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Engaging and Authentic Projects for the Middle School ELA Classroom

project based learning Jul 09, 2021

You came back!  I’m glad you’re here to dig deeper into what it means to have a project-based learning classroom. If you’re new here, welcome!  We’re glad to have you!  This is blog-post 2 in a series dedicated to the project-based learning classroom.  If you need to catch up, you can do that here.

I remember back to my middle school days.  My focus was solely my friends, like the majority of middle school students everywhere.  School, to me, was a necessary evil.  Looking back, now as a teacher myself, I can pretty much pin-point why I felt this way.  Three of the five projects that stand out to me the most were: a binder of the periodic elements, a poster of the 3rd Amendment of the Constitution, and a novel in a can.  I remember all of these projects because I disliked them so much.  They took so much of my time and I thought they were incredibly pointless.  (OK, part of my middle school attitude might have influenced those opinions, but I still can’t tell you the point of having us do them!)  

On the other hand, the two projects that I remember so fondly were: my science fair project where I researched how planes fly and the multicultural unit where I researched the food from Brazil and my group and I got to go to the grocery store with a budget to buy the ingredients to create a dish for my classmates.  What made these projects different from the others?  They focused on my interests, my research to my own questions, and a real-life, authentic task to complete.  I didn’t feel like they were a waste of my time.  (They catered to my middle school attitude!)

Your students NEED projects that allow for authentic problems and final products with real-life audiences.  They need to discover problems in their reading that relate to their world.  They need to be able to look for answers to their questions.  They need to be able to research topics that interest them.  They need to feel like they are creating a project that will actually make a difference.  They need to know someone is listening to their ideas and that they are not just completing a project to get a grade.

This is why project-based learning is essential to student success and building life-long readers and learners.  Think along the lines of:


1. Podcast sharing research from “expert” on a problem

2. TedTalk with an important message they’ve researched

3. Mural with symbols representing what they’ve read and the problem they’ve researched

4. Create a charity to solve problem

5. Write and debate a law they’d like to see changed


Remember, last week I told you that you didn’t have to do everything at once.  How can you take action today?  Evaluate your first project of the year.  Does it allow for students to research their own questions?  Does it solve a real problem?  Is it something they would actually do in life?  Do they get to actually share it with a real-life audience?  Focus on making one project hit all these points.


You can also:

  1. Download this guide for more information on each of the project-based learning principles. 
  2. Finally, come back for the rest of this blog series where I will share with you a more in-depth look at how to implement each of these keys.
    1. Introduction
    2. Key 2 and 4
    3. Key 3
    4. Key 5



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Project-based learning solves the dreaded-"Why do I have to learn this?" 

Develop life long readers and learners because they are always asking questions!

Make definite connections to reading!