Each spring, I launch a project-based learning experience that encourages students to pursue a project of personal interest. Folks have lots of different ways of managing this (search Genius Hour, 20 Percent Project, or Kevin Brookhouser to learn more), and here are the rules for my version:
1. The project must be something the student genuinely cares about.
2. The kid has to actually make something. It’s not enough to just research the whole time.
3. It must be school-appropriate. Duh.
4. It must have elements I can tie back to something in the ELA Common Core State Standards.

In previous years, students have pursued a wide variety of projects, from launching YouTube channels (like this one – hey, Sasha) to writing and designing a 12-page fashion magazine to building a remote control truck and then using that truck in a Hollywood-style action video trailer. For a list of 50 unique projects my students have completed, click here. For a list of 30 generic 20Time project ideas to help kids who struggle to find a project, click here. Note: I share these lists with kids only after they’ve earned a yellow or red light during the Guppy Tank/60-second project proposal assignment. It’s better, I’ve learned, to not guide their project selection too much at the start; I want kids to choose something that’s meaningful to them, not something they think will make me happy. More details about the Guppy Tank and free handouts to help run the entire 20Time project are here.

One of my favorite parts of 20Time is that the teacher also pursues a passion project, both to serve as a model for students and to force ourselves to grow. There’s nothing like telling your plans to a roomful of teenagers (or a blog audience of teacher friends) to ensure accountability. Over the years, I’ve learned to play the ukulele, filmed a 10-part YouTube video series on classroom management, gained enough upper-body strength to do a chin-up, and built a complete curriculum for English 9-10. Whew.

That brings us to 20Time2019, the year I will finally figure out…insert drumroll…creative writing. More about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it:

In a nutshell, my goal is to create an original work of fiction or maybe narrative non-fiction/memoir that I will – gulp! – share on this blog. Along the way, I’ll re-read Stephen King’s On Writing, take a writing class for adults (yup, the teacher is becoming the student), and organize a writing group with three friends from work that will meet six times over the next 12 weeks. All of this will be accomplished by April 20, when I will report back the results.

Are you using 20Time or something similar with your students this year? If yes, please leave your teacher project plan below as inspiration for others. If no, what’s stopping you from bring this to your classroom? Leave a reply!

Join the conversation! 20 Comments

  1. Do you do SSR during 20Time?

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  2. Yes, but I do have to modify things to make it all fit. A few, but not all, SSR sessions are cut. You could also modify the SSR page count if it feels like too much for your classes, but I haven’t had to do that because 250 pages for nine weeks of reading is still really doable for my classes. Hope this helps with your planning!

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  3. I launched my first ever 20Time last week with Project Pitch’s this coming Thursday. Following your suggestion, I’m completing a 20Time right alongside my students – how to bake foods with yeast. Excited about this journey!

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  4. So fun, Latisha! I always cheat and just make beer bread. Working with yeast? That’s next level, my friend. 🙂

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  5. I have never done PBL as our district is not requiring yet. But you have really inspired me to do 20time. Our district is on a 4 x 4, so I get all new students this week. So I think I am going to do this in my creative writing class since I do not have English this semester. I am by far not a writer, but I have a passion for it and know enough to make my students think I know what I’m doing.
    So that being said, would you require a creative writing inspired PBL? Or merely just allowed them to do something they are interested in?

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  6. An interesting dilemma, Amanda. A lot of this would depend on the maturity of the class and how well you know the students. I always use 20Time in the spring semester, as that gives me enough time to know which students will need more guidance or supervision since we’ve already worked together in the fall semester. If you already know the bulk of your students, I’d move forward; if all of the kids are new to you, I’d probably hold off. Or maybe do just a shortened version later in the spring? As for the requirements, you’ll want them to align with the course goals. Are all of the kids who have signed up for your class enthusiastic about writing? Or are they being required to take the class for graduation? The answers to those kinds of questions would definitely guide my choices. Hope this is helpful!

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  7. I’m using your materials for 20Time in my 9th grade and 12th grade English classes this spring. First time jitters for sure, but I’m excited!

    One of my student already emailed me on Friday (the day I introduced it to them) with a beautiful idea for a project and I had to sit and weep a little at my desk. He is a budding violinist and he is was so inspired by what he learned during our Holocaust unit and reading Night that he wants to use that empathy to create a visual (video, probably) that encourages empathy AND compose an original violin solo to accompany the video.

    THIS is what I’ve been craving.
    Thank you, Laura

    PS – I’m learning 1000 words in German and giving a speech in German for my project. I’m going to visit my husband’s best friend in Germany this summer, so I’m inspired!

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  8. How much time do you give them? 45 minutes a week? Do you think this is doable for 7th graders? How many weeks for this? We have a teacher using it now and throughout the rest of the year but that seems like a lot of time.

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  9. Hey there all! I teach in higher ed, and have always wanted to do a 20Time on that level. The launch, however, has always been “how do I do this in the general education classes I teach without reinventing the wheel?”

