Build Your Learner-centered Toolkit: Getting Started with Choice Boards and Playlists

Getting Started

You’re ready to start personalizing instruction by offering learners choice. But, how exactly do you do that?

In the Competency-Based classroom, learners have the same rigorous common expectations for mastery but follow different pathways of inquiry and varied pacing through content. There are a variety of learner-centered options available for providing learners with choices of curated learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners.

As a teacher, you will determine which choices to offer learners based on the learning outcomes, key knowledge, concepts, and skills learners need to master. Backwards plan your unit first, starting with the learning outcomes, essential questions, and assessments. Then, determine what options you will provide for learner choice and when. Choice boards and playlists are just two tools at your disposal to allow for different pathways and varied pacing driven by learner choice.

Choice Boards

To allow for different pathways within a specific learning outcome or skill, a choice board is an excellent tool to have in your learner-centered toolkit. A choice board is a set of learning activities a learner can choose to complete in any order. Choice boards often include multi-modal options curated around the same skill or topic. First, decide if you will offer the choice of product, process, or content. We recommend sticking to just one of these types of personalization within a single choice board in order to provide consistent evaluation criteria.


To allow for varied pacing throughout a specific unit, we like to use a playlist. A playlist is a sequence of learning activities or resources to explore in a particular order. Learners typically progress through the same material but at different paces. When learning experiences are tiered by proficiency levels like Novice, Emerging, Proficient, Advanced, teachers can use a playlist in conjunction with assessment data to personalize learning based on readiness.

Putting It All Together

Imagine you’re a fifth grade teacher designing a science unit around the power standard “I can describe and graph the amounts and percentages of water and fresh water in various reservoirs to provide evidence about the distribution of water on Earth.”

You have already designed the summative, formative, and pre-assessments. You want to allow learners choices to explore the content through a variety of pathways and pacing in order to meet the needs of all learners.

Based on your pre-assessment data, you see that learners have a range of proficiency levels. You decide to use a playlist to allow learners to explore content resources at their own pace based on their current proficiency. You have one learner who is already proficient but you still want her to complete at least one learning experience in the Novice and Emerging tiers to ensure she can apply what she knows in a variety of different contexts.

Each learning experience in the playlist is designed to give the teacher and learners formative assessment insights and guide next steps. Some learners move through the activities quickly while others take longer to complete. You provide opportunities for both homogeneous and heterogeneous groups throughout the learning cycle and insert shared learning experiences and mini-lessons where needed.

You also implement a home learning choice board that will run throughout the unit that allows learners to choose content they’re excited about from different sources to explore Earth’s water. Some sources are excerpts from books, some are articles, some are videos, and some are data representations like charts and graphs. You decide that learners must explore at least two of the six choices.

You set a date for a discussion circle. Using a jigsaw method, you group learners together who made the same choice of content first. They discuss, determine the most important ideas, and make a plan to share. Then, you mix the groups so that every group has at least one learner representing each of the content choices. These experts share to their groups the most important takeaways from their respective sources.

Additionally, learners will select a product option from a choice board as a summative assessment. Learners all have the same criteria for mastery as defined by the power standard; they all need to create a graph to show the percentages of saltwater and freshwater on Earth. However, they can choose to describe and explain their key understandings, connections, and evidence through writing, skits, videos, music, or visual displays/sketch notes that hit on all the big ideas.

Your power standard serves as the guide for mastery criteria and you have provided choices to learners throughout the unit to address both varied pacing and different pathways of inquiry. Your learners are confident, motivated, and feel a sense of agency and accomplishment at the end of the unit. Way to go, rock star teacher!

The Challenge

If this sounds like what you want to see more of in your classroom, check out our choice board template available here. We challenge you to let your core competencies and power standards guide learner choice in your next unit!

Reach out to us at [email protected] for more information or to design a customized learner-centered solution for your school.

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