How I Use Choice Boards to Run Literacy Centers

Frustrated by all the work it takes to “group” students for centers? Yeah, I was too! This post shares details on how to use choice boards to run literacy centers for upper elementary classrooms.

A FREE planning guide for literacy centers is included.

*This post contains affiliate links to Amazon for your convenience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, which do not cost any extra for you. Please see the full disclosure here.*

This post is a part of a series on helpful content geared toward literacy instruction in upper elementary classrooms. Here are the other posts to checkout once you’ve read all of this post:

Posts with * beside their titles have free downloads available!

Why Use Choice Boards for Centers?

When it comes to managing literacy centers in my classroom, I feel like I’ve tried it all!

  • Fixed Groups
  • Animal Groups
  • Color-Coded Groups
  • Flexible Grouping

But I still struggled to manage my small group rotations and centers with these systems.

With lots of research I found out about choice boards, which are also called learning menus.

I did tons of procedures training with my students and found that this flexible grouping system with choice boards is the BEST system for me!

My students learn to move around the classroom and choose centers independently.

So they are more motivated to stay on task and complete their center work!

Using Choice Boards for my Literacy Centers gives my students ownership of their work and this system makes it SUPER easy for me to differentiate instruction.

Literacy Center Choice Boards also keeps my students from interrupting me about what to do next while I’m working with a small group or with an individual student at my teacher table.

Click on the image to get your own copy of these EDITABLE choice boards that can be used with ANY literacy center! The set includes step-by-step instructions for how to use choice boards for your centers.

What Are Choice Boards?

As mentioned above, choice boards are sometimes called learning menus.

I have also heard them called:

  • Learning Tic-Tac-Toe Boards
  • Activity Boards
  • Choice Maps
  • Menu Boards

A choice board is a piece of paper with a board or grid of squares on it that has options for students to choose from.

Some choice board templates have a grid of 9-squares. My learning menus for 3rd and 4th Grade literacy centers have only 6-squares.

I have learned that too many choices overwhelms my students, so I decreased the number of squares.

To see more details on these choice boards, click the image.

With my students, I prefer giving them guided choices, so I shade two of the choice board squares. Then I train my students to complete those squares FIRST.

Having literacy activities on a menu board eliminates the need for any center rotation charts.

Plus, with choice boards, students are more motivated when they have a choice. They tend to stay engaged and on-task longer.

How to Launch Literacy Centers with Choice Boards

Before I give students their choice boards with the literacy games and activities that they can choose from, I gather data from assessment on their strengths and weaknesses.

Then I compare their skills to the standards and objectives of our school ELA curriculum, which is aligned to Common Core.

This information is important because it will help guide my instruction, and it will help me choose the right reading stations and literacy materials.

I also DO NOT assume students will understand how to move through our literacy stations independently just because they have a learning menu with options!

It takes several weeks of scaffolded, persistent, and patient training for students to use their choice boards correctly.

Some of my literacy center options on student choice boards can be completed with a partner. Some of them can be completed independently. Click this image for details on the center shown.

Steps for Setting Up Your Literacy Center Choice Boards

  • Each student gets a paper with six to nine squares depending on their assessment results. You DO NOT have to make a separate choice board for every single student. (MORE details on this below.)
  • I train my students to complete the two darker shaded boxes first! If you are familiar with “Must Do & May Do,” this is their MUST DO.
  • Then they can move on to choose another literacy activity that isn’t shaded on their choice board. MAY DO.
  • ALL blocks must be completed by the end of the week.
  • If a student finishes a choice board early, I always have Extension Literacy Activites ready for my 4th graders.
  • If a student needs more time, they aren’t rushed to finish the center when their group is.

Having these options naturally leads to easy opportunities for differentiation.

Do Choice Boards Fit with Guided Reading?

YES, they do!

I have a small group or an individual student with me while the other students are independently moving around the room with their choice boards.

The BEST part about using choice boards for my literacy centers is that students are not interrupting my guided reading group!

Using this system for managing literacy centers means that students definitely know what to do next when they finish a reading station or activity.

Since they are choosing activities based on a set of pre-determined options that I put on their menu boards, they can complete their center work without me.

