Select a Genius Time Topic
Starting Genius Time in an elementary classroom can be overwhelming (you are giving up control to your students), but it is totally worth it! If you are still unsure whether Genius Time is right for your classroom, read this post.
When starting Genius Time, many students have lots of ideas about what they want to learn about, but often their topics are extremely broad. For instance, students often select topics such as dogs, learning to cook, or endangered animals. These are good ideas, but too general for a Genius Time project. In this situation, I guide my students to narrow down the focus of their Genius Time topics. The following steps help students select a Genius Time Topic that is focused and appropriate. However, if your students struggle with thinking of a topic, you can find 50+ Genius Time topics HERE.
Narrowing Down Focus:
Once students finish their brainstorms and select a genius time topic they want to learn more about, they narrow their focus with a focus storm. A focus storm is a way for students to analyze the main ideas of their topic. Additionally, I encourage students to choose topics that will fit into one of 3 categories:
- Help Me – To help yourself become a better person. (To learn something new)
- Help Others – To help other people to better themselves. (To teach a new skill to someone)
- Help the World – To help the world be a better place. (Try to solve a problem)
With a focus storm, students write down their topic in the middle and then brainstorm specific information they want to learn about their topic. For instance:
Once students have 4 to 6 focus topics, I have them choose one of the topics to guide their project. Again, I remind them that they should strive for a topic that will fit into one of the three categories: Help Me, Help Others, Help the World.
- How to care for a dog (Help Others)
- Service dogs (Help Others)
- Breeds of dogs
- Training dogs (Help Me)
- Labrador Retrievers
- Working Dogs (Help the World)
In this example, the student looked at all the focus storm topics. She decided that since she already had a dog and knew the basics for caring for her dog, she was most interested in learning how to train her dog. She selected Training Dogs as her topic because it would help her learn something new.
Once students narrow their topic, they are ready to share with the class and get teacher approval. It is important that the teacher has final approval of topics. This allows the teachers to:
- Determine if a topic is focused enough (or too focuced)
- Ensure topics fit into one of the 3 categories
- Make sure the topic is appropriate for school
TIP: One of the best things you can do to help students select a Genius Time topic is check their topic right after the focus storm. It is helpful for the teacher to make sure all students are on the right track from the beginning. This way students are not spending precious class time researching a topic that they will eventually have to change. However, some students do change topics after a little research, but this initial check-in reduces the amount of broad and inappropriate topics.
Sharing Topics & Teacher Approval
After the kids brainstorm their ideas and narrow their focus, I have two methods for sharing and approving topics. I let students know that I have the final approval. However, I will usually approve a topic if they can explain how their topic will help them, others, or the world.
2nd – 3rd Graders:
For younger students, I have them choose the topic they want to learn the MOST about and write it on a post-it note with their name. I like Post-it notes because they can be changed and moved easily. This means that students can revise their topics easily (which definitely occurs). Students then place their post-it note on the Topic Selection Poster in the front of the room.
However, another good tip is to have students self-assess their topics before they post their topic on the board. In the front of the classroom, have a chart with three columns: Help Me, Help Others, and Help the World. Students should put their Post-it notes under the corresponding category. Students analyze their topics. They must determine if it is a good topic for Genius Time and decide if it fits in one of the categories?
Help the World
Once students place their post-it note under the corresponding category, it gives the teacher the opportunity to see all the student topics and make sure they are appropriate. I initial the Post-it notes of topics I approve and conference with students that may need to tweak or revise their topic before getting started. This usually occurs because students still have a topic that is too broad.
After completing their focus storms, I have upper grade students fill out a Genius Time Proposal. CLICK HERE to download the Freebie: Genius Time Project Proposal. By the end of the year, third graders are also capable of doing this method. The proposal is the upper elementary way for students to self-assess their topics. However, I think it is still a good idea for upper grade students to do the Post-it Note method in the 3 columns because it makes it clear what they are trying to accomplish, and other students can see different topic ideas. They must include their topic, what they hope to learn, why the topic is important to them if they will work with a partner or independently, and how they plan to share content (Keynote, Poster, Video, etc.). Students must get their proposal signed off by me before they can start researching their topics.
Topic selection and focus is a huge part of Genius Time. It helps students know exactly what their purpose is and what they need to research. Narrowing topics and getting teacher approval helps students start off on the right track with Genius Time.
I hope you find this helpful with implementing Genius Time in your elementary classroom!
The Primary Professor