Differentiation: Meeting the needs of all students by offering choice!

As teachers we know the importance of differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all students, but the reality of planning for potentially thirty or more skill sets and learning styles can be daunting at best.  As a result, we often provide instruction and student learning opportunities that teach to the middle, while providing a little extra support or enrichment as needed.  Rather than taking this “Cookie Cutter” approach, try offering your students choice!

Providing students with a choice of learning activities allows you to address the needs of students with a variety of learning styles.  Additionally, empowering students with the ability to make decisions about their learning increases intrinsic motivation and student engagement. Learning becomes more meaningful to students when they are encouraged to use their strengths.  Consider an artistic English language learner that might struggle with traditional narrative writing, but thrive when given the choice to draw a comic strip, or perhaps a student with dyslexia that might shine when given the choice to narrate a movie or play rather than write a history report.  Providing students with a choice of engaging activities can lead to opportunities for fun and creativity!

Five Ways to Offer Choice in the Classroom

  1. Set-up learning stations around the classroom: Offer a variety of learning materials.  Give students the option to read text materials, watch a video or look a photos/primary source materials.  Depending on the availability of resources students could also select materials to use at their desks.
  2. Allow flexible grouping:  Allow students to choose whether to work independently or with a partner/group.  Many students enjoy working with others and benefit from the support that can come from pairing with more academically advanced students.  On the other hand, some students do their best work on their own, while working with others might inhibit them from working at their own pace or cause social stress. When appropriate, give students the choice!
  3. Use choice boards or menus: Provide several options of activities for students to practice a new skill or to demonstrate knowledge. Include options for visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.  (see examples below)
  4. Provide homework choice:  Consider allowing students to select homework problems out of a given set.  Provide students with a choice board (see above) and allow them to select an activity each night to practice skills, such as spelling words or math facts.  
  5. Offer alternative assessment options:  When appropriate, offer acceptable alternatives to paper and pencil assessments. Allow students to demonstrate their knowledge orally or by using their artistic skills.

Choice activities for Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learners

  • Visual Learners:  Draw a picture or poster, create a mind map or graphic organizer, create flash cards, watch or create a video, create a comic strip or picture book, build a diorama or sculpture, write and participate in a play or skit
  • Auditory Learners:  narrate a story orally, listen to or create a podcast, record an interview, deliver an oral report/speech, write a poem, write and sing a song
  • Kinesthetic Learners: Build a model, play “trashketball” to learn math facts, act out scenes from a story, role play historical events, practice spelling words while playing catch, build spelling words with playdough or pasta, play or create a math board game or card game, do a hands-on science experiment

By no means do the above ideas even scratch the surface of all of the possibilities for choice, but hopefully they serve as a launch pad for offering appropriate choice activities in your classroom.  Don’t be afraid to start small!  Begin by offering a choice of activities for one lesson and adjust as needed.  Remember, younger students might benefit from only a few choices and need guidance when making their decisions.  Older students who are more tuned into their own learning style will benefit from a wider variety of choices and the freedom and power that comes from making their own decisions about learning.