The High Art of a Successful Project-based Learning (PBL) Unit

Project-based Learning (PBL) is a journey into cognitive awareness that produces results. If you’re looking for successful PBL units to use in your classroom, look to Kate Parker, CFO of GoTeachGo. Her PBL units on TeachersPayTeachers cover everything needed to facilitate successful PBL instruction and engage students.

This week’s blog examines the outline of one of Kate’s PBL units:

Drawing the Line: Global Theme Park Design.

This unit, as with all of Kate’s PBL units from GoTeachGo, begins with an explanation of what PBL is and what it is not.

As Kate says:

“Our Goal is Simple: Be the Bridge”

It’s best to let Kate do the talking on this one:
“Project-based Learning (PBL) is an approach that challenges students to learn through engagement in a real problem. It is a format that simultaneously develops both strategies and disciplinary knowledge bases and skills. It places students in the active role of problem-solvers confronted with an ill-structured situation that simulates the kind of problems they are likely to face in real life situations.

Many teachers want to introduce special projects or group assignments that will engage students and motivate them to take practical steps in applying knowledge. Unfortunately, many problem based learning units require too much of the teacher’s time in preparation and management. Other times, project-based units are incomplete, unfocused or uninspiring.  The soft skills, like critical thinking, are neglected—thus rendering the unit to the category of project centered, which is not project–‐based learning.


Kate’s units put students into problem-solving situations that inspire them. She also incorporates critical thinking skills for students to use while solving the problems, and offers in each unit a well-outlined, well-designed format for teachers to use.

Her PBL units are time savers, student engagers and adaptable to instructional needs. One of the many great things about Kate’s PBL units is the amount of research done. She has already found resources such as videos, photos and print sources for reference, and she has created poster displays, handouts and forms necessary for collecting data, assessing progress and evaluating outcomes. Kate’s research, references and resources save teachers enormous amounts of time so they can spend more time engaged with students.

All of Kate’s units provide integrated curriculum structures. In the unit Drawing the Line: Global Theme Park Design, the skills emphasized are “math, visual arts, geography, social studies, strategic planning, strong collaboration skills, critical thinking skills, critical thinking and problem-solving elements.” Every lesson begins with a review of the critical thinking skills used for learning, the critical thinking skill used the day before, and an introduction or reminder of the critical thinking skill that will be used during the current day’s lesson.

Included also in Kate’s PBL units are team building lessons for instruction and review. Her units are so comprehensive they consistently receive high rankings on TeachersPayTeachers, and the feed back she gets is stellar.

Anatomy of  Drawing the Line: Global Theme Park Design

This is a typical look of the table of contents in one of Kate’s PBL units:

Here is just one page of resources Kate provides in this unit, and all of her units include page after page of useful tools.

Here is an example of a data gathering handout from the unit.

And here is an example titled “Team Presentation Rubric”.

Kate’s units are so intensely comprehensive that each one could be taught for an entire school year. The great thing about her units is their adaptability to different instructional needs, and teachers will have a deal of time trying to find Project-based Learning units as well put together as Kate’s PBL units. She has spent time preparing for teachers a means to help them educate students for the 21st century. Thank you Kate!


               Visit Kate’s TeachersPayTeachers site and take a look at her work. 

She has truly brought the writing of PBL units to a high art.



posted by guest blogger Sheri Rose


Close Reading, Constructed Response and The Comprehension of Content

Brief constructed responses are four to five sentence paragraphs with content grounded in evidence. All constructed responses are text-dependent. They require students to think beyond the recall of facts and use analysis, synthesis and evaluation citing evidence from the text to support their responses. Students have to think critically about what they read to produce a coherent written response, and through close readings of the text cited, they improve their comprehension of the content.


Some teachers feel uncomfortable teaching students how to write, but the short format of a constructed response along with a list of useful transition words and phrases help alleviate some of that fear. It’s important to remember that a well-written constructed response requires Close Reading. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) identify three elements important for reading comprehension that are also important to the process of Close Reading.

A constructed response includes all of these ideas and details.

CCSS – Key Ideas and Details for Reading

  1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
  3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Expeditionary Learning provides an important list of elements for what happens during Close Reading. This list is important to keep in mind when helping students write constructed responses.

Things Close Readers Do

  • Get the gist of what a text is about
  • Use the text to answer the question
  • Reread the text
  • Gather evidence (quotes) from the text
  • Annotate text
  • Focus on key vocabulary
  • Discuss to clarify  thinking and deepen understanding
  • Use the text to gather evidence for text-dependent questions

Two Ways to Understand the Essentials of a Constructed Response

There many ideas for building a constructed response, but these two are quick and easy to use and understand.                                                              



  • Restate the Question
  • Answer the Question
  • Cite Evidence
  • Explain the Answer

Here is how educator Julie Faulkner taught the RACE approach to her students:
The following sample response asked students to analyze the tone of William Carlos Williams’s poem “This is Just to Say.” They were provided with the one hint that when writing about a poem or short piece, it is important to reference the author and title in the opening sentence.


