The Varying Degrees of Choice


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Every year we get questions and concerns about choice. 


  • How important is choice?
  • What if my students’ can’t handle choice?
  • What if I don’t have enough spaces around the room to sit?
  • Can I let them choose their books but assign their space to work?
  • Can I let them choose their space to work but assign their books?


  • My students choose books that are too easy or too hard.
  • They are not choosing a good spot to work and are talking to others.
  • They sit by their friends, and that causes problems.
  • They fight over who gets to sit in the most coveted places.

Choice is hard. It is hard for us to relinquish control of what students are reading and where they sit, just as it can be hard to teach students how to choose good-fit books and workspaces. However, choice has its rewards. Children who have choice learn life skills and have ownership in their learning. Spending time teaching these important skills now will ensure students are able to reap the benefits their entire life.

We use two systems when transferring the responsibility of choice to students. 


I PICK for choosing good-fit books. The acronym I PICK stands for these elements: 

I—I choose a book




K—Know the words

If a book meets these criteria, it can be added to a child’s book box. It may take a bit of time and practice in the beginning, but over time it becomes a habit, and students know how to choose a good-fit book whether they are in your classroom library, at the public library, or in a bookstore.

What about decodable books? If a student benefits from decodables, they should absolutely be part of that student’s book choices. We typically have half of their books be decodables and let students know they should read those first, and then move to the other books in their box.

Find out more about I PICK here


S.P.A.C.E. for choosing a good-fit spot to work






By teaching students to consider noise, proximity to others, lighting, and comfort, we give them tools to find a comfortable space with minimal distractions so they can fully engage in their work.

What about students who struggle to be independent when choosing their own workspace? We confer with the child and together determine a space that will be good for them and then declare that space as their space to work. Of course, we check in after a day or two to see how it is going and make any adjustments needed. (View this video to see an example of what this conference might sound like.)

Find out more about S.P.A.C.E. here.

Using the 10 Steps to Teaching and Learning Independence, we teach these two systems and give students a chance to practice the behaviors that make them successful in choice of books and workspace. We find, year after year, regardless of the class size or grade level, we are almost always able to help students be successful with choice using these two systems. 

What questions do you have about choice? Have you tried something that has worked well with your students that you would like to share? We would love to hear from you! Send any questions or success stories to [email protected].

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