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Math

Math Choice Boards for Elementary School

10 Min Read
WF1803669 Shaped 2023 Blog Post Math Choice Boards HERO

Is your classroom filled with students with diverse backgrounds who learn at different rates and require a variety of activities to learn? That was a rhetorical question, as the answer is “yes” to practically every classroom. When I taught, my third-grade classroom was often filled with rich conversations with each student bringing their unique point of view and ideas about math to the conversation. Allowing student voice and choice in the classroom is crucial to maintaining student motivation, and research shows that choice boards are an exemplary way of establishing both.

A major goal in education is to differentiate instruction that enables all learners with access to learn the content. By introducing choice board activities into classrooms, students become collaborators in their learning process. A 2003 study by Fuchs et al. showed that by giving students agency in deciding how they would like to practice, choice boards can enhance students’ metacognitive awareness, that is their ability to think about how they learn and where they are in the learning process.

WF1803669 Choice Bards Inline

What Are Choice Boards for Math?

So, what are choice boards anyway? Choice boards provide students with a menu of activities that can be used to demonstrate knowledge or practice a skill. Math, in particular, lends itself well to clear, definable avenues to practice and demonstrate knowledge. Math “menu” choice board activities can be designed to practice at levels based on the depth of knowledge required to complete the activity, allowing students to choose activities that enhance fluency, problem-solving, creative applications, and more.

For example, a choice board for third grade multiplication might include activities where students:

  • Play a multiplication game to recall products to 100.
  • Make groups to find products.
  • Create a book of arrays and their products.
  • Explain the distributive property to another student.

Each of these activities practices skills within the domain of numbers and operations in base 10, but the activities span different depths of knowledge, in effect requiring different skill levels. Eventually all students are expected to be able to complete all of these activities, but providing a choice board allows students the autonomy to decide where they are in the learning process and how they would best like to demonstrate their understanding.

Here are some ways to get started with making choice boards for students:

  1. Identify the Teaching Objective: Will this be morning work? Informal assessment? Independent practice? Once they are routine, choice boards can be used for a variety of purposes.
  2. Identify the Learning Objective: What do you expect students to learn or demonstrate through these activities? This can be specific to one skill or standard or more generalized to include an entire domain or cluster of standards.
  3. Gather Resources: What resources do you have that can be used to populate the choice board? Filtering for a particular skill or standard on your curriculum’s digital platform can reveal a treasure trove of activities and resources.
  4. Collaborate with Students: Our students know themselves best! Bringing students in to help with choice board planning gives them more ownership over the process which will ultimately contribute to the success of this classroom routine.

Math Choice Board Ideas to Create Dynamic Learning Opportunities

The medium with which students demonstrate their knowledge is so important. Students come to us with a variety of backgrounds. Reflecting their interests and experiences in the activities we provide access to honors our students as individuals and communicates to them that everyone belongs in our classroom.

One of my students only wanted to build things, so when I handed him base-ten blocks to model multiplication of large numbers, of course he wanted to construct something with them. At one point, I might have only seen that as playing—not learning math—but playing is how kids learn. So I invited him instead to build a city with the blocks, as long as the city’s sections were made up of equal groups and he could tell me the total product of each section. I knew I was on to something when I saw look of joy on his face as he completed the task in the way that I had guided.

Here are some math choice board ideas to create dynamic personalized learning opportunities for students in your classroom:

  • Build a Model: For example, a popular third-grade multiplication activity is to create an array city with construction paper. Students can draw buildings and glue windows as arrays prior to identifying the products. Display array cities around the classroom.
  • Draw a Picture: This can be as simple as asking kindergartners to draw a shape, or you can provide a word problem and ask students to draw a picture that represents the problem.
  • Make a Poster: This can be a creative and colorful way for students to demonstrate their knowledge of a math concept. Consider inviting students to present their posters, or have a gallery walk and discuss the posters at the end of a unit.
  • Write a Song: Do you have students that love music? This is a way to get them to shine. Younger students can sing a song without having to write it down, and older students can write a poem or rap instead. This can lead into many math lessons as well, for example counting beats or measuring a song’s speed.
  • Create a Word Problem: This activity gives students the opportunity to notice patterns in the word problems that they have solved to create a problem with the same structure. Challenge students by having them trade problems with a peer to solve.
  • Make a Book: Students can make a reference book that includes the vocabulary for a particular topic or a list of steps to solve a type of problem. Students could also make a more in-depth book that explains a process or concept. It all depends on the depth of knowledge that you set for the activity.
  • Teacher Time: You can also add teacher time as an option for any student who feels that they may need extra help or review of the topic.

