As soon as we tell our fifth-grade students that they will be presenting a project, they immediately ask, “Can I make a PowerPoint?” After years of responding, “But you don’t even know what the project is yet,” we decided there had to be a better way for our students to get started on projects.
Many elementary students love sharing what they have learned with their class but are sometimes unsure of how to go about it. Frequently, this leads to an excited presenter but a disengaged audience. After brainstorming what our expectations would be for students’ projects, we came up with three things that we thought were most important for successful project planning: purpose, depth, and delivery. By using our simple, three-step framework, our students have been able to create detailed, engaging projects that use a variety of delivery methods. This framework also gives students more autonomy in their work, something that’s particularly important for this age group.
Before students can begin a project, they have to have a specific purpose in mind. Often, this purpose comes from the teacher, but when students decide the direction of their project, they feel empowered to grow their own ideas. If they can clearly explain the purpose of their project, they can move quickly into the research portion without having to sift through the seemingly endless resources at their fingertips. We like to use the Question Formulation Technique to help our students get started. After generating questions, students can choose the question that interests them most.
Purpose reflection questions:
- Why am I doing this project?
- What questions do I have about this topic?
- What am I excited to learn more about?
After choosing a topic or question, students must break it down into smaller pieces. This could mean finding connections between their topic and personal interests or generating more questions that will lead them closer to finding the answer to their main question. This provides the road map that will help them identify the resources they should use and direct their research.
Depth reflection questions:
- How detailed do I need or want to be?
- What resources are available and reliable?
Helping students find an appropriate method of delivery is an extremely important part of our framework. In the past, our students have felt limited to using only basic presentation tools, like slides or posters. While students may use these methods, we do not want them to feel confined to only those options. Young learners are stunningly creative and should be able to share their knowledge in a way that they find exciting, but also in a way that is appropriate for their topic.
We encourage our students to shift their focus from presentation tools they are familiar with to the tools that best suit their project. Further, students need to identify their audience and if they are hoping to inform, persuade, entertain, or some combination of those. If students are unsure which presentation method to choose or are working in groups and disagree about method, they can use a decision matrix to help. We also encourage our students to think about what they would be excited to see as an audience member.
Delivery reflection questions:
- Who is my audience?
- Am I trying to persuade, inform, or entertain?
- What would I like to see as an audience member?
Supporting Student Voice and Choice
In our classes, we usually encounter two types of students: those who cannot wait to share and those who would rather do anything other than present something in front of an audience. This is something we love because it means we can help our learners find creative solutions.
We want our students to feel empowered to authentically be themselves, and every presentation is an opportunity for that to happen. For example, one of our former students was shy in front of the class but loved puppets. He was able to present his projects on recycling and pollution with his puppets, and, honestly, he captivated his audience more than many adult presenters we have seen. Another student loved Minecraft and created an entire human body, complete with in-game signs identifying and describing each organ and body system.
We have seen skits, songs, models (both physical and digital), videos, radio shows, dynamic slide presentations, drawings, and animations from young learners who were excited to share them. We have students using technology tools and programs that we had no idea existed, yet they are able to combine the tools with their newfound knowledge with ease. Further, every time a student presents to our classes, we get to learn something new about them and see their skills applied in a new way.
Since we implemented our purpose, depth, and delivery framework, our students have been sharing their research with us and asking for our feedback on their choice of delivery method, instead of simply copying and pasting information from the internet. We have moved beyond presentations for only our class and have had students present ideas to other classes and our school leadership team. Our students feel empowered to take their learning outside of our classroom walls and naturally expand their knowledge beyond our standards and curriculum. They feel connected to the information they are sharing and have grown personally as well as academically.