.org.uk and blog posts for National Geographic Learning’s In Focus blog. She is the author of ‘How to write Primary materials’, a training course for ELT writers and is the Joint Events Coordinator for IATEFL’s MaWSIG (Materials Writers’ special interest group). Katherine is a co-author of Look, a seven-level primary series from National Geographic Learning.
The articles is very relevant and made me think about all the possibilities of briging this activity into classrooms. Years ago, a colleague showed me an activity that was very similar to choice boards but its focus was on multiple intelligences. This led me to think that carrying out all the process to create, use, discuss and evaluate the effectiveness of a choice board can provide teachers with a lot of useful information about theirs students. One aspect that came to mind was their home situation because they might share, for example, that they would like to work with a partner to produce a video but their parents have no time to take them to a classmate’s house, or they are simply not allowed to visit them. It’s really worth it trying this task not only because students develop decision-making skills but also to help teachers understand the decisions they make.
Thanks for taking the time to get in touch. I’m glad you think it might be useful to try out this activity. Please let us know how it goes if you try it yourself. I agree that the home situation is important. If I was doing this with my class, I’d think about that very carefully and if a child was in the situation you describe, I’d make sure I didn’t include a pair work option for homework. The teacher is always best placed to know their students but you raise an important point. It’s also important to find out as much as possible about the home situation. Maybe it would be a good idea to have a questionnaire for parents and carers about what is possible … but that’s probably a topic for a whole new blog post! Good luck with your teaching.
How many lessons a week do you have with your students, in order to adapt this sort of structure to your class?