Wondering what real world topic your students should tackle next?

Try letting students decide.

The engagement, passion, and ownership that comes out letting students choose their own topic for exploration is pretty powerful.

So how do you do it?  

First –  Think about the goals:  What does this task, project need to accomplish?  What learning goals do you need address?  For example, if I’m focus on the Common Core Standard RI.1 (citing textual evidence), I want to make sure that students need to cite evidence from informational text when creating their final product.  If I’m focused on students understanding of the concept of federalism, the issue needs to deals with that.

Second – Decide on a clear process for topic selection.  Below is a one that we’ve used:

  • As a class a list of criteria that would make a good topic for this project.  (Consider modeling one or two of these criteria for students.  For a quicker results – you could share a pre-made list and ask for feedback.)
  • Share any initial constraints.  (Explain any constraints on the topics students can choose upfront so there are no surprises or switches as they are deciding.)
  • As a class brainstorm a list of topics that are important to the students. (Consider bringing newspaper articles or another source to help students generate ideas.)
  • Small groups discuss which topics are the best based on the criteria generated by the class.
  • Students vote on topics to narrow down the list to the top three.
  • A few students make arguments for each of the top three options.
  • Class votes again to choose a final topic  (Alternative approach – use consensus model to determine final topic)

Third – Reflect and refine.  Try it out and let us know what issues matter to your students and what you learned about letting students choose their own topics.