home home meet the teacher classroom shop freebie library

A Guide To Year-Long Personal Inquiry

I've been using year-long personal inquiry (also known as Genius Hour, Passion Projects, etc.) in my classroom for a few years now.  I get a lot of questions about how I run it, how much time I allocate to inquiry, what the students present, and how I assess.  I've broken it down into seven pieces to share with you.

Starting Out

I usually start talking about personal inquiry in the first few weeks of October.  To really kick-it off, and get students engaged, I do a room transformation.  I blogged a tonne about my first one here:

Mystery Investigation: A Kickoff to Personal Inquiry

This past year, I kept it similar, but changed the scenario.  I had some repeat students, so I wanted to keep it fresh.   I won't go into too many details as the procedure was very close to that in the previous blog post.  A Goldilocks and the three bears scene was used this year:

Both of these activities really helped students to understand the word "inquire" and led to discussions about "big" vs. "little" questions.  

We then talked about what an "inquirer" does and about the inquiry process cycle.

If you read to the end of this post, you'll find a way to snag your own copy of these posters!

Narrowing Down

Students immediately have ideas on what they'd like to do.  But, to really make sure that it's a topic they are able to stick with all year, I help them to narrow it down.  I use a process developed by A.J. Juliani.  He describes the process perfectly in this blog post: 

The Pitch

Once students have a topic they love, they have to pitch it to the class "Shark Tank" style... like the T.V. show.  Again, this idea is from A.J. Juliani.  I keep this part really simple.  First, I show them this video to make sure they all know about the show Shark Tank and what I'm after:


Students can create cue cards, or not.  They can create a video if they are nervous to speak in front of the class (it's still pretty early in the school year... end of October, usually).  This is a brief, one minute or so, presentation of the following:

- What you want to learn
- Why you want to learn it
- What you want to make
- How you plan to make it

Students then choose two or three classmates to give them a bit of constructive feedback with statements such as:

- "Have you considered..."
- "What is your plan for..."
- "I am curious if..."

Some students stuck with their original ideas all year long for what they would make, and some didn't.  They all stuck to the same topic, although many because more specific and focused as they year went on, which is amazing!

Checking In

Throughout the year, students work on their inquiry project for about an hour a week.  I like to build this into the schedule to ensure it happens.  I check-in with students in many different ways about their progress:  

1. During each work period, I will walk around the room and have a conversation with as many students as I can.  Sometimes,  I'll park myself in one spot, students who need me can sign up and I work my way through the list.  
2. We have whole-class check-in's about progress about once a month.  These conversations usually last 5-10 minutes.  
3. Sometimes, especially after a work period that I feel was not as focused as it could have been, I will have students complete a short, written reflection about their progress.  
4. Students are also given a check-in group of 2-3 other students.  These are students they can use as a collaborative feedback team about their progress.  

The Three Pieces

From the beginning, students know that they will be required to present three different pieces at the end of the year.  They need to present something written, something oral, and something visual.  As a class we create anchor charts on these topics and add to them all year as students come up with ideas.  Here's a sampling of ideas we've come up with:

You'll notice there are some similar ideas on more than one chart.  Students can't "double dip".  They have to present three unique pieces.  At the bottom of this post, you'll find a place where you can snag your own copy of these anchor charts.


Presentations occur in the last week of school.  When we present, we do it "science fair style".  Parents are invited in to view.  Students are divided into three groups and I split an hour into three, twenty minute rounds.  In two rounds, students stand by their projects and present.  In one of the three rounds, they walk about and listen to classmates.

This student inquired about vegetables.  She presented with a PowerPoint slideshow, a oral presentation, and a game where you had to match the vegetable to its' seed.

This student wanted to start her own coffee shop.  As part of her research, she even worked a day in a coffee shop!  Here is her vision board for her cafe - she found decor pieces, uniforms, furniture, and other required items needed.  She had a price list of materials she'd need to purchase and found a total cost.  In front, you can also see a bundle of menus she created for the cafe.

Two students researched the solar system this year.  I love how both of their projects came out totally different!  One focused her efforts on the planet layers, while the other looked more broadly at key facts.


The easy answer? I don't.  I do not assess their personal inquiry.  I do not give a grade on their personal inquiry.  I want students to be driven by their curiosity, not by a letter grade or report card comment.  I do, however, have the students assess themselves.  The Critical Thinking Core Competency is an excellent place to start.

Are you interested in applying some of the pieces I've shown you in your classroom? Follow the image or button below to grab your copy.  

Send me the posters!

If you'd like even more ideas about student led inquiry, you can check out my Pinterest board.

Pin this post.

Helping to inspire,
post signature

No comments:

Post a Comment