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by John Larmer
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Topic tags: Gold Standard


August 29, 2016
Incorporating Literacy in Your Project: An Excerpt from PBL in the Elementary Grades

by John Larmer
Editor in Chief

This book by BIE has just been updated to reflect our model for Gold Standard PBL. The following is from Chapter 3, Planning the Details.

In case you or someone you encounter needs to shift paradigms about literacy and 21st century PBL, we suggest moving... 

From: “We don’t have time for projects. We need to teach basic literacy skills first.”


To: “We must carve out time for projects. Projects create a meaningful reason for students to read and write and they build content knowledge that students need to comprehend texts.”


Well-designed projects serve as vehicles for teaching literacy in the elementary school. Every project, regardless of the subject area focus or the time of day in which most of the teaching occurs, should provide opportunities for children to read a variety of texts to build background knowledge and find answers to their questions. Students should produce at least one well-crafted written product in each project, aligned with the writing genres in grade-level standards. For teachers using the fully integrated PBL model, projects are the main vehicle for teaching literacy. (Note: the “fully integrated model” was described earlier; it means projects are not taught separately from the rest of the curriculum.) For teachers using a partially integrated or separate PBL model, a Science or Social Studies-focused project can provide a “double dose” of literacy while building content knowledge that influences reading comprehension. As Ron Berger says in his book An Ethic of Excellence when he is asked about whether projects can teach basic literacy (and math) skills:


It’s not simply that this work entails lots of reading and writing, but that we explicitly teach reading and writing skills formally during the work. Rather than limit the time available for literacy skills, this approach builds in literacy instruction all day long.

If your projects generally happen in the afternoon, help your students see the relationship between what happens during your morning literacy block and your afternoon projects. For example:


  • Model the use of literacy strategies taught during the morning literacy block when incorporating fiction or non-fiction — including materials not commonly found in the classroom such as newspapers, pamphlets, diagrams, and websites — into science or social studies focused projects.
  • Explicitly teach strategies for understanding vocabulary words related to your project using the same vocabulary development strategies used during your literacy block. 

  • If you use Writer’s Workshop to scaffold the writing process during your literacy block, use a similar process to scaffold the writing process for the key culminating products that are written products. 

  • Use literature circles as a structure for reading fiction and non-fiction related to your project. (See the Tip from the Classroom on the next page for more on how to do this.) 


Our Spotlight Projects feature several examples of how literacy is incorporated into project work. In “Pizza and the World of Work” the second graders read stories about people at work (and pizza), and nonfiction text such as restaurant menus and recipes. They summarized written notes from interviews with their families and people who worked in pizza restaurants, and wrote advertisements, menus, job descriptions, and journal entries. In “Parkland on Display” the students learned about their community’s history by reading primary source documents and magazine articles. They wrote summaries, newspaper feature articles, museum exhibit captions, and informational reports while practicing how to take notes and refine their writing — all of which addressed important parts of the 3rd grade standards. 


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