Information on this page about the interventions is based on the book, Prevent-Teach-Reinforce: The School-Based Model of Individualized Positive Behavior Support, Second Edition by G. Dunlap, R. Iovannone, D. Kincaid, K. Wilson, K. Christiansen, and P. S. Strain. 

What is the strategy? Why does it work?

Provide the student a choice between two or more options. Allowing the student to make a choice provides a sense of autonomy for how the student will do the task. The teacher provides choices that are acceptable and the student selects the one they prefer, which is also called shared control. It can also serve as a distraction by shifting the student’s focus from the task demand to the choice options.

Functions and antecedents the provide choices intervention works for

If challenging behavior occurs…

  • During a non-preferred routine or activity
  • When instructional requests are made of the student
  • When transitioning from preferred to non-preferred activities
  • To delay, avoid, or escape demands

Steps for Implementation

  1. Determine settings or events that student has challenging behaviors (ex: when asked to do paper & pencil task, stopping preferred activity, when student is asked to sit down, etc.)
    • Choice options should be provided immediately before or after the antecedent event that triggers the challenging behavior.
  2. Decide appropriate and valid choices to be offered during these times (see: 7 Categories of Choice-Making). 
    • Ex: If behavior happens when a demand is made, try a “within” choice – Do you want to do the worksheet with a pencil or a marker?
    • Choice options should be acceptable and preferable to both the adult and the student.
  3. Decide specific situations and times of day to implement choice-making (see: Choice-Making Matrix to schedule and script).
    • Ex: the student exhibits challenging behaviors during independent work and transitions.  The decision is made to present choices during those events throughout the day.  The category of choices to be used include “within” (materials to be used for task) and “who” (person who will walk with the student).
  4. Provide choices at scheduled times.
    • Consider whether the student requires a time delay in making a choice. Some students may not have much practice making choices or need time to process the choice.
    • Choices should be presented in the communication mode best understood by the student. If the student is nonverbal, the choices can be presented as pictures or photos. If the student does not have picture or photo representation, the choice options can be objects (e.g., showing the pen and the magic marker).
  5. Honor the choice made by the student.
    • Have a plan for if the student does not select from the choice options. For instance, the teacher may represent the choice after a 5 second time delay or make the choice for the student after a specified number of offerings. If the team decides to add a strategy that has the teacher making the choice for the student, it should be described in positive terms (e.g., “I’ll help you make the choice. How about choosing the magic marker (while teacher hands the magic marker to the student)?”
  6. Provide a positive comment/reinforcement to the student for making a choice.

How to implement this strategy in multiple ways (examples & resources)

Seven Categories of Choice-Making

(adapted from Fredda Brown)

  1. “within-activities”—student chooses materials to be used in activity
    • Example:  Student can choose which pencil to use or what color paper to use for writing assignment
  2. “between activities”—student selects among different activities
    • Example:  Student can choose to do a math assignment or a language arts assignment
  3. “refusal”—student can elect not to participate in activity
    • Example:  Student can choose to not eat a snack.
  4. “who”—student determines who is included in or excluded from an activity
    • Example:  Student can choose to do an activity with John or with Mary.
  5. “where”—student chooses location for activity
    • Example:  Student can choose to do the activity on the floor or at the desk.
  6. “when”—student determines what time activity should occur
    • Example:  Student can decide to do math first and then do language arts or the student can choose to do part of math in the morning and the rest in the afternoon.
  7. “terminate”—student decides when to end activity
    • Best used for activities that do not have a discrete or definite ending point—such as working on a project that will take several days or working on a large puzzle
    • Example:  Student can decide when he or she is finished with working on the puzzle.

How To: Provide Choices Video (5:51) – The first part of the video discusses importance of choices and how to make choice boards. Video examples of children actually making choices in class start at 3:37.

Autism Strategy: Provide Choices Video (3:40) – Explanation of how and why to provide choices with students.

How and When to Deliver Choices Video (4:45)

Elementary Video Example & Nonexample (3:11)

How to Give Choices and Improve the Most Challenging Behaviors Podcast (15:01, transcript also available)

What Giving Students Choice Looks Like in the Classroom Article – Provides examples of types of choices that can be offered to students across all grade levels.

Offering Students Choices from Day One – Universal choice ideas to use in high school.

Create choice boards

CHOICE MATRIX (downloadable template)

Student: _________________

Instructions: Indicate the form(s) of choice that could occur in each box.  Leave the box blank if choice is not relevant.





















Language Arts


Materials (choose type of pen)




At desk or another location





Order of activities


With a peer or by himself

At desk or on floor

Order of problems


Free time


Between 3 activities


Alone or with a peer






Song to sing


Join in on singing









Two topics





End time (minimum 5 minutes)

Supporting Research

Green, K. B., Mays, N. M., & Jolivette, K. (2011). Making choices: A proactive way to improve behaviors for young children with challenging behaviors. Beyond Behavior, 20(1), 2531. 

Cole, C. L., Davenport, T. A., Bambara, L. M., & Ager, C. L. (1997). Effects of choice and task preference on the work performance of students with behavior problems. Behavioral Disorders, 22(2), 65–74.

Cosden, M., Gannon, C., & Haring, T. G. (1995). Teacher-control versus student-control over choice of task and reinforcement for students with severe behavior problems. Journal of Behavioral Education, 5(1), 11–27.

Dunlap, G., dePerczel, M., Clarke, S., Wilson, D., Wright, S., White, R., & Gomez, A. (1994). Choice making to promote adaptive behavior for students with emotional and behavioral challenges. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27(3), 505–518.

Dyer, K., Dunlap, G., & Winterling, V. (1990). Effects of choice making on the serious problem behaviors of students with severe handicaps. Journal of Behavioral Education, 5(1), 11–27.

Guess, D., Benson, H. S., & Siegel-Causey, E. (1985). Concepts and issues related to choicemaking and autonomy among persons with severe disabilities. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 10(2), 79–86.

Jolivette, K., Wehby, J. H., Canale, J., & Massey, N. G. (2001). Effect of choice-making opportunities on the behavior of students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 26(2), 131–145.

Kern, L., Vorddran, C. M., Hilt, A., Ringdahl, J. E., Adelman, B. E., & Dunlap, G. (1998). Choice as an intervention to improve behavior: A review of the literature. Journal of Behavioral Education, 8, 151–169.

Moes, D. R. (1998). Integrating choice-making opportunities within teacher-assigned academic tasks to facilitate the performance of children with autism. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 23(4), 319–328.

Ramsey, M. L., Jolivette, K., Patterson, D. P., & Kennedy, C. (2010). Using choice to increase time on-task, task-completion, and accuracy for students with emotional/behavior disorders in a residential facility. Education and Treatment of Children 33(1), 1-21.

Reutebuch, C. K., El Zein, F., & Roberts, G. J. (2015). A systematic review of the effects of choice on academic outcomes for students with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 20, 1–16.

Rispoli, M., Lang, R., Neely, L., Camargo, S., Hutchins, N., Davenport, K., & Goodwyn, F. (2013). A comparison of within- and across-activity choices for reducing challenging behavior in children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Behavioral Education, 22(1), 66–83.

Romaniuk, C., Miltenberger, R., Conyers, C., Jenner, N., Jurgens, M., & Ringenberg, C. (2002). The influence of activity choice on problem behaviors maintained by escape versus attention. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 35(4), 349–362.