Friday, February 10, 2017

Choose Your Own Adventure: Active Engagement Edition

"Life is either a great adventure or nothing."
-Helen Keller

One of my favorite genres to read as a student was a Choose Your Own Adventure book. In these books, you read a page and follow the directions at the bottom. Maybe you would have to choose to eject from a falling aircraft or chance a crash landing or perhaps you could shoot a laser beam at the alien or try to run away from it. Either way, I usually ended up dead, kind of like my experiences playing Oregon Trail. Luckily, you could always start over.

As I became a teacher, I found out you could do similar tasks with Google Forms and Slides, either through "Go to Page Based on Response" or linking to different slides, respectively. However, my issue with that was the same I had with the books: It's a passive experience. While the reader needed to make a choice, there was little active engagement beyond that.

Bringing it into 2017

While I was out being treated for cancer with chemotherapy, I wrote to my students every day. After a few weeks of this, both the students and I needed a change from back and forth conversation. I thought back to my obsession with Choose Your Own Adventures as a fourth grader and wanted to mimic this, but with more of an active role.

I realized I could use Slides, but give them the story piece-by-piece each day. This way, they were making a choice and also engaging with the story beyond a mouse click. Before they would get the next part of their story, they would need to make a choice AND defend it. This helped build argumentative skills and persuasive writing elements. The "Master Deck" of The Winter Expedition can be found here.

The students didn't disappoint. They crafted strong arguments for why they chose to pick up the ice pick instead of the flashlight (my favorite being, "With an ice pick, I can break things and breaking things is kind of my thing") or why they thought going towards a mysterious odor was better than a growling ("I could just cover up my nose to block the smell, but the growling might be a bear." Plot twist - the odor was a monster. Sorry, kid.)

While I was struggling to get 2-3 sentences in response to "How is your day?" I would get two paragraphs solidifying their choices. It definitely helped improved their writing skills, especially their skills of persuasion.

The final slide asked them for their feedback on the experience. Of my 28 students, about 25 of them preferred this activity to their normal writing to me, with many of them saying they enjoyed being put into the story and having to make a choice. Some even mentioned how they enjoyed having to defend their pathway.

I realize as a classroom teacher, it might seem overwhelming to have to paste in new parts of a story each day, but it could easily be done during part of a planning period, during lunch, or in the evening. In total, once it was set up, it only took about half an hour to read each response and paste in the next section. I'll trade half an hour a day for more active engagement in writing.

So how do you do this with your class?

I've developed this Doc for planning it all and this Slides template for designing each slide. (Clicking on those links will give you a force copy of each document.) Both templates have directions on what to do. I recommend starting with the Doc and then transferring to the Slides; that's how I laid it all out.

Once you are done with the "Master Slides," make a copy and delete all but the starting few slides. That's what your students will start with and you'll add to it from there. Attach this new Slidedeck onto Google Classroom as "Make a Copy for Each Student" so they each get their own deck to work on.

I also made this screen cast to explain it all, since I wasn't sure if the written directions were enough.

One student already started on making his own
versions on Google Docs
Try it out, tweak it, do whatever you see fit. The students will enjoy it and I will be challenging mine to develop their own CYOA stories to send to partners. If you have questions, feel free to reach out via Twitter, email, or the comments below.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Check out a second (and easier to manage) iteration of this project, using Google Forms, here

Now it's your turn to make a choice:

Do you share this article through Twitter to your online PLN or email to a colleague in your school? Why did you make that choice?


  1. This sounds like it will be super motivating. Can't wait to try with a group of students. Thanks for sharing the idea.
    I also have messed around with digital versions of Choose your own adventure including something as simple as having a hyperlink in a PowerPoint presentation.

    1. I hope it went well if you got a chance to try it!

  2. I always loved Choose Your Own Adventure - this is a great idea!

    1. Thanks. Hope you can find use for it in your classroom!

  3. This is a good variation on one I tried last year with European Explorers. I think they might like this one better - less research and more creativity.

    1. It's good to let their creative juices flow.

  4. My Choose Your Own Adventure in health class is great...but I always felt like I needed to improve upon it, and your method will allow my students to apply their decision making model to some teen specific scenarios that I am creating. I think I have now found (another!) summer project. Thank you for sharing.

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