Using the Menu Strategy to Differentiate Instruction

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  • 0:03 The Menu Strategy
  • 0:49 Components of a Menu
  • 1:31 Creating a Menu
  • 3:25 Implementing a Menu
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Derek Hughes
Differentiation is an important strategy to use to ensure that all students can access information and activities. One strategy for differentiation, the menu strategy, is explored in this lesson.

The Menu Strategy

If you've ever gone out to a restaurant to eat a meal, you've probably seen a menu. Menus typically contain a variety of appetizers, side dishes, main dishes, and desserts. Restaurants use menus because not everyone likes to eat the same thing, so they offer their customers several choices for their meals. You can apply this same idea to differentiation in the classroom using the menu strategy.

Essentially, the menu strategy is one in which students are given a menu of activities that they can choose from to meet learning objectives and standards. The menu strategy is a useful tool for differentiating instruction; it does not need to be reserved for students with disabilities or only used to give students easy, busy work to complete.

Components of a Menu

Just like the menu in a restaurant, an instructional menu will have a variety of choices for students to make. Think of your menu in terms of a food menu. You'll have main dishes, appetizers, side dishes, and desserts. Each of these categories contains various activities that allow students to learn and practice a skill or concept.

When designing a menu, first identify the key elements and objectives students will need to learn and complete. Then, design the various categories of activities around these objectives. By first identifying the most important skills and objectives, you can ensure that your activities are appropriately geared toward helping students learn and practice the most important elements of a unit.

Creating a Menu

After you've identified your most important learning objectives, begin to design activities for your menu. You should also decide which activities all students must do in order to earn a passing grade. These are usually your main dishes and are non-negotiable. Your main activities should cover all of the important skills and objectives so every student will learn the same thing.

For example, if you're teaching a unit about the American Civil War, some of your main dishes might include answering key questions in the text, writing a short essay about an important figure of the time, and comparing and contrasting the positions of the two sides. Every student must do every one of these activities, as they're used to highlight the most important information in the unit.

After you've created your main dishes, you can begin to build out the rest of the menu. For the other sections, it's important to give your students a choice of several different kinds of activities. This is where the menu strategy allows you to differentiate instruction and learning. The activities in the other sections should accommodate for students' different skills, learning styles, and instructional needs.

When creating appetizers, for example, come up with three or four activities that students can choose from. Indicate that students need to complete one of these activities, but they have a choice of which one. One activity could allow students to create a piece of art, one could allow students to write or answer questions, one could allow them to create a presentation, and another could allow them to make a video.

Whatever activities you create, remember that they must all align with the learning objectives you identified and be varied enough to target different learning styles. Your appetizers can serve as preview activities for the unit, while your main dishes are the meat and potatoes (pun intended) of the unit. Finally, your side dishes can be activities designed to help students explore specific topics further.

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