3 Strategies to Help Your Students Make Good Decisions

It is estimated that teachers make about 1,500 decisions during the school day. That is a lot of thinking and decision making in a short amount of time! If you are a teacher, you know how we have to think quickly as different situations constantly arise during the school day.  

If we make that many decisions during one school day, how many decisions do our students have to make?  

Luckily, we are adults and trained professionals capable of making good choices using effective decision-making skills that we have acquired over time. But are our students just as capable as we are? Decision making is a skill that our students need direct instruction on and plenty of practice, too.  

The following three decision-making strategies are easy to implement in your classroom and will yield positive results for your students and they pair especially well with growth mindset classrooms.

Daily Practice: Planned and Authentic


Think about the choices our students face each day. Should they focus on the lesson or follow their friend to the bathroom? Should they have the lunch mom packed or grab something less healthy from the cafeteria? Should they include everyone when they play during recess or play a game that excludes others? Children face many choices each day and many involve doing the right thing, even when no one is watching, like during lunch and recess. To help our students make better choices, we need to give our students many opportunities to practice decision making skills in an environment that we can give them support. These opportunities should be both planned decision making activities and authentic decision making within natural situations. One way you can plan to practice decision making skills is to use morning meeting time to present students with situational questions that force them to make a choice. You can ask simple questions such as, would you rather order a bagel or a cheese sandwich at lunch? This type of question provides students with two choices for them to choose between. You can also ask an open ended question such as, should you complete your homework on the bus? This question requires the students to think about what their choices are and make a decision based on the pros and cons of each choice. Both types of questions require students to make a decision, but require a different line of thinking to help students make their choice.  Another way to plan for decision making practice is deliberate lesson planning. This Role Model set includes situational task cards to use during a decision making lesson, to encourage students to make good decisions that help themselves and others. Authentic opportunities arise all day in the classroom. There are so many times throughout the day that I find myself saying, Was that a good choice? Make a good decision. Think about what you should do. When those moments arise, grab your timer, set it for 2-3 minutes and go through decision making steps to help your students make the right decision or reflect on the decision that they made. 

Have a “How To” Make Good Decisions Checklist

Display a simple and easy to follow “how to” checklist to help students make good decisions. This checklist can be strategies that you brainstorm with your students, or it can be strategies that you give to them and expect them to use. Either way, create an anchor chart and display it in your classroom as a visual reminder of how to make good choices. Then make individual copies for students to have for reference. Be sure to send home the language you will be using in the classroom so that parents  can reinforce the same expectations at home.

Practice Decision Making While Reading-Connecting with Characters

There is no better way to help students understand and see decision making in action then through reading books and analyzing characters! Character analysis and understanding character traits is something that is taught and practiced in every classroom, at every grade level. It is very easy to weave decision making discussions into these lessons and any book that you read together as a class. Analyze both the good and the bad decision making that you come across in books as both serve as a teaching and learning point, sparking meaningful discourse in your classroom. Invite students to share decisions that the characters in their independent reading chapter books make with the class and vote on whether or not the students would make that same decision as the character.
One book that is a great read aloud to kick off learning about making decisions in your classroom is the book, What Should Danny Do? written by Ganit and Adir Levy. Not only will your students love this book, but you will, too! With its “choose your own adventure” style format, it is many stories in one book. Within this interactive book, the main character Danny faces many different situations that require him to make a choice. The students decide what choice Danny will make, taking them to a page that continues that story. You can reread this book over and over, having Danny make different decisions, changing the outcome of the story. What I love about this book, is that it is a true example of how making different choices can change the outcome. The decisions that Danny has to make are relatable to students, so that they will be able to easily put themselves in Danny’s shoes.
After you have finished reading and discussing What Should Danny Do? have your students work with a partner to brainstorm different situations that they have been faced with at school that have forced them to make a decision.  Encourage them to come up with situations that they have been in where making a good choice was difficult. You can start the list with ideas to help students generate situations. Situations you might begin listing: if the teacher is absent, someone starts a food fight in the cafeteria, someone is alone on the playground.
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Dpvu3G3-qIU4A1kC5dvzci9w1N3F1KOYRecord their ideas on paper. Once you have a list, cut out each situation and fold up the paper. Place them in a basket. Have each pair of students randomly select a situation from the basket. Working together, students will create a list of possible choices and decisions that can be made about the situation they selected. After discussing the choices students will select one decision that they think is the best to carry out given the situation. Next, have them create a pro and con list about their decision. Students will write and illustrate their decision before presenting to the class. Grab all the materials that you will need for this FREE lesson at the bottom of this post!

Other books with strong main characters that lend themselves to discussions about making decisions and good choices are:

Making decisions is a process that must be learned. The process is hard work, especially for our students. Empower your students to be able to make decisions and good choices with easy to use strategies, provide them with opportunities to try out those strategies in the classroom and encourage them to connect with the amazing characters that they meet in books to analyze the decisions that the characters make. 

How do you encourage good decision making in your classroom?

Looking for ways to encourage your students to make positive decision for their own actions? Check out these positive phrase posters to display in your classroom!

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