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Seven Strategies for Guiding the Rising Action of Your Students’ Projects

Jan 24, 2020 2020-01-24

By Trevor Muir

We’ve talked about the elements of story and creating conflict. Now we’re going to get into structuring the rising action of your classroom’s story. As your students work towards resolving the conflict you’ve introduced, they will traverse different paths that ultimately lead them to a climax and a resolution. These are seven strategies that can be used to guide your students’ stories:

1. Create a Culture of Collaboration
It is vital at the beginning of every school year to set up a culture of collaboration in your classroom. Students are often unused to true collaboration and group work. For a project to be successful, the culture of collaboration must be in place. If you’re interested, I share more strategies for creating a culture of collaboration in my latest book, The Collaborative Classroom.

2. Create a Group Contract
Before any work on the project can take place, students should go through an accountability process by filling out a group contract. The contract gives students the chance to discuss what their expectations are of one another. The expectations should be clearly written down.

The students then write down the consequences for not meeting expectations. This should be a warning or strike system, where the student gets a certain number of chances to meet expectations before serious action is taken. In my classroom, serious action is sitting down with me, the teacher, for a discussion.

Most of the time, I’m able to get to the bottom of the group’s grievances and get everyone back working together. However, if students meet with me and still fail to meet the group’s expectations, they can be fired from the group and have to complete the project on their own.

This may sound harsh, but it is not a punishment. It is a natural consequence of negative actions. Students are very aware of the possibility of firing from day one and that motivates them to stay accountable to their group’s contract.

3. Create a Project Management Log
A project management log is a task list that students reference every day at the start of working on their projects. Students discuss what needs to be done in each work session and write down specific tasks that each group member is responsible for. The log helps students divide and conquer.

The log works in tandem with the group contract. If a student fails to complete their assigned tasks, their group members can hold them accountable by issuing warnings or strikes. This teaches students accountability, which is a skill they will need for the rest of their lives in both work and relationships.

4. Create Space for Brainstorming and Group Discussion
After introducing your conflict, students are often excited and already thinking of solutions. However, often times those ideas need to be picked apart and discussed with their peers. Brainstorming with their groups is an important part of the rising action.

Students can make a list of ideas or a concept map where once an idea is presented, they create bubbles extending from that idea to build upon it. As a teacher, I’m always floating between groups during this type of discussion to facilitate and make sure all voices are being heard.

5. Have Brain Juicing Sessions
Brain juicing is large group brainstorming, where any groups who are struggling with ideas can sit together and “juice” each other’s brains. I often lead these sessions, especially in the beginning of the school year when the concept is new to students. Brain juicing allows students to put their heads together to come up with solutions to problems and hear new perspectives.

6. Hold Workshops
Workshops bridge the gap between content work and project work. The content discussed in a workshop should relate to and build on the knowledge and work being done on the project. Workshops can involve the whole class and introduce new terms or concepts that are generally unknown to students. They can also be intimate gatherings where a few students review concepts that they are struggling with.

7. Complete the Tuning Process
Tuning is where a group of students presents their project to an audience and then receives critical feedback from the audience to tune or enhance what they’re working on. This process can be done at different stages in the project. For example, students can present the ideas they’ve brainstormed, or present their products in different phases to make sure they’re on the right track. The tuning process has three steps:

  • Step 1: Presentation
    The group presents what they have so far to the audience. The audience listens and takes notes on what they like about the group’s project and what they wonder could be improved.

  • Step 2: Feedback
    The presenting group turns away from the audience and cannot respond to them during this phase. The audience first shares aloud what they like about the group’s project and then they share what they wonder could be improved.

  • Step 3: Respond and Clarify
    The group can then respond or clarify any of the ideas the audience voiced. Presenting groups can choose not to take advantage of this stage.

These seven strategies can be used to facilitate the rising action of any project. These paths will look different in every project and can be tailored to fit your classroom. These are tried-and-true steps and processes that will make your story flow.


Trevor Muir is a teacher, author, international speaker, and project-based learning expert. He is the author of The Epic Classroom: How to Boost Engagement, Make Learning Memorable, and Transform Lives, a book about using the power of story to make learning engaging and unforgettable. His latest book is The Collaborative Classroom: Teaching Students How to Work Together Now and for the Rest of Their Lives. Trevor is a professor at Grand Valley State University, a former faculty member for the Buck Institute for Education, and is one of the Andrew Gomez Dream Foundation educators. His writing has been featured in the Huffington Post, EdWeek, and regularly on WeAreTeachers. He gave a TEDx Talk, “School Should Take Place in the Real World,” at TEDxSanAntonio. You can find more about Trevor on his website: trevormuir.com.

Reading/English/Language Arts Professional Development 21st Century Themes

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