How to Teach Project Based Learning

I was introduced to Project Based Learning several years ago. I had taken
some time off of teaching to be a mom and when I came back to the “World
of Education” it was a little nerve wracking because so much had changed.
Technology was more widely used, behavior was worse, common core was in most schools and the ways to teach were all so much different than I had done or was taught.

I knew going back into education was going to be a challenge, but I wanted
to accept the challenge especially since my own children were just entering the public school system.

New Beginnings

I had gotten a job as a 1st grade teacher. We were new to the area and new to the school. As soon as I could, I got my classroom organized and was completely overwhelmed by the curriculum that sat on the desks.

At my first team meeting before the school year started, we discussed curriculum and one of the teachers mentioned that we were a PBL School. They may have mentioned that in my interview process, but it must have just flown over my head and I probably thought, I’ll figure that one out later.

How to teach Project Based Learning.
How to teach Project Based Learning?

I said, “We are are what school?”

They went on to explain to me what PBL was.

I can’t remember what I said, but I do remember my reaction, “Oh, that sounds like a lot of work and brain power to teach that”. My next thought was, “Do we have a curriculum for this?”.

I looked through my curriculum to find the PBL curriculum and there wasn’t any. So, I went over to the teacher next door, and said, “So for this first project based learning unit, where do I find the curriculum for that?” She then informed me, “We don’t have one.”

“We don’t have one!” I didn’t scream this, but in my head I was.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Here were my thoughts: “So I need to plan this entire unit, using this system that is super involved, that I have no idea on how to do it, meanwhile put together my classroom management, routines, figure out the Math Curriculum and the ELA curriculum.

How to teach Project Based Learning

To say the least, I was a bit overwhelmed. Oh and did I mention, I had just moved there from about 7 hours away and we didn’t have a house to live in. We were staying with my mother in law’s boyfriend til we found a place to live.

I got a few ideas from the teachers who were on my team, all of us were new to 1st grade and I began to put the ideas together and wrap my head around what Project Based Learning looks like in the classroom.

I am proud to say, I figured it out somewhat quickly and by our 3rd unit, I
was getting it down. But I had put in a TON of work.

My purpose today is to share some of the wisdom that I have about using and implementing Project Based Learning in your classroom.

What is Project Based Learning?

It is a way of teaching that introduces students to the 21st century. They get to solve real life problems and it brings the big world into their little world. It makes learning relevant and it gives learning a purpose.

It gives learning a purpose.

How to teach Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning involves teamwork to solve a problem, it is inquiry based and takes student’s questions and they get to dive deeper. Students
are more engaged because the lessons are interactive.

My favorite part is that it involves all subject areas in one project. Students can work on technology, math, writing, speaking and listening, reading, science and/or social studies all in one unit.

But the downfall is that you have to tie in all those subject areas in your planning which very is time consuming.


You hit various academic subject areas and grade level standards in just one unit

Students are more engaged

There are very few worksheets

There is much less work to grade (Hallelujah!)

Students work in small groups and/or partners

Lots of teamwork


Inquiry Based

Lots of student choice

Cater to your class needs


They take a very LONG time to plan, especially if you want to incorporate multiple subjects

Group Work can be noisy

Sometimes you will need extra supplies, because many activities are hands on

Project Based Learning must include …

Grade Level Content: I always use the grade level standards when planning them.

Life Skills & Problem Solving: Incorporate Life Skills, Problem Solving, Team Work, and communication with each other

Differentiated: Lessons need to be differentiated to fit all learners

Driving Question: An open-ended question that has to do with their project they are working through.

How to teach PBL

Inquiry Based: The students need to be inspired to ask questions that reach below the surface. Then they need opportunities to seek out those answers and talk to classmates on how they discovered something.

Need to Know: Students can’t wait to work on the project each day

Student Choice: Students need to have a say in the project, which one they want to do, how the project looks, what to write about or what goes on the class rubric.

Critique and Revision: The students get a chance to critique each other’s project or presentation and then students get a chance to revise what they did and fix it. It gives students a chance to produce higher quality work.

Public Audience: Student will need to present this project to adults, parents, staff, other student’s, etc. It can be a culmination of what they worked on and a chance to show off their project. Students work on their public speaking and listening to others present.

Are you overwhelmed?

I don’t want to discourage anyone from planning their own PBL Unit, one that works for your students. There are advantages in that way to cater it to your class needs.

If you have the time to plan it, then go for it.

I highly recommend this book PBL in the Elementary Grades, if you are looking for a resource in creating your own. It does not have any PBLs included in the book, but it gives a very in depth explanation on how to teach and plan Project Based Learning.

But if you are a teacher like I was, overwhelmed by the thought of it, then seek out purchasing PBL units on TPT. I have several ones that I love and am always working on the next one. Since they are very time consuming, it does take me a very long time to put it together.

My Favorite PBL Unit is my Economics Unit where students create their own small business and then sell products or services in the classroom marketplace. I put all the planning together for you. Read here to see how it worked in my classroom.

Here are links to the Full PBL units that I have put together for you:

Animal Adaptations Project and Activities (NGSS 1-LS12)

Economics Unit includes Class Marketplace and Economy System

All About Plants (1st Grade)

How Do Plants Grow (2nd Grade)

Winter Sports and STEM Activity

Habitat and Ecosystems (NGSS 2-LS41)

Icebergs Lab and Informational Writing (NGSS 2-ESS2-3)

Johnny Appleseed and Community Service

Our Solar System

This post contains Affiliate Links.


All posts

No Comments

Leave a Reply