Student Choice During Research

One thing that I love about being a teacher is giving students choice. This is especially true and important when students are engaged in research.

Student choice means that students have a choice:

  • in what they learn.
  • how they learn.
  • what and how they learn.

One way I used to give students choice during Word Study was how they practiced spelling. They were able to choose from glitter words, typing, rainbow words, etc.

One way students have choice during citation is to choose what they will cite. They can choose the database and the topic. Just now how they will cite the source. There is a procedure and format for that.

Two ways students had choice during our ecosystems unit was they could choose which ecosystem to learn about and they could choose to learn about it in BrainPOP Jr or a book.

One way to keep research engaging in the Library Media Center is to give students choice.

Why Give Students Choice

Student choice has proven to lead to increased student engagement. When students have a sense of autonomy in their learning, they are more likely to stay on and complete tasks.

More time on task leads to better achievement.


During that ecosystems unit, students stay focused for one to two hours at a time. They waited to use the restroom. They even asked to stay in for recess to work some more.

There were students who hated writing and saw themselves as poor students. But because they could choose how to practice spelling were eager for word work. They would even ask to not go to intervention so they could stay for spelling.

How to Give Students Choice​

When giving students choice during research lessons, there are a few things to consider.

  • Prior experience making academic related choices.
  • The type of choice that will be provided for the activity.
  • Available materials.

Regardless of all of this, have conversations about why students may make a particular choice.

This can be as quick as saying, “Some of you may want to use BrainPOP Jr to research because it is a cartoon. Some of you may choose to use PebbleGo to research because it looks more realistic and will read to you.”

It can be more involved, inclusive, and invested by inviting students to consider they why. You could ask, “Why might some people want to use PebbleGo and others use BrainPOP Jr.?”

This helps students make choices that are meaningful to them. The more invested they are in the choice, the more serious they will take the work.

Check out these research resources!

Student Experience with Choice

It is important to know if students have prior experience in making academic related choices. This will determine they number of choices and complexity you provide.

If students have limited or no experience making choices, limit the number of offered choices to TWO. For example, research butterflies on BrainPOP Jr or PebbleGo.

If students have a number of experiences making choices, provide them with more to choose from. This can be anywhere from 3 to 5 choices. When grade 5 students are analyzing websites for veracity, they have 5 to choose from.

If students have more experience with academic based choices, the choices provided can be more complex. Instead of giving them choice only on what or only how, give them choice with both. When Grade 2 is researching they can choose the topic and the resource.

More choices can be offered. Just do so based on what you know about your students. Many will become overwhelmed and shut down with more than 5 choices presented.

Choices can also be more complex. Sometimes the line can be blurred between what and how of choice. That is okay. Just make sure students are ready for it.


Student choice makes learning that much more meaningful for students. When given choice during research, a content area many dislike, it makes the process or skill more palatable.

Over the years, from K-5th grade, students learn a range of research skills. They learn about resources, citation, note-taking, copyright, analyzing resources, and more. Each lesson includes embedded choice.

Research Choice in Kindergarten

Kindergarten is the first year students are introduced to research. During this lesson, students choose the topic and note-taking sheet.

They all use PebbleGo, but they can choose any topic within PebbleGo. Choice like this taps into students’ interests.

Once they have chosen a topic, they choose one of three graphic organizers.

One graphic organizer provides students an opportunity to draw; perfect for early literacy.

Another combines drawing and writing.

Yet another focuses solely on writing for those who are ready for more complex note-taking.

Choice like this taps into students’ strengths.

Research Choice in Grades 2 or 3

Second or third grade is when students start diving into the world of copyright. This is an important research skill as it explains the need for bibliographies and citing sources.

After students learn about copyright, they go on a copyright scavenger hunt to demonstrate understanding. They can choose from completing this hunt on paper or digitally.

Research Choice in Grades 4, 5, or 6

Students typically learn about in-text citations in grade 5. Some cohorts have been ready to learn about it in 4th grade. Whereas others are not quite ready for it until 6th grade.

Before students can write an in-text citation, they need to understand what one is. During this lesson, students have choice in how they identify in-text citations. They can do a citation sort, or complete a citation worksheet.

Available Materials

Like it or not, frequently the deciding factor on what choices we offer is reliant on materials.

There was a time that I had less iPads than students. This frequently led to me making technology a sign up option.

There are also times where the amount of prep-work makes it prohibitive to have enough for each student. When I make sorting activities, it takes time to print, laminate, cut, and package up. When this happens, I give at least 3 or 4 choices and students have to sign up for a choice.

If you are fortunate enough to have unlimited materials, you can choose (pun intended) whether or not to limit how many students use each choice.

There are benefits to this.

You can prepare students for not always getting what they want. This also prepares students with a good life skill like having a backup plan. To get students into this mindset try saying, “Today, we will sign up for our choices. Have a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice ready just in case your very first choice is unavailable.”

Reward the Work

Library Media Specialists don’t typically provide grades. Be flexible with assessment.

Assessing research skills in Library Media include:

Keep it simple, manageable, and FUN!

In place of grades, give the students achievement badges to show off their skills!

Reap the Benefits

Over time, providing students with choice becomes second nature. You won’t have to spend as much time thinking and planning it because it just comes part of what you do.

Over time, you’ll be able to come up with choice on the fly. Chances are you already are!