Top 3 Ways to add Student Choice into your Middle School Classroom

Need more engagement from your middle school students?  Try adding in one of these 3 ways to incorporate student choice into your classroom!

I get the most engagement from my students when they have some control over what they are learning or how they are learning it.  

But when I say "student choice" do you picture chaos and problems?  Or do you think "It would be nice, but it's not practical"?

I am here to tell you that student choice can be both structured and functional.

How?  Well there are a few ways actually...

1.  Using Centers or Stations

If you have ever tried centers before in a middle school classroom, you have probably experienced a lot of off -"taskness".  This could be because you tried to set up tables around your crowded room that made it difficult for you to see everyone in the room at the same time.  Or it could be because the accountability wasn't quite right.

Here's what I suggest:  to make centers work in middle school, bring the centers to the groups.  

1. Put all the items needed for the center in some kind of basket or bin and have just the baskets or bins rotate from group to group.
2.  Give each student a checklist of the centers with a specific question (or questions) that they will have to answer upon successful completion of the tasks.
3.  Give a very specific time frame and use a timer to stick to it.

These 3 simple steps make centers a much more viable option to set students up for success.

But what does this have to do with student choice?  Well, in my classroom, I have let students choose their groups.  And then you know that question I said I would add to a checklist?  I used that to create a little friendly competition in my room between the groups.  

To do this, I randomly asked students the questions from the checklist.  If a student gave the correct answer, their whole group got a point.  If not, then the whole group lost a point.  I kep a running tally for a period of time and the group with the most points won bonus points on a test or a tardy pass or some other kind of pass.  

The students chose the groups so they had to choose wisely.  ;)

2.  Using menus or choice boards.

In my class, I like to use menus for remediation and enrichment after the students have taken a quiz on a concept.  Students who scored 80% or higher get an enrichment menu while those that scored less than 80% get an enhancement menu.  

The menus look identical but have different choices on them. I limit my choice to two.  One is more analytical and the other is more creative.  There is a rubric so that students know how it will be graded.

On menu days, I review our class agreements (rules) and set every clear expectations about time.  We begin by reading the menu choices silently.  Then I ask students to raise their hands at th end of that time if they are unable to make a choice.  Those are the students that I visit right away and have them choose a slip of paper from a basket that either says "1" or "2". The idea is that if they can't choose, a choice will be made for them (important life lesson!).  I use a visual timer and orient students to it during the work period based on the time frames I gave at the beginning of the class.  

Check out the theme unit inside my resource library to see an example of how I use remediation and enrichment menus first hand!

This is very successful because students are working on what they need to be successful and they have had a say in how they are learning it!

3.  Project-based Learning

Menus could be seen as a form of project based learning as they are kinds of mini-projects.  But there are also much longer term projects that one could choose to have his/her students complete.

I used to have a day that I called "Workshop Day" or "Investigation Lab" Day.  Whatever concept we were working on - say theme for example, there would be a list or projects that a students could choose to do to process that information and demonstrate understanding. My advanced students particularly loved this assignment because they felt like they had more control - and they did.  Of course, I provided a rubric and generally speaking students met those requirements with very little issue.  

The students that struggle with this, are usually my lower level students.  They need more structure in the form of a checklist or in a very structured project like this one:

Have your middle school students complete a project based learning research project with a twist by researching a trip for their Pine Cone Pets!
Learn more about this project by clicking here!

This is a fun research project with a twist  - students research a trip for their Pine Cone Pets!  My 6th graders had a lot of fun making their pine cone pets and then planning out the trip with full directions.  

Certainly there are even more ways to add student choice into your middle school classroom but these are my top 3 that have been tried and tested in my real middle school classes.  I hope they help you increase engagement in your class too!

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