Offering Choice in the Planning Process

My daughter and I have very different packing procedures. She makes a list of everything she’s planning to take, and then she goes about locating and packing those items. I, on the other hand, collect my actual clothes, lay them out on the bed in piles of shirts, pants, sweatshirts, undergarments, etc, and them pack them up. My mother has a different strategy, and she lays out outfits that coincide to the days she’ll be away.  We are all effective packers, and we are all liable to forget a toothbrush.

One of our new fifth-grade teachers approached me today, asking me about how to teach the story mountain lesson.

“That’s how they’re supposed to plan,” she said. “At least that’s what I’m told.”

She was relieved when I suggested that the story mountain could be a choice, as opposed to a requirement, and she invited me to teach the lesson since she wasn’t sure how to change gears and offer a repertoire of planning strategies instead of just one way to do it. I love being asked to teach a lesson, so I made a chart and brought it into her room.


During the active engagement component of the minilesson, I asked the students to turn and talk about which strategy they were planning to try and why. Listening to their conversations, many of them gravitated toward the storyboard, and I pointed out that my pictures were not meant to be works of art, but representational sketches to make sure my story kept focused and on track.


The overriding message that they all understood was that the plan shouldn’t take longer than the story itself. Before setting them off to try out a strategy, I reminded them of the purpose of a plan. One of the students suggested that I box out the word organize on the chart I’d shared with them.

All around the room, students tried and completed different types of plans. Motivation and engagement were high, and students tried different plans for different ideas. The benefit of having multiple plans of multiple ideas will help boost the volume as students move into drafting. Even in higher grades, many students benefit from writing multiple pieces, and they are set up to do that if they complete drafts quickly.

Since I’ve seen how well my daughter’s and mother’s packing methods work, I’ve tried both. I appreciate their strategies, and I prefer my own. Just as the three of us accept our packing differences, we appreciate each other’s packing competence, just as we should accept and appreciate planning preferences.