Sunday, January 26, 2014

Choices, Choices...Menus

Although all students have different learning styles and preferences, choice is the one option that meets all students’ needs. - Laurie E. Westphal

What are menus? 

Menus are a scaffolding structure that allow educators to differentiate learning experiences while allowing them to meet with small groups of learners. A menu is a list of choices that learners use to choose an activity or activities that they would like to complete to show what they have learned.

Let’s look at how some of our fantastic CISD educators have used menus in their classrooms. Our first guest blogger is the powerful 2nd Grade team from Mockingbird Elementary.

Second grade has implemented math menus during our math block this fall. We have tried using menus in several different ways in order to differentiate for our learners. For example, every learner had the same menu for place value. However, the menu had tasks that ranged in depth and complexity. Some tasks allowed learners to demonstrate basic understanding while others tasks allowed learners to apply the knowledge to a new situation. Before introducing our addition/subtraction unit we administered a pre-assessment. Learners then received different menus based on the results of the test. Both levels of the addition/subtraction menus had tasks ranging from knowledge acquisition to application. However, the skill level required to complete the tasks was differentiated for individual learners.

Learners worked on the menus independently or in pairs. This allowed the educator to pull small groups for instruction. We have tried several different ways to structure this time. At times, learners can self-select to come to mini-lessons for instruction. At other times, the educator determines which learners need direct instruction in order to complete tasks on the menu.

Before our very first experience with menus, we introduced a menu as a whole group and modeled the various menu options. We related the structure of the independent work time to that of Daily 5, since that structure is so familiar to our learners.

We feel that math menus have allowed our learners choice, which increases engagement. We feel it has allowed the educators on our team a greater opportunity to meet the individual needs of everyone. The learners are very enthusiastic and eager to begin the journey through their menus each day!

Our second guest blogger is Dean Boykin from North. Dean and Jaimie Graves have used menus several times in their classrooms.

We have done menus for three different units already this year.  They are great for differentiation and student choice.  We used different menus for preAP, on-level, and for students requiring modifications.  The best part of menus is the immediate feedback and the learner-teacher communication.  Each product must be “defended” by the learner for him/her to receive credit.  Each menu always includes a FREE CHOICE allowing the learner to design his own product once it is approved by the teacher.  I was surprised by the number of students who chose to go the Free Choice route.  The learners enjoyed the choice aspect of the menu.  One thing that we noticed was that it takes more time than we had planned.  The grading can be tough but since it’s all done during class, there is nothing to take home.

What are some characteristics of good menus?
Laurie Westphal, author of several books about Differentiating Instruction with Menus, shares some characteristics to address when designing menus.

  • Higher Level Thinking is involved in the tasks or products created by learners
  • Products from all learning styles are included in the tasks
  • Free Choice is included if possible
  • Specific guidelines on the use and expectations for the menu are included for learners
  • Due Date is included
  • There is a method for learners to express interest (i.e. as the educator discusses each product, there is a checkbox, or place for learners to note their interest in that product

Are you wanting to see some examples of scaffolding activities? Visit our website full of examples.

Reflect on the examples above and use the comment section below to answer some of the following questions:

  • How could you implement menus in your design experiences for your learners?
  • Is there one thing that really stands out from the two examples that you could implement in your classroom?
  • If you’re already using menus, tell us about your experiences!


  1. I have not used structured menus. I have given choice in product to show understanding of content. I like the idea of menus in the allowing the teacher to meet with groups or individuals. In addition, I like the ownership it offers students for their own learning and the example of "defending" their knowledge adds a level of challenge to the activity.

    1. Absolutely! Several CHS educators are using the "structure" piece to incorporate mini-workshops to assist in the differentiation of the project. It is another great approach in giving the students choice and ownership! We would LOVE to hear how this goes with your learners if/when you try it out!

  2. I love hearing how differentiated menus are being used across the district. Learners choosing what to do and being challenged at their level is powerful!

    1. Pam, thank you for your comment! I, also, love hearing how educators are incorporating menus. Metacognition plays a big role as the learners are choosing their levels. Linda Baker wrote about metacognition at and said "When students have knowledge and control of their own cognitive processes, learning is enhanced." I love to see learning enhanced through menus!

  3. I've seen two types of menus used: one is to teach material and one is to show mastery of a concept. I've not used menus to teach material before. I use menus to have kids show mastery of material that we've covered in class and be creative. I think the use of different learning styles is essential for kids in my class to be able to express themeselves in ways that can show their individual giftedness.

    The problems I've run into are minimal for me. The first is predicting how long it will take a class to complete the menu I create. I've even found that two classes will complete menus at different paces which can create issues further on down the week. The second is that I've found it difficult to create learning experiences in learning styles that are not my own. My brain is super creative when it comes to my comfort level of learning, but outside of that it can take a bit of time.

    Overall I love menuing and will continue to use them in my classroom.

    1. I love your honesty about the challenges you face in designing outside your own learning style! I think this is a common issue, and has been one that I, also, struggle with when trying to touch on everyone's style of learning. Wouldn't it be fantastic to identify the learning styles of our coworkers so we could pick their brains when we hit those walls in designing? I would love to have a go-to person that could help me think of quality activities for the type-A, right brained learners I struggle so hard to understand since I'm the polar opposite. I wonder if you have found anyone on your campus that can give you insight into those learning styles you aren't as familiar with?

  4. I'm already thinking I could do this with IB as we learn about meiosis. There are lots of different details they need to know and it would be nice to scaffold some practice and creation activities so they can have time to work together--and to work in smaller groups with me. Love this!

  5. Dr. Penny and I are planning on using a menu for our educators in our February 17 Staff Development day. The menu will give us an opportunity to meet the varied needs of our staff and also give them choice and purpose for their work that day.

    1. What a great idea! I would love to see your menu and hear how it goes with your staff. I bet they will really appreciate you giving them choices. Congratulations on your new position!

    2. I love the menu as a PDH tool; definitely something that I can do for my own staff!

  6. I frequently do something similar by allowing students to choose their activities and then create a rubric for those activities. This quickly gets rid of the "I don't want to do that project" attitude.

  7. I love creating menus, but I don't believe I've ever included a "FREE CHOICE," mostly because the teachers I work with shy away from that. But if the free choice still requires teacher approval, what's stopping us from including that? I will definitely try that this year. From my experiences, the students always ask, "Well, what about ______? Can I use that app (or web tool)?" We should be able to say Yes! Tell me more about it!

  8. I'm inspired to use more menus in my class.