Inquiry Based Project ideas in an elementary school classroom
As promised here are a few Genius Hour Topics (more than 50!) for elementary school teachers (1st – 5th grade)!
If you’re still trying to figure out how to get started with inquiry learning in your classroom, make sure you check out my articles on making time, creating a plan of attack, and the Genius Time Notebook.
However, if you’re still not convinced you can justify giving up an hour each week to allow your students to learn about anything…hopefully one of these topic ideas will inspire you! Here are a few inquiry project ideas to help narrow your students’ focus and bring some structure to the concept of Genius Hour.
I am including 3 types of Genius Hour topic ideas in this post:
- Open-ended topics (the least structured, students are given the opportunity learn about what interests them – of course, the teacher has final approval).
- Guided Topics (these topics were created with some purpose in mind, and the students are given some guidance, but they still have greater choice over a range of topics)
- Structured Topics (the easiest to link to content standards and the easiest to justify)
Let me show you what I’m talking about.
With open-ended Genius Hour topics, the students have the most control over what they want to learn. This is when you ask students if they could learn ANYTHING, what would they want to learn about? (I tell students that their topics should: make them a better person, help someone else, or benefit the earth in some way).
By doing this, I try to discourage them from wanting to learn about …how Paul Walker died – yes, I had a second grader tell me he wanted to learn about that. Eek! When I asked him why he told me he wanted to know how he finished filming the Fast and the Furious movie if he was dead. A very valid question, but not appropriate for Genius Time. I met with the student and we talked about other things he might be interested in learning about and he settled on volcanoes. Much better choice!
Anyway, here are some of the open-ended Genius Hour topics my second graders chose to learn about:
- endangered species
- how to cook
Initially, many of their topics were very broad, and that’s okay to start with because they will be writing guiding questions about their topic to help narrow the focus, but initially I think they can be broad (especially in second grade).
Interested in getting started with Genius Time in your elementary classroom? Not sure how to get started? Learn More about my new eBook, the Genius Time Handbook. A step-by-step guide for teachers to get started with Genius Time.
Additionally, Guided Genius Hour topics have a little more structure, however, students still have control over selecting their topic.
For instance, students could be given the guidelines to come up with something that they would like to learn how to do, to make, or a problem they would like to solve:
- How To – Students learn how to do something
- How to tie a shoe
- How to fly a drone
- How to knit a scarf
- How to do a cartwheel
- How to do a skateboarding trick
- How to do a pushup
- How to play basketball
- How to start a garden
- How to take care of a dog
- How to draw a ninja
After researching, students could write a how-to book (with text and images) or make a how-to video demonstrating how to perform their newly learned skill.
- How to Make – students learn how to make something
- How to build a paper airplane
- How to make chocolate chip cookies
- How to create a website
- How to make jewelry
- How to build a kite
- How to make a duct-tape wallet
- How to build a volcano
After researching, students could actually create a sample product or make a how-to book or video demonstrating how to make their product.
- How to solve a problem
- Save water to help the drought
- Help endangered species
- How to pass a level on Minecraft
- Ways to save electricity
- How to help their iPads hold a charge for longer
- Ways to make a new student feel welcome
- Too many stray dogs
After researching, students could come up with an action plan on how to help solve the problem. They could create a Public Service Announcement telling others how they can help by taking specific actions, or they could create a poster/pamphlet displaying images and text about all the ideas they came up with.
An important feature of Genius Hour and 20% Time is giving students the option to choose what they are interested in learning about. However, I understand that there are many content standards that need to be covered. Inquiry-based learning would be more do-able for most teachers if it tied into grade level standards.
Instead of giving students the option to learn about ANYTHING they want, you can offer choices within an umbrella topic. This allows you to still use inquiry-based learning time in your classroom, but still cover the required standards. You can also give a menu selection of topics within a standard for students to choose.
Here are some Genius Hour Topics for California Content standards for Social Studies.
- Choose a National Holiday to learn more about.
- Choose a National Symbol to learn more about
- Choose a transportation method from earlier days to learn more about.
- Choose a culture to learn more about (beliefs, customs, traditions, etc.)
- Choose an American Hero to learn more about.
- Become an expert on a character trait
- Choose a crop and research how it goes from farm to table
- Choose a branch of government to become an expert on
- Become an expert on a local landmark
- Become an expert on a specific part of a local Native American Indian tribe (traditions, folklore, tools, clothing, etc.)
- Choose a local natural resource to learn more about
- Become an expert on a California Indian tribe
- Choose a California Explorer to learn more about
- Become an expert on a woman who helped build early California
- Become an expert on one way that early settlers traveled to California
- Become an expert on a Native American Tribe
- Become an expert on an early American explorer
- Choose an American Colony to learn more about
- Chose a region of America to learn more about
- Become an expert on one of the key individuals who had an impact during the American Revolution
- Choose a battle in the American Revolution
After researching their topic, students will be responsible for teaching the information to others in the class (movies, presentations, posters). Structured Topics are well suited for interest-based group projects. Once students decide what topic they would like to become an expert on, they can be grouped with other students interested in the same topic.
I really hope something in here sparked an idea for you!
If you have any other ideas or topics that your students have down during inquiry learning in your classroom, please share them in the comments! I’d love more ideas to add!
Thanks for stopping by!