How to Manage Your Literacy Centers

Giving students choices does not lead to chaos and disorder if they are given the right procedures training.

In fact, they’ll be more motivated to stay engaged and participate in center work when they are allowed to choose.

Upper elementary students who aren’t used to having choices will especially need lots of scaffolded training.

Don’t let this scare you! I spend the first 4-6 weeks of school carefully guiding my kiddos through my center expectations.

Then I spend time around long holiday breaks reviewing my expectations with students.

My favorite resource for procedures training is Harry Wong’s First Days of School. Not only does it help me establish my literacy center procedures, but it helps me get ALL my classroom routines set-up during those first weeks of school.

F.A.Q’s About Choice Boards and Literacy Centers

How do you make sure there aren’t too many students choosing the same centers?

I create 4 or 5 choice board templates. These templates have certain centers shaded. I train my students to complete the shaded centers first. For example, if I have 20 students total–I may give 4 of them a choice board with Grammar Games shaded first. A different set of 4 students will have the Technology Center shaded first, etc.

This controls the amount of students who are allowed in a literacy center at one time.

What happens when your students are absent and cannot complete all their literacy centers choice board?

Every Friday in my classroom, I have a block of time called “Catch-Up” Time. All my students have red ‘catch-up’ folders with incomplete assignments. Any student who hasn’t completed their choice board options get the chance to complete them during this time.

What types of literacy activities do you put on your students’ choice boards?

Here are just a few options I use:

Literacy Center Activities

I have full-year sets of literacy center activities for 3rd graders and 4th graders. Click either picture below for more details on them.

3rd Grade Literacy Centers Activities
literacy centers 4th grade printable
4th Grade Literacy Center Activities

You can also get more ideas for literacy centers with this FREE download. Please be sure to enter an email address that allows outside email addresses so that you can also grab the FREE literacy center planning guide.

The Butterfly Teacher

6 Responses

  1. Hi! I just found your website and am loving all the ideas. I am stuck when it comes to small groups! I love the idea of choice boards though. Do you set up the choice boards based on their needs (one group of students gets this board and another group gets a different board)? How do you keep them from fighting and arguing over centers? If this was something I was going to set up mid-year (or refresh my current setup) how would you suggest launching?

    1. Hi Angela,
      Great questions! Yes, I create groups of choice boards based on academic needs. I also keep behavior in mind by keeping unproductive students away from each other. I have plenty of options available, which keeps them from fighting over the centers. I would launch it by modeling your expectations, then starting with a few centers to practice the routine. After a few weeks and some tweaks, your students will love using choice boards. Thanks for stopping by our site for teaching ideas. 🙂

  2. Hi Tanya,
    Thanks for all this info! Just a few questions to help me: 1. once students do their two shaded centers how do you prevent kids just running to the next center and having all of them talking arguing about who they want to partner with? I picture too many going to one center . Is there a limit of # of students allowed in each center? 2. Are you the one who resets the timer for the next center ? 3. Do you check or collect either the choice board template sheet and the work they did in centers ? I never had time so I always felt I had no idea how they did .

    1. Hi Pina,
      1) I do not give all of my students the same choice board options. That keeps them from trying to go to the same centers. 2) I use pre-set timer that is displayed on our Smartboard. It starts over with each slide. 3) I only check the completed choice board and select centers. I do not check every center and I do not grade them.

      Hope this helps!

  3. I am eager to try this but I have questions- For the centers that don’t require a finished product- like independent reading, computer or listen to reading, do you use a timer to regulate how much time they are allowed to be there? How long is your literacy block and how many “centers” do your kids typically get to each day? Thanks!

    1. Karen,
      Great questions!
      “…do you use a timer to regulate how much time they are allowed to be there?” I keep a general timer for all centers that helps everyone stay on track with the time. So this fixed time applies to everyone. The amount of time changes each school year because it depends on the total literacy block my principal allows.

      ” How long is your literacy block…” In the 4 years that I’ve used this system, my full literacy block has fallen between 60-95 minutes.

      “…how many “centers” do your kids typically get to each day?” Typically they get in 2 each day.

      If you have more questions, I have an entire guide book on launching literacy centers that breaks down all these details and more. You can access it here:

      Thanks Karen!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.