Sample constructed response using RACE:

In William Carlos Williams’s poem “This is Just to Say,” tone is a crucial clue in determining his sincerity.  I don’t think his apology was all that sincere.  He says, “They were delicious.” To further describe the plums that he ate, instead of saying he was story, he rubs it in that they were “sweet and so cold.”  Thus, his tone was insincere and he obviously enjoyed attempting to aggravate his wife.


Sample response deconstructed using RACE:

In William Carlos Williams’s poem “This is Just to Say,” tone is a crucial clue in determining his sincerity.
  • Identify and mention the key word in the prompt/question and rephrase the question/prompt
 I don’t think his apology was all that sincere.
  • Answer the question. This ultimately becomes the thesis for the response.
He says, “They were delicious.”
  • First evidence using a citation from the original poem with a signal phrase.
To further describe the plums that he ate, instead of saying he was story, he rubs it in that they were “sweet and so cold.”
  • Second evidence using a citation from the original poem with a transition word and clear analysis.
Thus, his tone was insincere and he obviously enjoyed attempting to aggravate his wife.
  •   End the response by restating the key word or your answer for the key word. This example does both and gives a tiny bit more closure.
  1. Yes MA’AM

This is another approach from Sarah Ambler that illustrates the 4-part constructed response and offers suggestions for transition use.


The first sentence of the response should reword the question and state a personal opinion or direct response to the question.


The first “A” prompts the student to look at what the author said and to include a detail from the text to support his answer.


The second “A” reminds the student that a constructed response requires multiple supporting details from the author.


The response ends with the student (me) explaining or interpreting the significance of the evidence.

Text-Dependent Questions, Essential Questions and the Constructed Response

Example of a Text-Dependent Question

  • Could people live on Earth if there were no Sun? Why or why not? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.

Example of an Essential Question from the Project Based Learning Unit Time Travelers – The Colonial X Factor – GoTeachGo.

  • How would the world be different today if our colonial settlers had better information and tools?

The text-dependent question assumes students have read what they needed to read to answer in detail the question. The essential question is broad and more thematic, but it can be made to be text-dependent.

Adapt it this way:

How would the world be different today if our colonial settlers had better information and tools? Why do you think this way? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.

For more information about text-dependent questions, examples of constructed responses, and the comprehension of content via writing, visit these websites:


Be sure to visit TeachersPayTeachers to examine lots of great PBL units of study from GoTeachGo that incorporate all the critical thinking skills necessary to write well-written constructed responses.

Author Sheri Rose,



Improve Student Writing with This One Super Revision Strategy


Use this whole class lesson to help students learn how they are targets of advertisers. Get your students into the language of advertising and build an understanding of the propaganda techniques used to influence them to do things, feel things, and believe things that may or may not be good for them.

Start with inquiry and class discussion for a critical analysis of the propaganda techniques used in the advertisements below. Use these as daily mini-lessons or teach them over the course of a couple of days. Let the questions guide each discussion, alter the questions to fit your instructional needs or come up with questions of your own.

The key is to help students begin an awareness of and ability to identify how their outlook on life is related to the advertisements they see.

Step 1: Whole Class Instruction – Analyzing Advertisements for Propaganda Techniques  

1. Glittering Generalities

Words of praise for product or person; nice words like goodness or patriotism

  • Who is the target audience/market? What evidence suggests this?
  • What word(s) identifies this advertisement as an example of Glittering Generalities?
  • How does the layout of the advertisement emphasize the propaganda technique?
  • How do the font styles, colors, subtext, background colors, props and photography techniques emphasize the propaganda technique?
  • Is this advertisement effective? Why? Why not?
  • What other observations do you have about the way this propaganda technique is used in this advertisement?

2. Name Calling

Trash-talking another product or person

  • Who is the target audience? What evidence suggests this?
  • What is the fight?
  • No language is used, but what in the illustration shows rivalry?
  • Examine the objects in the illustration. What other observations do you have that indicate this as an example of Name Calling propaganda?

3. Testimonial

A famous person recommends a product or a political endorsement

  • Who is the target audience? What evidence suggests this?
  • Who is the famous person?
  • How does the endorsement by this person make the product seem like it is worth the purchase?
  • Examine font styles, colors, and page layout. What do they suggest about the product, and how do they strengthen the power of the testimonial?
  • What other observations do you have about the way Testimonial propaganda is used in this advertisement?