    In the fall, I requested to teach a class that is in our course bulletin, but not regularly taught, and that is when 20Time joined the party.

    I am using the 20Time Commandments and I am part of the project too- my project? It is two-pronged. 1) Present a visual installation that examines the media coverage and government involvement in The Dust Bowl and migration from the Oklahoma panhandle, with specific attention paid to news coverage, The New Deal, and ultimately, the work of Woody Guthrie. The other prong? I am teaching myself to play “This Land Is Your Land” and “Deportee” on the BANJO using YouTube videos only. My project will be presented as an open air concert/installation on April 23.

    As a class, we did our first set of Shark Tank 60 second pitches (we are sharks in college) and the other set is tomorrow. So far, in the class of 21, we have green lit 8 and yellow lit 2. Hopefully, the yellow lights and the rest that present tomorrow will be green so we can get going.

    Also, I got a banjo on Thursday. I suck. 🙂

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  10. Hey Terri (wait, I mean, Q! I’m freaking out a little that you’re here with me – yea!),
    Yes, I give the kids 45 minutes each week over the span of 12 weeks to create their project and prepare for our end-of-20Time “what I did and what I learned” speech. Some years, I’ve had to nip-and-tuck the calendar; the shortest session I’ve done was eight weeks. I prefer 10-to-12 weeks, but I wouldn’t go past that. I’ve heard of year-long 20Time projects, but I can’t see the kids sustaining their interest and energy in a project that runs that long. For me, 12 weeks has become the sweet spot. I also only launch this in the spring semester, once I know my students well and know which ones will need more help/monitoring, if you know what I mean.

    I definitely think middle school students can benefit from 20Time, too. Obviously, they’ll need more structure and help with materials. Here’s a video catalog of middle school projects one of my readers shared that might be helpful/inspiring: https://youtu.be/TjvN6XFSMBk

    Hope this is useful info and that you and your family are doing well!
    Laura

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  11. So ambitious, Karrie! I love this! And…you know that sucking at something is the first step toward actually figuring it out. Go pluck those strings! 😀

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  12. I plan on starting this project with my at-risk students because I feel as though this may motivate them, but I am curious what your lesson plan would look like for this project. I was considering devoting every Friday to this project, which is why I am curious as to go about writing the lesson plans. Every student would be having a different project, so I would assume the objectives would be different. Or, do you just use the speech project, the pitch assignment as the “objectives” for the class.

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  13. Great, Angie! So glad you’re finding a way to bring this to your kids. Yes, I’d focus on the process rather than the product, especially since everyone will be working on such varying projects. For the actual lesson plan, I’d use the CCSS Speaking and Listening standards as the overarching goal/target. After all, everyone is working toward that eventual assessment. Hope this helps!

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  14. So beautiful, Mimi! I’m glad I could play a tiny role in inspiring you and your violinist to take on these wonderful projects. 🙂

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  15. You are amazing! It’s inspiring to learn from you! Best of luck on the masterpiece!

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  16. Thanks, Tanya! This path is rough. I appreciate the encouragement. 🙂

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  17. Hi Laura,

    A colleague and I decided to try 20 Time with our Seniors this year…we are at the end of the semester, and I’ve seen some really cool projects develop. I did this along with my students, as well… My favorite author is Jane Austen, and I’m a costume history nut. So… I decided to create a reproduction 1810-ish Regency outfit. Head to toe. I maintained a blog, so I’ll share that with you: https://harville20time.blogspot.com/ Lots of research involved in doing this, but also a lot of work! My students are showing each other all kinds of things they can do, and it’s really cool. I think, however, your timing is right–second semester! First semester is a busy one, plus winter holidays. My daughter did Genius hour in 4th and 5th grade, which is what inspired me to do 20-time, and how I found your blog. My entire English department are fans!! I’m a sharer….

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  18. Oh, Frances, I love this so much! Glad you dove into the project. And, you know, I’m thinking those lace mitts you made would be a hot seller on Etsy. Just sayin’. 😀

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  19. I do a version of 20TIME where students have to identify an issue of injustice, study it, report on it, and offer things that can be done (SMART goals – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic outcome expectations, and time oriented… yes… I was a counselor and just became a teacher!). I had kids last semester do “Teachers as bullies,” “animal abuse,” “police brutality by race,” “glass ceilings for women in industry,” “bullying and teen suicide,” and several on human trafficking.
    For mine last year I did one on inner city violence in my community – looking particularly at the drop out rate in our inner city by school zones as relates to gang related deaths of teens.

    Could not have done it without Laura! You are awesome sauce!!!
    And King’s “On Writing” is one of my favorite texts of all time in the history of ever.

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  20. Wow, Jerry, this is some next-level 20Timing, for sure. Sounds like you and your kids are really making the work count. Love it!

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20Time, growth mindset, high school English, middle school, writing

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