I often get questions from teachers about how to differentiate for students in the classroom. My answer is always the same– menus. I think menus are an underutilized tool that can be a game changer for both students and teachers. A few years ago, I had a group of fifth graders that I looped with up to fifth grade. Since I’d already had them for a full school year, I really wanted to amp up my learning expectations in the classroom. I had students who were identified as gifted and talented, as well as, a lot of fast finishers and high-performing students. I decided to find a new way to channel their energy and provide some additional challenges by using math menus.
Before this time, I really had not used many menus in the classroom. The ones I had used were ones I had found in a resource. They were okay, but I never found one that met my needs. So, I decided to buy a book about menus, Differentiating Instruction with Menus by Laurie Westphal, to learn more about how to build menus. After perusing the book, I created my first menu. My students loved it and actually wanted more. So, after the first menu, I started creating them for each grading period. Students were allowed to work on their menu throughout the day and I provided additional time during our weekly station rotations.
One of the biggest lessons I learned after creating a few menus is to keep it simple. Creating a menu should not create more work for me! When I first started to use menus, I tried filling the task boxes with printed materials because they required less explanation, took less time, and were easier to grade. However, after reading the differentiation book, I decided to try using a variety of student products to fill in the menu tasks. This is where the real magic began. Not only did my students love the creativity and level of choice the products provided, but using the products in this way extended the time required to complete the menu so I could utilize them for a longer period of time.
In today’s post, I’m sharing 10 of my favorite, and my students’ favorite, math menu products. See the picture below for all 10!
Here’s a short description of each product:
1. I Have . . . , Who Has?: This is an activity I used a lot in the classroom, so my students were very familiar with it. As you can see from the picture, they are allowed some creativity with the task. The cards in the picture were created after a unit on order of operations.
2. Critical Thinking Tasks: I use a lot of problem-solving and critical thinking challenges in the classroom, so I often add, “Complete a Puzzle from the Puzzle Box” to the menu tasks. Students love these tasks and they require different thinking than the projects do. The task in the picture is a Blockout puzzle from AIMS Education.
3. Crossword Puzzles: I started mixing things up in the classroom by using crossword puzzles in place of traditional worksheets. The students really enjoyed them, so I started adding them to my math menus as a product option. Be sure to check out the variety of puzzles in the image above.
4. Card Games: Students were also allowed to use their creativity to create card games that could be played with a small group of students. The students decided how to structure the game and then decorated the materials. The card game above is a war-style multiplication game.
5. File Folder Games: A lot of my students really enjoyed getting to be creative here as you can see from the three examples above. Each of the game boards has a path for students to follow and question cards (or problems written on the path).
6. Magic Square: Students use the concept of a magic square to create a fun practice page.
7. Word Find: Several of my students found creative ways to create a word search. The one in the example is the actual word search, but the finished activity page included the search with the order of operations problems below. After solving the order of operations problems, students then searched for the word form of the value in the word search.
8. Graph: This product allows students to select a question to answer or data to collect and then create a representation to display the data.
9. 3D Cubes: These cubes are super versatile. The ones in the picture illustrate order of operations problems that simplify to a value of 7. For this product, students were required to submit an answer key demonstrating how to simplify each expression.
10. Comic Strip: I’ve had several students really enjoy creating comic strips to illustrate how to perform a skill. The one in the example is about finding the rule of a function table.
These are just a handful of the products that I use on my math menus. There are many others to pick from! The best part is that I can re-use the same products on multiple menus because when the content that changes, the final product does as well. This shortcut allows me to keep my menus simple because I use a rotation of products to fill up the menu tasks.
By the way, while not all of the products can be used, I utilize my students’ products in the classroom as station materials or additional practice. Having their peers use their products provides an extra incentive for students to produce quality work!
Ready to give it a try? Grab a free sample of my Math Menus series here or by clicking on the image below.
Want to know more about math menus? Click here!
Sound Off! What products do you like to use? Respond in the comments below.