Strategy

Preferred Topic or Text

Self-Selected Topic, Student Choice, Topic of Choice, Preferred Text

Allowing students to select a preferred topic or text for a project increases engagement and balances the cognitive load when students are learning or practicing a new skill. Teachers may present a menu of choices, provide guidelines for the kinds of topics or books students may select, or leave the decision fully up to students, depending on the nature of the assignment. The element of choice can help students develop a sense of ownership and make the learning experience more relevant to students' lives.

Implementation Tips

Provide Structure or Limitations
Identify any topics or subject matter that will not work or are inappropriate for an assignment and communicate those expectations to students upfront and in the project description. This will help avoid having to veto a student's topic idea after they've begun the assignment.
Class Discussion & Brainstorm
During pre-writing invite students to share their topic ideas with the class or complete a group brainstorm of possible topics. The conversation provides a chance to celebrate students' individual ideas and serves as a model for students who may not be able to think of a topic independently.
Student Choice
Consider the objective(s) of a lesson when deciding whether and how to incorporate elements of student choice. If instruction and assessment are focused on a particular skill or exercise, such as a certain style of note-taking, method of brainstorming, or revision strategy, allowing variation in subject matter will not impact students' ability to demonstrate understanding, growth, and/or mastery. For example, one student may demonstrate use of transitional phrases in a paragraph about brown bears and another student may demonstrate use of transitional phrases in a paragraph about a favorite video game. The topics vary to suit the needs and interests of the students, while the focus of assessment remains the same.

Examples

Writing
Writing exercises, such as practicing use of descriptive language, may become more meaningful to students if they can select the object of their description. Teachers may say, "Choose a favorite item in this room" or "Picture an area in your home" to help guide students' focus, while leaving the ultimate decision of what to write about up to students.
Social Studies
Research projects and open-ended writing prompts provide great opportunities for student choice. Provide guidelines to inform students' decisions (e.g., "Choose an important figure from the Civil War and describe his/her contributions to the war effort", "Create a claim about a character from a fiction text and support it with evidence", "Locate three facts about a mammal that lives in Africa").

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