Voice and Choice in PBL (Part 2)

Author: Audrey Lash, Second Grade Teacher.

In my last post, I discussed our inventions project. Driving question, “How can we identify a real world problem and design an innovative solution?” Students have been brainstorming their ideas and solutions. They’re about to take the leap of deciding upon which genre they choose to inform their audience. Will they choose narrative, poetry, nonfiction, or persuasive? Below is the writer’s menu we created as we reviewed each genre.


As teachers, we were very nervous of this release of independence. How would we teach mini lessons in writing if students were all doing different genres? How do we scaffold this learning and create individualized learning for all students in their chosen genre? Students in 2nd grade still need modeling and guidance. We had two solutions.

  1. We could have teacher focus groups and teacher experts. Students would choose their genre and then they could pair up and move to the classroom of a teacher teaching that genre. For instance, one teacher may be teaching poetry mini lessons and writers’ conferences that whole week. Students writing poetry could move into their room for support and guidance. While we loved this idea as teachers, we were nervous about the management of it all.
  2. We could create “flipped classroom” like focus groups. I’ve personally chosen this idea because I’m able to be “everywhere” at once. I’ve created four unique mini-lessons for each writing genre. During writing tomorrow, students will pair off with a group of students that chose the genre that they did. They’ll get an iPad and be able to watch a 10-15 minute mini-lesson on their particular genre. On each video, I model the steps and a checklist for what they’ll need to inform their audience. 

Both solutions are a win-win for students and teachers. Students get to have a voice and a choice in how they design their writing and information. Students get individualized guidance from the teacher in how to create such a masterpiece. As the teacher, I’ll be able to monitor and help those that need that extra help beyond a video. Perhaps pulling a small group back of intensive writers or helping to point out soon-to-be exemplars for other groups. I hope to have student exemplars help run the following sessions as writing experts of that genre. They might share in their writing and then help the group discuss some key points of the genre.

Here’s to actually being in four or more places at once with technology! I can’t wait to see my students take off with their genres. Don’t laugh at my voice and handwriting… Ha!


Narratives: http://www.educreations.com/lesson/view/invention-narratives/21882713/?s=zY5B09&ref=link

Poetry: http://www.educreations.com/lesson/view/invention-poem/21881044/?s=9bn6ZG&ref=link

Persuasive Letters: http://www.educreations.com/lesson/view/invention-persuasive-letter/21881567/?s=OEM4ZK&ref=link

Nonfiction: http://www.educreations.com/lesson/view/invention-nonfiction/21883846/?s=zvAr0o&ref=link


Voice and Choice in PBL (Part 1)

Author: Audrey Lash, Second Grade Teacher.

It’s exciting when a plan comes together! Most of our grade level PBLs align perfectly with our writing. Writing has supported us in retelling a grandparent’s story, developing folktales infused with cultures of another country, persuading business owners to “invest” in our business, and informing an audience of animal that should get to live at our school. We’ve planned it so that every subject is infused with what we teach. We’ve examined what avenue or writing genre that each PBL could utilize. Writing has been our vehicle to apply our understandings and inform our audiences. These authentic experiences give students important exposure and understandings of various writing  genres. For many in K-2, it’s their first time learning that’s there’s more than just storytelling.

Last year, our Inventions PBL was set in a time earlier in the year.  Our driving question was/is “How can we identify a real world need or problem and design an innovative solution?” Students had created primarily persuasive pitches based on their designs and inventions for a real world problem or need. They were to persuade a panel of judges like shark tank that their invention was innovative and realistic. This year, our Inventions PBL has shifted to the end of the year due to curriculum mapping. This has worked out perfectly for us because now our kids have even more choice in how they inform their audience. It’s a great time to be an innovator! Students are investigating problems and solutions. Our entry event began with several kid inventors on the Ellen show. How could we be just like them? What do we have to do? We’ve been discovering and sorting big problems and smaller / reasonable problems. This has helped us think critically about what we might be able to solve for ourselves. Students will soon identify a problem in their life that they’d like solved. They’ll design solutions, collaborate, and give feedback to each other.

As second graders, they’ve learned about poetry, narratives, nonfiction texts, and persuasive letters. Now, they get to choose how they convey their invention. Which genre would help you best describe your design and problem? We’ve set up a writer’s menu of choices as we’ve reviewed each genre this week.


They’re so excited! You could definitely tell each day which genre a student would pick or shine through. For four days, we had a review lesson on a specific genre. I gathered lots of invention pictures from the internet. Some were very wacky ones at that! I’d model a genre around that picture (as seen from the anchor chart). And, then I’d pick a new invention picture and they’d practice that genre. They loved poetry the first day; so many describing words and playful word designs. Persuasive letters were another favorite because they remembered capturing their business audiences’ attention at our business fair.  These writing lessons have also given them some ways to think about inventions of their own. Would this invention work? Is it really useful? What problems did an inventor go through to make this? One student said, “You have to think reality!” He meant realisitc, but you get the point.

