6 Student Choice Activities for ELA

Student choice activities empower students to take ownership of their work by giving them more independence and choice in their assignments. The bloggers at The Secondary English Coffee Shop are sharing our 6 favorite student choice activities that we think your ELA students will love!

1. Analyzing Movies and TV

Nouvelle ELA: 

One End of Year activity my students love is using all of their lit-crit skills to analyze a TV show or movie. We draw inspiration from BuzzFeed lists like “15 ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ Storylines that Almost Happened”  and ScreenRant articles like “10 Scenes ‘Vampire Diaries’ Fans Love to Rewatch.” Our lists include analysis: how would this have changed the story? What makes these key moments important? What could the writers have done better? This activity validates students’ favorite media as texts worthy of analysis and really increases engagement.

2. Wonder Day

Presto Plans: 

When I am looking for an activity that will give students a little more independence and choice, my go-to is to host a Wonder Day. With Wonder Day, students get the opportunity to research something they genuinely wonder about—they might choose video games, skateboarding, basketball, arcades, popular snack foods around the world, or literally anything else they are curious about! Then, they share the information with the rest of the class through a multimedia presentation, like a podcast or a blog post. This assignment is effective because it fosters curiosity while developing research, summarizing, and presentation skills at the same time.  An added bonus is that you’ll learn a great deal about your students and their interests in the process.

3. Thank You Letters

Addie Williams: 

One of the ways I like to wind up the year is to have students reflect on someone who has helped them during the year.  It could be a teacher, friend, coach, parent, relative, coworker, or whoever they can think of who has been a positive influence in their year.  I then encourage the students to write a thank you note to the person they’ve picked. I supply writing papers, time, ideas, and inspiration to get them started.  Once the letters have been written I do my best to help them get to their destination… whether it’s hand-delivered, emailed, or sent through the post.  If you’d like a place to start here’s a link to a free activity with letter paper students can use.

4. Reading Workshop

Room 213: 

As Nouvelle ELA has already pointed out, a chance to do a review of a TV show, a book, or even a favorite video game is an engaging choice activity. It’s also one that can also build persuasive writing skills. You can read more about how we use reviews for that in my classroom on this blog post. However, my favorite way to give students choice is through reading workshop, as it’s the best way to get students engaged in reading - and to foster a lifelong love of it. If you’d love to try more choice reaching in your classroom but aren’t sure where to fit it in, I have some strategies for you here.

5. Synthesis Writing

The Daring English Teacher: 

One of my favorite student choice activities to incorporate in the classroom is a persuasive synthesis project. Students choose a topic that interests them, and then they decide if they want to create a podcast, political poster, tv ad, or write a speech. This project turns into a passion project, and it is a great add-on after completing a synthesis essay writing project. 

6. Speech Writing 

Secondary Sara: 

At the end of the year, when students are tuning out, I give students my Mock TED Talks unit. There is so much freedom with topic, structure, and level of persuasion that students LOVE writing speeches on the topics they’re most passionate about. Students who don’t normally succeed (or care) do very well on this, and I accomplish several writing and public speaking standards. 

Planning a novel study

By Jackie, from ROOM 213

There is a lot of support out there for ELA teachers: strategies and tips on social media, blog posts about classroom activities, and resources on TpT. All of these help with specific tasks and texts. However, what if you want to design your own novel study - how do you pull together all of the amazing ideas that other teachers share into one coherent unit? What are the steps of planning a novel study that hits the standards and keeps students reading?

It does take some careful planning. However, if you spend a few minutes with me here, I'll give you a road map that you can follow, so you can get your students engaged in a full class novel 🗺

It all begins at the end

When planning your novel study, you need to do so around the standards and outcomes required by your curriculum. However, it's important to remember that you don't have to hit every standard when you plan your unit. Ask yourself: which standards best lend themselves to the novel we are going to read? Then, pick a handful that you and your students can focus on. That way you and your students can concentrate on skill building (and the love of reading) without getting overwhelmed.

Also, at the end of your novel study, your students will likely do some final assessments of some sort. When you know what these are - and the skills they will need for success - you can create the activities and shorter assessments they will need to build those skills.

✅ So, step one actually happens at the finish line and with this question: what do your students need to know and what skills do they need for success? You will then need to plan lessons & activities that will help them attain those skills.

Scaffold skills when planning your novel study

Yes, we need to begin with the end in mind with our eyes firmly on the standards and outcomes of our curriculum. But we also need to:

  • Break down the skills students need to achieve each standard/outcome
  • Create lessons and activities that will target those skills
  • Scaffold these skills in a way that leads to student success
  • Do all this in a way that fosters engagement

You're probably saying, yes, I know that. But how do I make it happen? 

