While choice menus are not new in special education, using choice menus for learning activities has become more common. Our school has been doing personalized learning for a few years and we have been working on implementing choice menus for academic activities. This year, I implemented choice menus as an alternative to stations to help with social distancing. Here are the steps I went through to set up choice menus for ELA in our classroom…
1. Develop the Choice Menu
The choices on our ELA choice menu are Journal, Written Work, Reading, Learning Games, Computer and Tasks.
Journal is a free choice writing activity using a blank notebook. Students get to choose a topic to write about, write about the topic and illustrate their writing.
Written Work is written assignments. We currently using the Language Arts Daily Leveled Curriculum.
Reading is when students are reading books, which are kept in their book boxes. Some students also have adapted books included in their book boxes.
Learning Games are educational games students get to choose to play based on a leveled system. Each game has a color-coded dot based on the level and each student has a card with the color of dots they can choose from based on their level.
Computer is using Clever to access one of the ed tech sites and apps we use in our classroom and school. We are currently using RAZ-Kids, Lexia, Xtra Math, Splash Learn, Boom Cards and Typing Club.
Tasks are fine motor activities kept in a leveled system, in which students use a mini-schedule to locate their task on the self. For more about work task systems, check out Focus on Five: Ways to Adapt Your Work Task System!, Tutorial and Photos: Independent Work Task System and Independent Work Systems for Younger Students.
2. Create Spaces for Choices
This year, my classroom is more open and I have the storage space for the choice time supplies on the perimeter of the classroom.
Journal & Written Work supplies and materials are kept in two separate tall carts with drawers.
Reading books are kept in book boxes (plastic magazine holders), which are kept in students’ cubbies.
Learning Games & Tasks are kept on separate bookshelves.
Computers are kept on rows of desks against the walls, due to limited working outlet areas of my classroom. Each students’ charger remains plugged into the wall and students plug the end of the charger into the computer and store it on their desk charging station when not in use.
3. Teach Procedures for Each Choice
Teaching the procedures for each choice is essential. I created slides with detailed procedures to keep myself on track and to be able to have a description of each choice for my staff and students with higher reading levels. We went through each choice’s procedures for at least two days as a whole group, with demos and practice opportunities. While this is a significant amount of time to spend teaching whole group, setting this up so that students and staff understood the expectations ensured that I could pull small groups for teacher time without any major interruptions.
4. Practice Choices
Again, teaching and practicing making choices using the ELA choice menu did take some time, but it was worth it. I would introduce one choice at a time and demo how to get the supplies, how to do the activity and how to clean up. I would have students get their supplies one at a time, so that other students were able to watch and know what to do when it was their turn. I gave specific feedback to the student as they got their supplies so that the other students waiting their turn could understand the expectations. Then, I would set the timer and the students would do the activity. The staff and I walked around in order to prompt, clarify and correct students as needed. This was also a good opportunity to communicate expectations to my staff because eventually, they would be facilitating choice time while I ran small groups. After each choice was practiced, we practiced making choices on the choice menus for a couple of days to make sure that students and staff understood the expectations.
5. Provide Accommodations/Modifications for Activities
The benefit of taking time up front to set up activities for a choice menu is being able to see what adjustments need to be made in order to ensure that students’ needs are being met and the activity is the appropriate level of challenge for them. I have not taught the majority of the students in my class this year in-person. I was able to set up differentiated activities for them based on their IEPs, but until I saw the students working on the activities, I wasn’t able to determine the most effective accommodations or modifications for each activity for each student. For the Journal choice/activity, some students are writing full sentences, while others are practicing single words and some students have handwriting practice books as their journals. The goal of choice menus are for students to be able to work on their choices independently, so adding visual cues to the learning games or having file folders in leu of written work is helpful as students gain skills.
I hope you are inspired to use choice menus for learning activities in your classroom. Check out Focus on Five: How To Start Using Choice Boards for Academics for more on using choice menus in the classroom. Share ideas below that you have for using academic choice menus. Stay healthy and safe!