Igniting Critical and Creative Thinking

Choice in the Classroom: Captivating or Chaos

Tired of receiving the same 25 projects or reading the same 25 stories every time an assignment is turned in? You’ve masterfully crafted the prompt, directions, and rubric to fit that specific learning target, but everything just comes back lacking. Now is the time to provide students choice in the classroom. Break away from those cookie-cutter assignments that leave you feeling drained after reviewing them and dive into the beauty and benefits of providing your students with authentic assignment choices!

Providing choice in the classroom to your students in the classroom means happier and more engaged students all around.

You know something needs to change, but you are nervous about giving your students choice in the classroom. How can you possibly let students do what they want to show what they know without everything coming off the rails? I know it can seem like a monumental task, but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be complicated, and the outcomes far outweigh any of the mishaps that might happen along the way!

Why it is Important to Provide Students Choice in the Classroom

Providing students choice goes far beyond just wanting to add a little variety to your grading. I truly believe that giving students choice, specifically with the work they complete, is of the utmost importance if we are going to foster highly motivated and dedicated individuals. It’s a wonderful way for students to take ownership of the learning process.


“I don’t want to do this!” comes a groan from the back of your classroom as you finish going over the perfectly laid out project. Frustration starts to bubble inside of you as other students join in with their dissatisfaction. Does this sound familiar?

I’m guessing this has happened to you at one time or another. I know it has happened to me before! You’ve put together what you think is an engaging project that meets all of the standards you are trying to target, but your students don’t want to do it. They aren’t motivated by the type of learning that you have presented them. So students slog through the project. Sure a handful of students give it their all, but you end up with a majority of lackluster projects and disappointment.

Providing students with more choice can change this narrative. Being able to choose the way they get to show what they know will inherently make your students more motivated. I know I’m way more motivated to do something if I have chosen what I am doing than if someone tells me there is something I HAVE to do. The same principle applies to your students.

Giving anyone a little freedom and choice will always help them be more motivated. And that’s what we want, isn’t it? We want students that are excited and invested in their learning. Giving students choice in the classroom when it comes to what they learn, how they learn it, and how they show their knowledge can be a game-changer in your classroom.

Exploration of Interests

Besides increasing the motivation in your classroom, providing more choice allows students to authentically explore their interests. And without time to explore their interests, how will students truly know what they are passionate about, what they want to do later in life, and who they are?

I completely understand that we all have standards that we need to meet and the curriculum we need to present, but there are so many ways that we can provide students with choice throughout their day that will help them get there.

By allowing students to pick an essay topic or choose a book to do a project on, we are helping them learn about themselves and that is the most powerful part of teaching in my eyes!

Student Choice in the Classroom and Its Effects on Achievement

Giving your students choic in the classroom will lead to more engaged and happier students in the long run.

Once students are motivated and able to explore their interests, you will be amazed at how their achievement is affected. Instead of students feeling like they HAVE to do the assignment, their thinking will change to WANTING to do the assignment.

That is a huge barrier to overcome when it comes to teaching students! You will have stripped away so many factors that can typically affect student achievement by giving them choice. When you start to provide students choice in the classroom, I bet you will be amazed at what you find! When students are motivated, they are going to put their best foot forward, and you are going to see skills and knowledge that you had no idea were there!

Ways to Provide Students Choice in the Classroom

So, you know choice is important, but how in the world do you structure your classroom to provide students with more of it? One of the easiest ways I have found is through assignment choices. Here are some of my favorite ways to provide choice through assignments.

Writing Prompts

If you are nervous about providing more choice or are afraid that providing more choice will mean more work for you, I encourage you to start with your writing assignments. One of the easiest ways to give your students choice when it comes to writing is by giving them varying writing prompts to choose from or letting them come up with their own prompt.

Giving your students choice in the classroom can be as easy as varying writing prompts of a Pick a Story activity like this one.

One way I love to do this is what I call Write a Story prompts. These writing assignments contain two magical components: CHOICE and  TOOLS.  

Students are offered a buffet of plot elements, settings, and characters. Students get to choose which of those elements they want to use. Their goal is to integrate all of these things into their story. Then they have the FREEDOM to write the story that sounds most interesting to them. They don’t all have to respond to the same writing prompt.

Plus, by providing students choice in the classroom in this way, you are also able to provide them scaffolds for writing since you provide the ideas for characters, setting, plot, etc.

You can also teach students how to choose their own writing prompts and have them work up to ultimate writing freedom!

Early Finisher Activities

“But…” I hear you saying, “I have to follow a specific curriculum so choice really isn’t an option.” At first, providing students choice in your classroom might not seem like an option, but with just a little thinking outside of the box, you can totally make it work.

For example, early finisher activities are a great way to provide your students choice in the classroom! These are activities that your students can do after they are done the specific curriculum work, so you aren’t bound by the requirements of the curriculum.

You can easily set up an early finisher file with many different kinds of activities or even an early finisher bin for those students who gravitate towards more hands-on activities. Students can choose to work on whatever they would like out of the file. Just providing these simple choices can have profound effects!

You may even consider polling the class about what kind of early finisher activities they find most interesting so that they feel like they have even more say in what they are learning about!

Need some ideas for an early finisher file? Here are some to get you started!

Menus, Tic Tac Toe & Choice boards

If you are ready to dive into offering choice in your classroom creating menus, tic tac toe, or choice boards are great options!

Your students will love having a choice in the classroom when working on math assignments. You will end up with more buy in and engagement when your students feel like they have a choice in the type of math they are completing.

When creating a menu for students to choose from you can come up with several engaging activities that students can do to show off their understanding of the concept you are teaching.

Then you break them into categories such as appetizer, main dish, side dish, and dessert. Students have to pick a certain amount of tasks from each part of the menu to complete the assignment.

When creating choice boards or tic tac toe boards, you simply add several engaging activities to a grid. Students must choose activities in order to create a specific pattern like tic tac toe, or you can have students choose a certain number of activities to complete.

Passion Projects

Passion projects are my all-time favorite way to provide students choice. The constraints are minimal and the outcomes are spectacular! This approach to project-based learning provides students with the most choice out of all of these options. When done right students learn to discover their passions, research, take notes, present their work to others and reflect.

You are able to assess and target so many standards and skills through these types of projects making them meaningful for not only your students but for you as well! Truly, the beauty of using passion projects is that when you give students choice in the classroom like this you get to become a facilitator versus a mere deliverer of knowledge.

Want to learn more about using passion projects in your classroom? I have a whole blog post that can help you!

Looking For Resources to Help Provide Students Choice in the Classroom?

I spent most of my teaching career working on giving students more choice in the classroom and have built the majority of my resources around the same premise.

Here are just a couple of my favorite resources for providing choice.

Place Value Enrichment Activities (Choice Board)

Discover Your Passion

You can find these and many more in my TpT store to help you provide more choice in your classroom!

Save it for Later

Be sure to pin this to your favorite classroom Pinterest board, so you’ll be able to get back to all of this information as you undertake giving students choice in the classroom!

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hey y'all

I'm Susan!

I’m Susan Morrow and I help overwhelmed teachers create thinking classrooms where students discover the joy in learning and achieving.

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