Student Choice in the Classroom


I continue to find that student choice is important.  Giving students a choice in the classroom is a shift from some classroom models, but this change that can make a large difference.  My journey with student choice began many years back.  During my first year of teaching I started to ease into giving students options in completing specific problems on assignments.  Students were able to pick 5 out of the 20 problems on a particular page.  From there I started to give students choices in what assignments to complete.  I limited the option to two assignments and then progressed from there.  As I gave students choices they became more engaged and took more ownership.  I took this as a sign to continue. From once a month, to twice a month, to once a week, I gradually was giving up some my control to allow opportunities for students to choose their assignments.  Students started to ask for additional choices as the year continued.

For the next few years I taught a different grade level.  Another colleague and I started to use student choice for a math presentation assignment.   We gave a list of concepts to students and they created a presentation on one of the topics with a Power Point presentation.  The assignment was a success and we decided to use a similar strategy the following year.

A big shift happened when I started to give students choices in how the classroom was setup.  I remember the class had a discussing on how the learning environment plays a pivotal role in the learning process.  After the discussion students offered feedback on how our classroom could be improved to optimize learning.  Students decided on how to group the desks, move the classroom library, and modify the arrival/dismissal process.  Each change was agreed upon keeping in mind that the change helped create a better learning experience. Students started to take initiative, take risks and offer solutions.  Students that were less enthusiastic about student choice with their academics took full advantage and offered their opinion on classroom design.  Students created floor plans on where the desks should be placed and how table groups should be created.  The learning spaces were changed every few months depending on the feedback I received from the students.

This year my students created digital math projects.  Students are self-selecting topics within units and creating presentations to showcase their learning.  The tool was standard but the topic choice varied.  Some students created presentations on algebraic expressions, while others showed examples of how to use the order of operations.  Rubrics were created for each presentation.  For the first few presentations I created and gave the rubric to the students.  Eventually the students became part of the rubric creation process.

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 7.59.29 AM

As the year progressed the quality of the projects increased.  Students began to independently research their chosen topics.  Students started to use different research tools to find information about specific mathematical concepts.  Various Internet sites, student reference books, math journals, and manipulatives were all used to research math topics to create a presentation.  Students were also starting to use apps simultaneously to create final products.

Importing picture into presentation
Importing pictures into a presentation

As my classes enter the last few weeks of school our final content creation project is in its early stages.  Last week I gave students a choice on what tool to use and what concept to cover within the unit.  I was encouraged as all the tools that have been introduced this year will be used by the students.

Tool Selection
Tool Selection

Next Steps:  Eventually I would like to incorporate some type of math genius hour.  I’m still brainstorming ideas on how to use this for next school year.


How do you offer student choice in the classroom?


Author: Matt Coaty

I've taught elementary students for the past 14 years. I enjoy reading educational research and learning from my PLN. Words on this blog are my own.

4 thoughts on “Student Choice in the Classroom”

  1. Hi Matt:
    I too like to provide students choice in the classroom. While experimenting with the flipped classroom model, I found there was more time in class to problem solve, and more importantly it affords me the opportunity to differentiate instruction. The day after the students have watched the lecture portion of the lesson for homework, I often provide “student choice boards” which is a way for students to choose how they would like to demonstrate what they have learned, and to work on the concepts introduced. We generally come in and all students do the same set of problems so that I can walk around and assess their understanding and provide individual assistance. Then they have free choice. The choices range from using “explain everything” to problem solve, making a comic strip, creating word problems, making a poem, writing a letter to an absent student explaining the concept, etc. I plan to blog on this soon – I have been away from my blog for the last year and I am planning to get back into blogging! Thanks for your post.


    1. Cathy,

      I’ve experimented a bit with the flipped classroom model and need to delve deeper. I’d like to incorporate this type of model more next year. Your example seems practical and provides students context before they complete their choice boards. How many choices do you generally offer students and are the assignments due within that day?


      1. Generally, I give them eight choices – I use a 3×3 grid. One of them is “Your idea – get approval from the teacher”. These are tasks that are designed to be used in the time allotted for the day – the 42 minute class period. I plan to do a posting on the choice board and will include an example one at that time!


        1. I haven’t considered having a “your idea” square on a choice board. That’s something I might utilize next school year. I look forward to reading your blog post.


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