No matter what grade level you teach, giving students free choice in the classroom to work on whatever interests them can have huge benefits for teachers in multiple ways.
First, and maybe most importantly, it allows students to have fun in your subject matter. (That is the goal, isn’t it? To have students ENJOY learning?)
Secondly, it also allows for you, the teacher, to wander around the classroom while your class is buzzing and occupied and have some one on one time with students who might need your attention for any reason.
However, choice time cannot be a free for all. If you aren’t careful about monitoring time and setting clear boundaries, you’re setting yourself up for chaos. Here are my four best practices for making the most of choice time:
1. Nix the technology
I know it’s tempting to allow choice time be the opportunity to play on a really great educational gaming app, but the reality is that students get plenty of screen time. Encourage students to use their free time to engage their brains in a different way.
2. Have interesting “extras” at the ready for choice time
For language arts, you can have a stack of poetry books on your bookshelf, or maybe some short stories you love but never seem to have time for. These should be easily accessible so choice time can be used effectively.
3. Set some guiding questions or create a goal for choice time
You want students to be empowered to make their own choice, but you, the facilitator, may need to give them some direction. Maybe a prompt such as, “Use today’s choice time to read a story or poem by a person who lives in a different country.”
4. Make it worth their while
You don’t want to associate a grade with choice time activities, but you do want some way to let your students know that the time needs to be used wisely. You could display their work, ask them to turn to their neighbor and tell them about the activity they chose for themselves. Or even take note of what your students are excited about and have that be the framework for your next formal assessment.
Choice time shouldn’t be something that ends in kindergarten, and it certainly shouldn’t be something that is only a part of your teaching practice once or twice a month. Incorporate it in your classroom regularly so students know that they are indeed empowered to take charge of their joy of learning!
If you are looking for practical ideas for choice time, Roseanne Cheng has 51 mini lessons to keep your students occupied until the bell rings!
Her ebook The Tireless Teacher Toolkit has 51 mini-lessons for language arts teachers that will get you through the classroom doldrums no matter how daunting they may seem. From reading poetry to interviewing classmates to analyzing philosophers to putting on TED Talks, the activities within will keep your students occupied and having fun, with very little budget or prep time.