4.  Plain Folks

Appeals to regular people and their values such as family and patriotism

  • Who is the target audience? What evidence suggests this?
  • What is this advertising suggesting will happen if regular people eat Subway?
  • How does this advertisement appeal to regular people?
  • Why does the use of this regular guy appeal to regular people?
  • Notice the only word used is the company logo. How and/or why is this effective?
  • What comparison is shown that supports the usefulness of the product?
  • What other observations do you have about the way Plain Folks propaganda is used in this advertisement?

5.  Bandwagon

An appeal to be part of the group

  • Who is the target audience? What evidence suggests this?
  • What is this advertisement suggesting as an important reason to eat this cereal?
  • Examine font styles, colors, language and page layout. What do they suggest about the product, and how do they strengthen the power of the Bandwagon technique?
  • What other observations do you have about the way Bandwagon propaganda is used in this advertisement?

6. Transfer

An appeal that helps a person imagine themselves as part of a picture

  • Who is the target audience? What evidence suggests this?
  • What is this advertisement suggesting about the president?
  • How does the layout and background create an image for America and/or the president?
  • What is the tone of this image? Positive? Negative? How can you tell?
  • What other observations do you have about the way Transfer propaganda is used in this advertisement?

7.  Card-stacking

Manipulating information to make a product appear better than it is often by unfair comparison or omitting facts

  • Who is the target audience? What evidence suggests this?
  • What in this advertisement suggests the product is good and/or that facts may be omitted?
  • Examine font styles, colors, and page layout. What do they suggest about the product, and how do they strengthen the power of the card-stacking technique?
  • Notice the adjectives used in the description. How does word choice affect the idea that smoking is a great thing?
  • What other observations do you have about the way Card-stacking propaganda is used in this advertisement?


Step 2: Group Project – Analyzing Advertisements for Propaganda Techniques  

From Web Quest – Propaganda Techniques

Use magazine ads to locate an example of each propaganda technique. In cooperative groups, create a collage about the propaganda techniques. Identify the techniques used in the ads.”

Step 3: Begin Unit of Study

From GoTeachGo: Selling Out The Kids – A Graphic Novel Expose’ on the Advertising Industry

GoTeachGo offers 3 grade level ranges for this unit of study.

  • 4-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12


Be sure to visit TeachersPayTeachers to examine lots of great PBL units of study from GoTeachGo.

Improve Student Writing with This One Super Revision Strategy

English teachers begin their instruction of writing by either teaching or reviewing the writing process.

English teachers also know that the revision stage of the writing process is the hardest one for students to learn. It’s the critical-thinking part of the stage. It’s the stage that requires the most work, and it’s the stage that takes the most time.

It’s also the stage where the rigor happens.

Students sometimes become frustrated with the intensity of the revision process, but their main frustration comes from not having concrete strategies to use when doing the revisions themselves.

The 4 Rs of Revision

Once students reach the revision stage of the writing process, they need to learn that this stage has its own process, too.

  • Re-visit
  • Re-read
  • Re-vision
  • Repeat

When they revise what they write, they re-visit their work, they re-read what they have written, and they read for a purpose. Then they can re-vision how they might change, add, delete, restructure, and/or re-write sections to better communicate what they mean.

—and then they repeat the process. 

Students also need to understand the distinction between the revision and the editing process as well. Revision is for content and purpose. Editing is more for checking the conventions of the language—spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar. Of course students also need to understand that the writing process is not a step-by-step process—that writers often go back and forth between the steps, completing some in at the same time.

When students begin learning how to revise their work, try this strategy. It works well for most genres of writing including expository and informational writing, narrative writing, and persuasive writing.

Three-in-One Revision Strategy

This revision strategy gets students revising their work right away. The foundation of the three-in-one strategy starts with the read aloud. When students read their work out loud, so many things pop out to them as awkward, extraneous, missing, or incorrect. The key to success is reading to a partner, or a peer writer, or anyone willing to listen. For instructional purposes, this partner activity teaches students to revise well, and teaches partners to focus their listening by asking questions that require detailed answers. Your students will enjoy learning this strategy because it makes idea development tangible, and it teaches them how to improve their writing themselves.

1, 2. 3 Revision Strategy

  1.  Read Aloud to Partner / Partner Asks Questions: Writers read their stories, essays or reports out loud to partners. When writers finish, partners ask three questions about what they may not understand, what they want to know more about, and/or what they have questions about in general. No one writes anything in this step.
  1.  Writer/Partner Discussion: As partners ask questions, writers list and number these questions 1, 2, 3 at the bottom of their papers. Then writers and partners discuss answers to the questions. Writers don’t answer questions in written form. They discuss with their partners possible answers. Students can write the answers as they discuss the questions, but this section is to get students verbalizing what they mean or meant to say.
  1.  Writer Re-read:Writer’s then re-read their work to find where within their document they might piece answers to the questions asked. Students don’t write the answers, though. They place numbers in the area where they might add information, and then then

re-write their work inserting the information that corresponds to the question.

Repeat this process for each revision.