We spent a lot of time on narratives in quarter 1 and 2. We used that time to ground ourselves in narratives about our lives, about others’ lives, and fictional character lives. We spent time learning the art of persuasion and poetry in quarter 3. We took some time in quarter 4 to explore nonfiction. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, hardly any students voted for narrative writing as their choice to inform their audience. Could this be because they don’t remember narratives? Could it be because they see a nonfiction item better told through other genres?

The tallies:

  • Poetry: 6
  • Narrative: 2
  • Persuasive: 7
  • Nonfiction: 6

Voice and choice is integral in engagement. Students love choosing what they research, design, and explain. We give them voice and choice with technology, too. But, choice in genres has been one of my favorite forms of engagement. They’re overly excited to create. They’re using this year’s knowledge and showcasing what they excel in. I had one girl tell me, “I just love poetry. I love how you can be so creative with lines and you don’t have to stick to any one form.”

Upcoming posts will showcase their identified “problem” and solution.

Invention PBL is woven into Read Alouds and Writing

Our interactive read aloud was Inventor McGregor. Students were introduced to the strategy of inferring. We practiced with some inferring cards (from Into the Book). Students were asked to think of ways to describe McGregor and back it up with prior knowledge or words from the book. I modeled first and then they had some think-pair-share time. “I think Hector is _____ because the books says _______ or I know________.” It was a great book to help us open discussion on what places support us in being the most creative. Listing characteristics of McGregor helped us think of what inventors are like.

In writing, students had a mini lesson on using vivid words and descriptive writing to help readers see a picture in their mind. We listed descriptive words for each of the 5 senses. (i.e. sky blue, crunchy, crinkle, smooth, bitter…) Our second grade teachers got google images of various inventions like a banana container, clear toaster, and a jet pack skater. We each showed a picture of an invention and students used the descriptive word list to describe the pictures in their writer’s notebook. Students who used some descriptive words in their writing were invited to use the author’s chair. We were able to add more words to our chart by the end the time. Descriptive writing will support students in writing their “business pitch” later on to convince our “Shark Tank” judges to vote for their invention. Teachers raved about student engagement in the crazy invention pictures and even debating how they were made.

In PBL time, students read articles about kid inventors. Students had to identify the real world problem (like in our driving question) and the innovative solution. Students were amazed to learn that a kid thought of the ear muffs.

PBL can come in many shapes and sizes. Students love how connected everything is. They were engaged to learn more about kid inventors and tried their hands at describing a unique invention. We began to answer our Need to Knows… “What does it mean to be innovative? What if it’s too hard? How do I find a problem?” I can’t wait for tomorrow’s Critical Thinking lesson with our amazing Media Specialist. She’ll be using the book, Now and Ben.

Day 1 of Innovative Minds (PBL #3)

KWL on inventions

Our entry event went very well today. Our grade level showed the videos. In my class, I showed students the videos as a “preview” to our project. From what we’ve learned from BIE, the entry event is quite like a preview to a movie. It captures excitement and the essence of what will go on. I told my students that these videos would show us what our next project would be about. They soon realized it was inventions and began buzzing with problems in their lives. One said, “I already know a problem that I want to invent for. You know when you tear out paper and the paper…”

They were full of energy and already started thinking towards the end of our project. We then looked at our driving question: “How can we, as scientists, identify a real world need and design an innovative solution?” We unpacked and defined words like design, innovative, creative, and solution. Students jotted down what they thought these words meant and then as a class we defined them and drew a picture to help us. We also created a KWL chart to lead our Need to Knows! (see above)

This entry event led us to our first community member/guest speaker, Todd Butler. He spoke on inventing a light source for poor people who lived in Nicaragua. He went on a mission trip there. He used a 2-Liter bottle with water and chloride inside to illuminate houses that had no electricity. They went around to houses and cut a whole in the top and glued these bottles in the roof to provide more light. He also invented an irrigation system for his garden.

The big 3 in Noblesville, ENGAGE-EMPOWER-INSPIRE. I guarantee that’s what happened today in each second grade.

Entry Event and Need to Knows (Inventions)

Monday starts our third PBL about inventions. Day 1 means an introduction. We’ll be showing the students two clips. One from Ellen DeGenres and Shark Tank.

Students will be presented with our driving question: “How can we, as scientists, identify a real world need and design an innovative solution?”

From this question, students identify what they know about inventions and what we need to know about the question and inventions (KWL). This will generate “Need to Knows” that will help lead our reading and research. I like to call this literature the “Need to Reads” because we need to read to find out more. I usually have many trade books and articles that will help our research. Their “I wonders” can help me sort what will be most useful. We’ll post KWL charts soon.