You want your students to demonstrate mastery of a concept of skill. However, it’s not so important how they demonstrate it. That’s a perfect opportunity to differentiate and give students some choice.
One opportunity for student choice is a choice board. In a choice board, students are given a range of options to demonstrate their mastery. The best choice boards have options for all learning styles. Here’s a template I like to use:
Choice Board Template
Write a short story.
Create a slideshow demonstrating research about one aspect of the topic.
Create a graph demonstrating one research about one aspect of the topic.
Create a poster about something we learned.
Create a poster demonstrating research into one aspect of the topic.
Create a flowchart demonstrating research about the topic.
Food related choice – create a menu or cook a food related to the topic.
Write an essay demonstrating research into the topic.
Song related choice – write a song, sing a song, or create a playlist about the topic.
A few things to note:
- The choices vary in amount and type of creativity required, but choice D is the basic regurgitate something you learned in a poster option. Perhaps a student will draw the nitrogen cycle after learning about the nitrogen cycle, or s/he will draw a cell after learning about the cell. No creativity required and no research required.
- Choices A and H require writing. A is a creative writing piece and H is an expository writing piece – requiring different skills and addressing different types of students.
- Choices B, C, E, F and H all require research into some aspect of the topic. After completing a unit on the nitrogen cycle, for example, students choose one aspect of the cycle to independently research. Then, they can share their research as: B. a slide show; C. a graph, perhaps comparing the percentages of gases in the atmosphere over time; E. a poster of molecular structures of nitrates and nitrogen; F. a flowchart on the production of urea in mammals; H. an essay on the evolution of nitrogen fixing bacteria.
- Choices A, G, and I require creativity not normally demonstrated in science class and fulfiling them is not always going to be apparent to students. For choice A, a student might write a fictional story about a planet where decomposition doesn’t take place or a “day in the life” of a nitrogen atom. For choice G, a student might prepare a menu including foods from one specific food chain only. For choice I, students would need to find, or write their own, songs about the atmosphere (Breathe by Faith Hill? Walking on Air by Katy Pery?)
When I create a choice board, I use this basic format but then preselect which research ideas I’m going to suggest be presented as slideshows, essays, posters, or flowcharts.
In middle school, many students need gentle guidance rather than a direction to “Go research something!” However, as your students mature and your relationship with them grows, you might consider replacing one of the choices with a “Student’s Choice” option, allowing students to come up with their own option. Very often, students who choose this option will hold themselves to a much higher standard than you would have predicted.
Try it. Let me know what happens!