Integrating Technology in Math Choice Board Activities

Whether through laptops, tablets, or interactive whiteboards, technology has found a permanent place in many of our classrooms. Integrating technology into our classroom activities can also motivate reluctant learners. Additionally, choice boards for math can be delivered digitally through your learning management system.

Here are some additional activities you can add to your choice board to integrate technology:

  • Make a Movie: A short video explaining a topic can be as small-scale as a student talking for 30 seconds into a phone camera. It can also be a larger project that involves video editing and multiple students.
  • Create a Slideshow: Rather than creating a video, students can instead focus on creating individual slides for a slideshow that demonstrates their knowledge and teaches their peers.
  • Play a Game: There are many online resources—including Math 180 and Waggle—that offer games for practicing math. Games are an especially powerful way to develop fluency.
  • Use Virtual Manipulatives: Students struggling to understand a concept with physical manipulatives may respond better to virtual ones instead. Look for activities that let students create models and solve problems using virtual manipulatives.
  • Complete an Online Lesson: Students especially may prefer to watch lessons as online videos then demonstrate their knowledge using digital practice problems.

Technology can also help you make choice boards interactive and easy to navigate for your students.

  • QR Codes: QR codes are links that can be printed on a piece of paper. There are many free QR code generators online. They are great for printed choice boards that include digital activities. Students point their device camera at the QR code and a link pops up leading them directly to the activity.
  • Shared Documents: Shared documents that contain links to each digital activity make choice board assignments easy to organize and manage. You can also display a choice board on an interactive whiteboard for the whole class to see rather than making individual copies for each student.
  • Slideshows: Linking between slides makes slideshows an excellent option for choice boards. The first slide can be the choice board with the remaining slides providing the routines for each activity and links to resources to complete the activity. Each choice in the first slide links to the slide with the description of the routine.

Strategies for Implementing Math Choice Board Activities for Learning and Assessment

As with all new classroom activities, introducing choice boards should be accompanied by a well-organized and well-planned routine. Once students decide on an activity, they will need to know what part of the classroom to go to and what supplies they will need.

In the Classroom

Your choice board routine may also need to account for potential pitfalls. For example, if many students choose the same activity, there may be crowding in one classroom area. One solution to this could be to have sign-up sheets for certain activities, or to distribute the materials for popular activities to more than one corner in the room.

Consider beginning with a smaller two-by-two choice board. Then gradually introduce more activities as students demonstrate understanding of the expectations for each activity. Here are some strategies you can use for implementing choice boards in the classroom:

  • Morning Work: Present students a choice in how they will start the school day.
  • Centers: Use the choice board as a way for students to decide which center they will work at. Consider challenging students to cross off each center once they have completed it so that they complete a different activity the next time.
  • Independent Practice: Create a class routine where students choose an activity from the choice board for independent practice while you teach a small group.
  • Classroom Game: The choice board itself can be a game. Students can roll a number cube to choose an activity, or different activities can be assigned point values based on their difficulty.

Each choice board can be used once or across several days depending on its purpose and objective, but the routine for the choice boards should be consistent. That way, students buy in to the use of choice boards.

Out of the Classroom

Create general routine-based choice boards that students paste in the front of their notebook. Then you can assign students to complete a certain number of activities over a unit or topic for homework. The choice here then includes both which activities to complete and which order to complete them in. For younger students, homework choice boards can include activities to be completed with family members or objects they might have at home. For example, they might tell their favorite toy all about the shapes in their home or go on a shape scavenger hunt with a family member.

Assessment

Choice boards can be used to list options for a final project-based assessment made up of relevant performance tasks. A point structure for each choice can be included to account for different levels of understanding. Students can then be instructed to complete an activity at each point level to demonstrate understanding.

Get Started with These Math Choice Board Templates

We created a blank choice board template so you can give your students a choice board that matches their interests and the content you’re teaching.

We also created templates that are filled out with math choice board activities for geometry, spanning Grades K–5.

The 4th grade choice board references the video “Math at Work: Math Meets Homebuilding.”

The 5th grade choice board references the video “Math at Work: Math Meets Fashion,” along with the game Coordinates Secrecy, which requires a group of 2–4 students.

Math Choice Boards: Increasing Student Agency

Choice boards are a powerful tool for increasing student agency and engagement in math classrooms. By offering a range of activities, students can take ownership of their learning and demonstrate understanding in ways that suit their individual needs.

Choice boards accommodate diverse learning needs, foster metacognitive awareness, and can be used for various purposes, such as assessment or independent practice. Integrating technology enhances the experience, and implementing a consistent routine is crucial. By incorporating math choice boards for elementary school learners, educators can create a dynamic and inclusive learning environment that celebrates students’ uniqueness and supports their individual learning journeys.

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Explore how Waggle personalizes math practice to help students in Grades K–8 thrive. Request a self-guided demo.

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