The best part about learning menus is that you are still structuring the content you wish to see in math, reading comprehension, vocabulary, or even for science. But students get to choose how they will learn which creates ownership of that learning and a much better user experience for everyone involved.
In my third grade classroom, I loved differentiating the instruction to include choice boards. And students loved the projects they created from their student choices. Each week I would introduce a new centers activity grid. There were 2-3 choices each for reading, math, writing, character building, and science/social studies.
I tried to incorporate different learning modalities into the options. I also created a general rubric for which to base my assessment. This was center work, so additional practice, which meant I didn’t have to be super picky about what was turned in as long as the work was complete and legible.
Honestly, it helped me to have invested students who were working instead of tugging at my sleeve while I was working with small groups. Students were freely given the time to complete 1 activity in each category.
We did review each assignment as a whole group - and I recorded myself explaining those choices and saved to a student computer.
That way, when you have the child who says “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” you can send him or her straight off to watch the replay. The work wasn’t always their very best, but sometimes their creativity really shines through. The love for learning was really my reasoning for using the choice boards - and that was always presented at the end of the week.
Menus are not hard work to put together, and can actually be used from year to year. Once you have created a menu for a certain topic area, make sure to keep it safe (or print it on cardstock and laminate) and you will have a resource that is even easier to implement the next year!
DIY Choice BoardsWhen creating your assignment, you’ll first want to decide whether you prefer a digital version or a printable hard copy. Either will work, so go with your preference.
You can create your template example right within google slides or on a google doc. That’s free and translates well for any system.
Menus can found in all sorts of formats, including a tic-tac-toe style, a list style, a choice board, extension menus, and/or learning contracts. When I use the term menus I am referring to all of the preceding.
In my opinion, menus offer choices for students to interact with a given topic by varying the content, process, and/or product (which is DI 101). While the format may look different, in essence, they are just a DI lesson plan in a different template.
The key with menus is not to force a specific choice, but rather give lots of options so that the student sees this as a learning opportunity, rather than “boring work that we are being forced to do.”
Now that you have a graphic organizer chosen, fill in the options for activities, making sure to include some items that are art-based (draw a movie poster for our story of the week) or even kinesthetic in nature (create a jump rope rhyme that explains how to add fractions with unlike denominators).
You can also reference different multiple intelligences options. It is nice to celebrate differences in our students and not just assign worksheets and reading al the time. Producing a short commercial with a classmate to showcase a new science invention is definitely way more fun.
One last bonus tip: I love using a free choice option on all of my menus and boards. Why? Perhaps the learning topic is one that a particular students is suoer passionate about. By giving the student an option to create his own option, the work that turns out is usually phenomenal. Of course, the child has to tell me explicitly what the learning task involves and how it will be assessed. We jot those notes down on the learning contract and away he goes.
Differentiation Menu Best Practices
- Many teachers are unsure of how to structure the learning time so it's not just students playing in the classroom and then having poor quality work to be shown for it. I personally have found this to be a legit concern when you first introduce the concept of menus.
Explicit directions and going over rubrics with students is imperative. Even better: Have examples of previous student work that showcases what you are looking for when scoring a completed project (or make your own examples). Again - this will be easier to do after you have completed your first year of prepping weekly choice boards. Start collecting exemplary pieces of work to be shown to the next round of students.
- Make sure the work students are to complete can be completed in the given time. If you have 5 categories of centers and only 3 days of actual center time of 40 minutes each time, you will want to make sure students can complete each activity in about 20 minutes. That’s not really much time for a very involved project.
- Also - you can adjust the work for different learning abilities and age ranges. If you have a child who has autism and is limited in her ability to write out 6 new word problems for math, then adapt it to recording a video or an audio version.
Same with smaller students, such as kindergarten or first grade who aren’t able to document a lot of work, especially in the beginning of the year. You can still use this idea. Simply record the directions in short video clips on tech devices that are placed around the round.
When a child goes to that spot, he or she plays the message from you (trust me, they know how to use those tech devices), and then completes the activity you have just explained. That might be coloring something or reading a picture book with a partner.
You know your students best.
- Last tip: I always, always, always introduce my center menus with only 2 activities. That allows students to get used to the routine and workflow.
The next week, if that goes well, I will add a third activity for the same amount of time. I gradually increase the workload to what I feel the class should be able to reasonably accomplish in the given time. And once in a while - I add in “bonus” options just to push them a little beyond their comfort zone. It amazes me how some teachers underestimate what our students are really capable of and never push those boundaries. Try it a few times. They just might surprise you.
Need more ideas for your gifted students and early finishers?
At Organized Classroom's Facebook page, we were previously discussing the book series “Differentiating Instruction With Menus” and I have to say, I love this set of books!
They have them for LA, Math, Science, and Social Studies for the middle school grades, as well as one for each in grades 3-5.
When I have a teacher I am working with that is teaching to the middle (average ability), I try to assist by suggesting pre-assessment (which will verify whether or not any student already has mastery of the upcoming subject material), and then trying to find (or create, if necessary) a corresponding menu that is of the same topic.
In this way, the students who have already mastered the required material can still be working on the same concepts and ideas, but at a higher level.
This really is a win-win for all because the student will be busy, hopefully engaged, and will be less disruptive to the rest of the class if he or she is not sitting and twiddling thumbs during your very exciting lesson about the American Revolution.
PS - menus are great for ALL students, not just your high functioning! Choice can really be a strong motivator for many children! Would you like a free Spelling Menu Homework Packet? Silly me, that is an obvious answer. Grab it below.
How could you use menus in your classroom this year or next? Sound off in the comments below!
This article originally appeared at Organized Classroom.