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All About Differentiated Instruction with Menus

Janelle Cox

Differentiated instruction is a popular buzz phrase in the world of educators. It isn’t a new strategy by any means, but its success in aiding students of differing abilities within the classroom has pushed it to the forefront of what we consider essential within our teaching toolkit.

There are many ways to differentiate learning: Flexible grouping, tiered assignments, and choice boards, to name a few. Choice boards have become extremely popular with students because they are given the option to choose how they will learn a concept.

Teachers love this technique because choice boards keep students more engaged. These boards—in large part because they are given free choice—also seem to let students challenge themselves more. Furthermore, choice boards give teachers the opportunity to tap into their students’ interests, find out how they like to learn, and how best to reach them in future lessons.

Here we will take a look at what choice boards are, and a few ways that you can use them to as part of your toolkit of classroom management tactics to differentiate instruction.

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What are Choice Boards?

Choice boards (some instructors call them learning menus) are activities or assignments that give students the option of choosing what they will do to meet the your requirements. As a general rule, these boards outline a variety of instructional options that are targeted towards a specific academic goal. You as the teacher direct the choice board, but your students are given control over their choices and may select the option(s) that appeal most to them.

Students with higher abilities will most likely implement these choice boards as more of an extension tool to hone and refine their knowledge while struggling kids can use these activities as a way to review or practice concepts.

How is Differentiated Instruction with Menus Set Up?

Choice boards (or learning menus) can be set up in a variety of different ways: By ability, intelligences, learning style, student interest, readiness, learning preference, or even questioning. As a tip, it’s best to focus on just one of these types when creating your board.

As far as appearance is concerned, a choice board is essentially a graphic organizer that mimics a game of tic-tac-toe—a nine-square grid with activity choices in each row. Pro Tip: if you’d like to give your students more choices, feel free to add more squares, but nine is a good place to start. Have your students complete one activity from each row, depending on their interest. Much like the game, the goal here is to select adjacent or diagonal tasks to complete. Each exercise should vary in content, product, and process, and can be tailored to address different levels of academic performance.

A Step-by-Step Setup Guide

  1. Identify the topic or area of study on which you want students to focus.
  2. Use student profiles and assessment data to determine student readiness, learning style, etc.
  3. Create nine different tasks or activities from which students can choose.
  4. Arrange the tasks on the choice board appropriately (do not put two of the same type in a row together).
  5. The middle square can be left open for student choice, used as a fun activity, or used as a required task.
  6. Students choose three adjacent or diagonal tasks to complete.

Choice Board Menus

Choice board menu options are endless—you can create a menu for any subject, topic, or concept that you want or different boards altogether based on student readiness. Here are a few examples of the different options from which you can choose:

1) Choice Board for Multiple Intelligences

  • Verbal/Linguistic – keep a journal, write a poem, or write instructions.
  • Logical/Mathematical – compare and contrast, design a map, create a pattern.
  • Visual/Spatial – create a poster, create a diagram, or create a comic strip.
  • Interpersonal- tell a story, conduct a survey, interview a friend.
  • Free Choice.
  • Body Kinesthetic - conduct an experiment, construct a model, or make up a game.
  • Musical – make up a dance, write a song, play an instrument.
  • Naturalist – take a field trip, categorize data, experiment.
  • Intrapersonal – keep a journal, write about the future, review or visualize.

2) Reading Choice Board

  • Retell part of the book from one of the characters’ points of view.
  • Illustrate your favorite scene in the book.
  • Act out an alternative ending to the book.
  • Summarize your favorite parts of the book.
  • Student Choice—choose a way to respond to the book.
  • Create a mobile for the story.
  • Create a poster of your favorite scene in the book.
  • Create a Venn diagram using the main characters in the story.
  • Write a song that summarizes the book.

3) Science Choice Board

  • Chart the weather trends in any area of your choice.
  • Write a journal entry about living through a hurricane.
  • Design a weather warning poster.
  • Conduct an experiment demonstrating a weather pattern.
  • Student Choice.
  • Act out the weather forecast with a partner.
  • Create a song that includes all of your vocabulary words.
  • Create flashcards to help you study for science.
  • Create a symbol for each science vocabulary word.

The tic-tac-toe board can also be used for shorter, open-ended questions. For example, you can use Bloom’s Taxonomy to create different level questions for each square. It can also be used to review one main concept for each subject students are studying. For example, one square would be dedicated to reading where students must write about a main character, and another square would be dedicated to math, where students would have to name ten prime numbers, and so on.

Empowering your kids through choice ensures that they are meeting learning goals, as well as digesting material in ways that best suit their learning styles.

How do you differentiate instruction in your classroom? Do you use choice boards or learning menus? Share with us in comment section below, we would love to hear your thoughts.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators