Providing Students a Platform to Share Their Interests


The Driving Question is an essential part of the project plan. A good Driving Question will root the project in inquiry, and prompt exciting, hands on activities. Writing a good Driving Question can be challenging, particularly if students aren’t accustomed to giving feedback or sharing their interests with staff. Here are some fun ways to give students a platform to share their interests during the project planning phase. Let’s look at how we can use these techniques, and their benefits.

Idea Webs

Webs are often used when we want to structure how we write.  For PBL, webs areIdea Web a great way to get youth to think more robustly about their interests.  Check out this example. You can see the group started with a main idea, and there are more specific ideas the youth have about that topic branching off of the main idea. Then, the youth talked in groups for a few minutes to come up with at least one word for each specific idea.  Some of the ideas even connect between different groups. This can be done quickly, and youth can explore several different main ideas.  At the end, the youth can decide which main idea and branches are best for a project.

Thought Clouds

Unlike idea webs, thought clouds encourage youth to put down all their thoughts about a main idea without categorizing and organizing them.  It’s a fun, vibrant activity that is facilitated best when youth can work in groups to discuss the topic, identify key words they want to share and put them onto a poster using their group’s color(s).

The best way to start is to break youth into workgroups and give them several Thought Cloudmain ideas for discussion. They develop several keywords most important to them about that topic. Staff members hang posters or sheets of paper with the main idea in the middle around the room.   They can then conduct a gallery walk where the youth workgroups walk from poster to poster filling in their ideas while reading other ideas. This process can help generate driving questions by tapping into ideas that may not be associated easily.

Post-Its© for Brainstorming

Post-It Notes© are a great way to gather ideas quickly and move them around. Post It Notes 1 A fun way to brainstorm ideas is to break youth into small workgroups, give each group a different stack of colored notes, and direct them to come up with key words on a topic (the same way with thought clouds above).

Because Post-Its© are tangible, they can be moved around to group ideas byPost It Notes 2 topic and to help identify the words youth might use in the driving question. Notice the way the Post-Its in the example are grouped to give structure and
clarity to students’ ideas and suggestions.

Driving questions are the foundation of all strong projects. It is not easy to find the best driving questions, but these three techniques let Group Leaders guide youth through the process in a fun and interesting way.  Ultimately, Group Leaders find the strongest areas of interest for youth, involve youth in the planning process, and have authentic language they can use to develop several possible driving questions.

by: Tyler Richendollar

2 thoughts on “Providing Students a Platform to Share Their Interests

  1. I appreciate the idea that the essential question (driving question) ultimately comes from the students instead of the teacher. These are great ideas to get students to organize their disparate thoughts into a cohesive question. Traditionally, teachers question and students answer. Requiring students to question forces them to think more deeply and comprehensively about the subject at hand.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Kathleen. You’re very keen to pick up on how these methods switch the way that questions and curiosity fold into activities and programming. We hope you enjoy other articles, and feel free to provide ideas for future topics!

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