For the repeat process you can require students to  insert similes, vivid verbs, compound sentences, or anything else that corresponds to the writer’s craft you want to teach in the assignment. Make sure to have students insert no more than two craft items, and when partners read for a second, third and/or fourth time, they can focus their listening on listening for evidence of the craft.

The strategy itself can be revised to fit your instructional focus.

Use this strategy for short or long writing assignments and/or within Project-Based Learning (PBL) units of study. Try it with the writing projects in the PBL unit
Publish or Perish – Deadlines and Designs from GoTeachGoThroughout the unit, students learn the writing, editing, proofreading and publishing processes involved in creating a magazine—and then they create one.

They also strengthen their abilities to examine and understand different points of view while researching and writing about varied topics. The 1, 2, 3 Revision Strategy is the perfect strategy to facilitate discussion and develop informative written presentations from varied points of view.

Students enjoy the process, and they learn how to improve their writing themselves.

So why not give it a try?


Be sure to visit TeachersPayTeachers to examine lots of great PBL units of study from GoTeachGo.

Jan 30, 2014

 (reposted from from a brilliant, caring teacher!)


A few weeks ago, I went into Chase’s class for tutoring.

I’d emailed Chase’s teacher one evening and said, “Chase keeps telling me that this stuff you’re sending home is math – but I’m not sure I believe him. Help, please.” She emailed right back and said, “No problem! I can tutor Chase after school anytime.” And I said, “No, not him. Me. He gets it. Help me.” And that’s how I ended up standing at a chalkboard in an empty fifth grade classroom staring at rows of shapes that Chase’s teacher kept referring to as “numbers.”

I stood a little shakily at the chalkboard while Chase’s teacher sat behind me, perched on her desk, using a soothing voice to try to help me understand the “new way we teach long division.”  Luckily for me, I didn’t have to unlearn much because I never really understood the “old way we taught long division.” It took me a solid hour to complete one problem, but l could tell that Chase’s teacher liked me anyway. She used to work with NASA, so obviously we have a whole lot in common.

Afterwards, we sat for a few minutes and talked about teaching children and what a sacred trust and responsibility it is. We agreed that subjects like math and reading are the least important things that are learned in a classroom. We talked about shaping little hearts to become contributors to a larger  community – and we discussed our mutual dream that those communities might be made up of individuals who are Kind and Brave above all.

And then she told me this.

Every Friday afternoon Chase’s teacher asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week. The children know that these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student whom they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.

And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, Chase’s teacher takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her and studies them. She looks for patterns.

Who is not getting requested by anyone else?

Who doesn’t even know who to request?

Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?

Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or “exceptional citizens.” Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down- right away- who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.

As a teacher, parent, and lover of all children – I think that this is the most brilliant Love Ninja strategy I have ever encountered. It’s like taking an X-ray of a classroom to see beneath the surface of things and into the hearts of students. It is like mining for gold – the gold being those little ones who need a little help – who need adults to step in and TEACH them how to make friends, how to ask others to play, how to join a group, or how to share their gifts with others. And it’s a bully deterrent because every teacher knows that bullying usually happens outside of her eyeshot –  and that often kids being bullied are too intimidated to share. But as she said – the truth comes out on those safe, private, little sheets of paper.

As Chase’s teacher explained this simple, ingenious idea – I stared at her with my mouth hanging open. “How long have you been using this system?” I said.

Ever since Columbine, she said.  Every single Friday afternoon since Columbine.

Good Lord.

This brilliant woman watched Columbine knowing that ALL VIOLENCE BEGINS WITH DISCONNECTION. All outward violence begins as inner loneliness. She watched that tragedy KNOWING that children who aren’t being noticed will eventually resort to being noticed by any means necessary.

And so she decided to start fighting violence early and often, and with the world within her reach. What Chase’s teacher is doing when she sits in her empty classroom studying those lists written with shaky 11 year old hands  – is SAVING LIVES. I am convinced of it. She is saving lives.

And what this mathematician has learned while using this system is something she really already knew: that everything – even love, even belonging – has a pattern to it. And she finds those patterns through those lists – she breaks the codes of disconnection. And then she gets lonely kids the help they need. It’s math to her. It’s MATH.

All is love- even math.  Amazing.

Chase’s teacher retires this year –  after decades of saving lives. What a way to spend a life: looking for patterns of love and loneliness. Stepping in, every single day-  and altering the trajectory of our world.

TEACH ON, WARRIORS. You are the first responders, the front line, the disconnection detectives, and the best and ONLY hope we’ve got for a better world. What you do in those classrooms when no one  is watching-  it’s our best hope.

Teachers- you’ve got a million parents behind you whispering together: “We don’t care about the damn standardized tests. We only care that you teach our children to be Brave and Kind. And we thank you. We thank you for saving lives.”

Love – All of Us

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