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Empower Students with Choice

Middle school student growing an idea garden with "lightbulb"

What motivates students to learn? Researchers tackled this age-old question in a recent meta-analysis of education studies involving nearly 80,000 students. The analysis showed two significant findings. First, teachers hold greater influence than parents in motivating students to learn. Second, students’ motivation to learn depends on meeting three psychological needs: competency, belonging, and autonomy.

As ELA teachers, we know the importance of using classroom practices that support these needs. We also know one of the best ways we can motivate students is through choice. Choice empowers our students through options, giving them a measure of autonomy in their own learning.

One of our favorite ways to foster autonomy is through choice boards.

What are choice boards?

A choice board is a graphic organizer that gives students a range of options for practicing a skill, task, or objective. Students get to choose their own path for learning, picking activities that fit their interests and learning styles. 

You can design a choice board for any task or any subject. To set one up, first identify the core objective or goal that you want students to achieve. Then plan a variety of activities that meet that goal.

In ELA classrooms, two popular options are the genre choice board and topic choice board. You can integrate both types into a writing workshop or unit of study, whether working in person or remotely.

Genre Choice Board

A genre choice board allows students to choose how they will learn and interact with a new genre of writing. You can set up this type of choice board like a grid. Use columns for categories, such as “reading,” “writing,” and “multimedia.” Create rows with different activities for each category. Students then pick an activity from each column to complete in a certain time frame.

Copy a "Genre Choice Board" template.

Which Draft Is Better?

Topic Choice Board

A topic choice board gives several topic options for writing assignments rather than a single, strict requirement. When students pick topics of personal interest, they can tap into their wealth of prior knowledge, which helps them write with confidence and build competence.

You can set up a topic choice board like a board game, with each square describing a different topic.

Copy a "Topic Choice Board" template.

Which Draft Is Better?

Teacher Support

Consider this support as you design choice boards for your class.



Learning Objective

You can design choice boards to fulfill any learning objective.

Teaching Tips

  • When designing choice boards, create options for different interests and learning styles. For instance, students working on a unit on argumentation could choose to write a standard argument essay, develop an editorial for publication, film a public-service announcement, or host a debate.
  • Consider including one column for fun, informal activities. You might have students create a study playlist, add a title to a list of book recommendations, or create a skit. 
  • Integrate choice boards into writing workshops or remote learning. Boards can be created for weekly tasks, homework, projects, and even assessments.
  • Learn more about choice boards through these awesome resources:

Teacher Support:

Click to find out more about this resource.

Standards Correlations:

The State Standards provide a way to evaluate your students' performance.