Using choice boards in ELA (English Language Arts) is not a new concept, but for many teachers it might seem new because it has not become common practice in many schools. Whether you learned about choice boards in college or the concept is brand new, you’ll find this post incredibly helpful to give you more inspiration for how to use choice boards with your high school English students.
What Are Choice Boards?
Choice boards are a way for you to give your students choices about any number of things in your high school English classroom. They are typically digital, and they allow your students to choose either what they will learn about, how they will learn about that subject, or how they will showcase their learning.
The research is well-documented that when you give students choice, they have more buy-in; they are more eager and invested in their learning.
This makes sense if we pause to think about it because in our own lives as adults, we are always more motivated when we’ve chosen what we are going to learn about or how we are going to go about learning that thing. Consider for instance that you want to learn how to plant a garden this year. Some people might buy a book from the library, others might start listening to gardening podcasts, and others might pay for a course. Still others may ask a neighbor or find a mentor.
We all learn differently and we are all interested in different things. Choice boards are a way to make space for this in our classrooms.
One book that is incredibly helpful in understanding the why and the how regarding student choice is the book The Shift To Student Led by Katie Novak and Cat Tucker. Find this book here, it’s outstanding.
What The Research Says About Choice Boards
In The Shift To Student Led, the authors suggest that we give students regular opportunities to choose either what they’re learning or how they are going about that learning; they suggest we give students choice daily.
Similarly, in his book, The Highly Engaged Classroom, researcher Brian Marzano explains that “choice in the classroom has been linked to increased in student effort, task performance, and subsequent learning.” You can read more about his findings here.
There are a ton of studies out there on this, and it doesn’t take long to be convinced that giving your students choice is critical. For instance, a study by Cordova and Lepper titled “Intrinsic Motivation and the Process of Learning: Beneficial Effects of Contextualization, Personalization, and Choice,” found that when students have autonomy and the ability to make choices in their learning process, they are much more engaged, motivated, and often perform better academically.”
So we know that student choice matters–A LOT. But how do we go about giving students choice? Enter, the choice board.
How To Use Choice Boards In The Secondary ELA Classroom
Choice boards are easy-to-navigate, and once students get used to using them, they can become a regular part of our classroom; a part that students look forward to. Here are 3 simple ways you can start using them right away.
1.) Use Choice Boards to Begin A Unit
Starting a unit with a choice board can be a great way to hook your students into big concepts that you’ll be learning about.
For instance, if you are beginning a poetry unit, instead of starting the lesson with direct instruction about what poetry is, give them a choice board that has a variety of poems on the choice board. Some of these poems may be ones that they read, others could be poems they listen to, and still others may be poems they can see performed on Youtube (i.e. spoken word poems).
BONUS: scroll to the bottom of this post for a free poetry choice board that you can download and use with your own students.
Students can toggle back and forth between different types of poems, choosing where they will linger.
As students listen to and read the poems they’ve selected, they can fill out an “observation handout” like the one we provide at the bottom of this blog post.
By doing this, students will start to form their own working definition of what poetry is. They will start to make connections on their own as they read, watch, or listen to a variety of poems.
By starting your unit this way, students are self-directed, independent, and in control of the pace at which they are taking in content as well as what content they are taking in.
Don’t forget to grab that free poetry choice board at the bottom of this post!
2.) Use Choice Boards For Independent Reading Options
Independent reading can feel daunting and overwhelming when you have students that aren’t exactly jazzed about books.
It’s incredibly hard for some students to find a book that they want to read and stick with it because they have years of experience avoiding reading.
A key to fostering a classroom where students partake in independent reading or SSR on the regular involves them finding books they are interested in reading.
Again, let’s consider how a choice board could help.
Create a choice board with 9 different reading selections on it. Include on the choice board a variety of types of books–nonfiction, fiction, dystopian fiction, romance, YA, novel in prose, etc.
You can find first chapters read aloud by authors on Youtube. And although it takes a bit of work to put this together on the front end, ultimately it will pay off tremendously int the time you save walking students through how to choose a book that interests them.
Another way to do this is by putting the work of creating the choice boards in the hands of the students. In her article Strategies to Make Choice Boards More Efficient, Katie Novak explains how you can instruct your students individually or in small groups to find one concept to put on the choice board. In this case, that would mean that partners could each find one chapter read aloud by an author on youtube and put that on the class choice board.
Side note–the book pictured above is an outstanding resource for learning how to use more choice boards in your classroom!
Many times students are faster and more efficient at finding great information that we are, so we might as well use that to our advantage when we can!
Once you have created the choice board for independent reading, give students a handout or a one pager where they can jot down what stood out to them from the first chapter they listened to.
Anytime students finish a book for independent reading, direct them back to that choice board (or create more choice boards as they year goes on), and allow them time on their own to choose books by listening to curated first chapters on the choice boards.
3.) Use Choice Boards For Grammar Instruction
Grammar instruction can be tricky in the high school English classroom because many of our students come to us with wildly different skill sets in this realm.
Some students have strong grammar knowledge, while others don’t know what a subject and a verb are. You can grab our FREE unit on teaching parts of speech here to get a general idea of where your students are. (Link)
The choice board can be incredibly helpful for allowing students to focus on what they need to learn if they are in different places.
Here’s how you can set this up: create a choice board that has 4 different grammar concepts on it and allow students to access the lesson that they need the most. For instance, you might put on the choice board a lesson on fragments, another lesson on comma usage, another lesson on sentence types, and a final lesson on subjects and predicates.
Students can then go through the slideshow for this grammar concept on their own filling out their guided notes handout.
At the end of the lesson, they can write a quick write response that requires them to to showcase their understanding of the concept. These quick write responses can be super easy to grade if you just have students highlight a sentence or two in the response that shows their knowledge of the concept (we have over 50 of these already made in the English Teacher Vault).
This grammar choice board plan might sound overwhelming if you don’t have grammar lessons already created in a way to simply link them to a choice board, which is why we’ve created two entire grammar curriculums that you could use filled with no-prep lessons that students can easily navigate on their own. You can find more information about what we’ve got in the English Teacher Vault here.
Whether you are introducing a new unit, helping your students find books they love, or teaching the grammar concepts that your students need the most, choice boards are a fantastic way to give your students agency over their learning.
Not excited about creating all these resources? We’ve got over 200 resources in the English Teacher Vault that you can use today to get started teaching grammar, poetry, writing, and novels. Find out more when you click the link below.
The Importance of Student Choice Across All Grade Levels by Stephen Merrill and Sarah Gonser
Your Free Resource To Start Using Choice Boards Today!
Get our whole no-prep poetry unit when you join the English Teacher Vault!