First, look at that final assessment. What skills will your students need? Mine are doing a final essay on a lesson learned by a character that combines character and thematic analysis. So, as I planned my novel unit, I built in short activities and assignments that allowed them to do that. We begin with learning how to identify key facts and to support those facts with evidence. Then, they practice analytical writing with short (easy-to-grade) paragraphs.

An example of these short analytical assignments:

My International Baccalaureate class is currently reading The Poisonwood Bible. The novel is narrated by the four Price daughters and their mother, and each has a distinctly different tone. I wanted my students to be able to identify how Kingsolver uses tone to develop character, and so I gave them this assignment:

Analyzing text with short assignments👉🏻 You can grab the slideshow I used (you’ll have to edit it for yourself) by clicking here. My students also build on their skills for passage analysis with an activity I call Quotable Quickies And, you can get more strategies on this post: 5 Strategies for Teaching Author Purpose.

✅ ✅  Step Two choose activities and short assessments that allow students to build the skills they need to achieve the standards you identified.

Engage with Essential Questions

Essential questions can be that one thing that drives engagement. That’s because you make the switch from the typical chapter questions to ones that focus on what each student can learn from the book, things that they can apply to their lives. 

The questions can be simple: what can you learn from this writer? What can you take away from reading the book that will help you in your life?  Or, they can be more specific to the book: What can we learn about the power of human kindness in The Book Thief? Note that even though the last one focused on a specific text, it’s still framed on an aspect of human nature that most of us can relate to.

Then, as you read the novel, after each reading chunk, you can ask students to reflect on and discuss what they are learning about the essential question. And, when they can relate to the issues and lessons in the novel, they will engage more with it.

✅ ✅ ✅  Step three: think about ways you can connect the themes in the novel to the students' lives.

Plan your novel study with time for both reading and skill-building

Ok, everything I said already goes right out the window if we can't get students to read the book, right? And even if we can manage that Herculean task, they will all be reading at different rates which is a huge management issue.

Let's look at each of these:

For me, the best way around the issue of not reading is to create classroom activities for the book that students will want to participate in (more on that to come). Then, they may be more motivated to read so they can participate too.

When it comes to the pacing issue, I  balance time to read in class with classes that focus on skill-building activities. On reading days, students get a big block of time to read, but I also include some short activities to break things up, like quick discussions or writing prompts. And, if a student has read ahead and is all caught up, I don't punish them with more work to do; instead, I encourage them to read another book of their choice. The students who typically read ahead are quite happy to do so.

And while I do need to give students time to read,  I don't drag the novel study out too long because nothing kills engagement like taking weeks and weeks to read and discuss a book. This means that I need to either give them more time to read in class and/or expect they do some for homework.

Skill-building days come after students have read the assigned section of the novel. During these classes. I try to build engagement while honing the skills students need for success. That's up next!

✅ ✅ ✅ ✅ Step 4: plan a mix of reading days and skill-building days

Use the 3Cs: Collaboration, Critical Thinking, & Competition

planning a novel study

If I want my students to get engaged with the novel study, I know that daily chapter questions are not going to do it. Instead, I plan activities that require students to do lots of critical thinking and collaborating. This begins with teaching them how to close read and includes lots of group discussions about the novel.  (Click here for a PDF on fostering strong group discussions)

I love to talk about ideas in the books I read, and my students are no different. Giving them a chance to just chat about the book with few parameters - other than what they found interesting or significant - makes for a more natural experience. Now, we do have to work on the outcomes, but I start with discussion because it's just more interesting. So many of our classes start with these instructions: go in your groups and discuss what you think was important in this section. Then, after they've had a chance to chat, I'll give them a more focused, skill-building task to do, like taking a close look at the way a character is developed or a symbol is used.

And, when we do collaborative work, any time I can add in a bit of competition, the students get even more into the task. Something as simple as some chocolate for the group who finds the best supporting evidence for their assertions can get them very excited about textual evidence.

However, I try to balance this with independent work as well - because not everyone likes group work. So some classes are full of collaborative activities, while others are focused on quiet, independent work. For example, we will do writing prompts, or after they've read an important chapter, I might ask students to do a Write-Around  where they need to decide what was most important in the text.

It's also important to remember that variety is always a good idea - even a great activity gets old if it's used over and over again!

✅ ✅ ✅ ✅ ✅ Step 5: use a mix of skill-building activities, including the 3Cs

I hope you've found something to help you with planning your novel study. If you'd like more help - and some activities you can use, check out my short course. After a few short lessons, you'll have a fully planned unit you can use with your students!

And if you'd like to check out some resources to help with your novel study, click below:

📖 Active Learning Exercises for Any Text

✏️ Learning Stations for Any Text

💻 One-Sliders for Any Text

My friends at the coffee shop have some resources for you to check out too:

Presto Plans: Creative Book Reports for Any Novel

Addie Williams: Novel Study Bundle

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