Differentiate instruction based on students' interests

PROJECT MENU: At the end of the unit, when students put everything together and produce the culminating performance assessment, you can provide a menu of options based on their interests and learning preferences.
Here's an example for a unit on animal characteristics, behaviors and needs:

  • Write a first-person story in which the main character is an animal who tries to live with humans. How well do you (as the animal) fit in with the humans?
  • Do a research study about an organization that is working to save endangered animals from extinction. Plan a campaign to save an animal you admire. Describe how the animal's needs and behaviors are affected by changes in their environment.
  • Read 10 or more poems about animals. Write poetry about animals that interest you.
  • Read about people who have tamed or lived with wild animals. Describe the characteristics such people have that make them good animal trainers or researchers.
  • Plan and present a debate about the merits of preserving a certain area for the use of its existing animals and plants. The other side of the debate would give reasons to develop the area into homes or shopping.
  • Pretend you’re an archaeologist who has just discovered the remains of an extinct animal. Share information about how the animal lived, why it became extinct, and how it might have been saved from extinction.
  • Imagine that your family acquires an unusual animal as a pet. Present information about some of the joys and challenges of having the animal. What is it like that is different from what you expected?
  • Create a composite animal with elements of several animals. Convince someone else that it’s the best animal in the world.
  • Create your own project.

As with tiered assignments, it is important to start with the end in mind – what are the key ideas or skills you want students to demonstrate? Every project should allow students to show what they know about these key ideas and skills.

astronomy_clip_art.jpgHere's another example for a 5th grade unit on astronomy, from Katie Ballard and Michelle Scott of Glencairn Elementary School in East Lansing: Planets Project Menu.pdf (right-click and choose "Open in New Window")

A student interest questionaire is available here: Student Interest Inventory.pdf (right-click and choose "Open in new window.")

Assignment: On the discussion tab, describe how you draw on students' interests to give them some choice in their learning tasks.
Write a short essay (a paragraph or two) about why you think it's important for students to have choices in their learning.