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The key elements of Project-Based learning




Sustained inquiry

The project should run over a number of lessons and involve a range of tasks and activities that lead to the final product.

Key skills and knowledge

During the project, students should develop key knowledge and a range of skills.


The project should focus on ‘real world’ problems and goals that have genuine relevance to the lives of the students..


A Public Product or outcome

The students should produce some form of end product such as a video, play, presentation or document that can be shared publicly


Student voice

Students should have some choice in deciding what problem they try to solve and what the final project outcome will be.



Students should be encouraged to reflect on their work and think about the obstacles they encountered and how they overcame them


A challenging problem

The project should be based around a problem or question of some kind that students need to answer or solve.


Critique and revision

Students should give and receive peer feedback, both from each other and the teacher, in order to improve what they do and how they do it.

There is more to project-based learning than just giving students a project to do. Most practitioners agree that in order to satisfy the requirements of being a genuine PBL lesson a number of key elements need to be present.

Adapted from: Buck Institute for Education/PBLWorks

Key skills and knowledge During the course of the PBL lessons, students should be learning more than just language. They should also be learning information and content related to the topic of the project. This can be done in the form of research using the internet, library or even through interviewing relevant people. Students should also be developing a wide range of skills including team working and collaboration.

Sustained inquiry PBL instruction usually happens over a prolonged period of times and so is carried out during a number of lessons. This can cause timetabling problems. It can be best to keep 15-20 minutes of the lesson for PBL work and develop the project of a number of weeks.

Authenticity This is an important aspect of PBL and is key to motivating the students. If they feel the project is not based around a relevant and authentic problem they are much less likely to get involved and engaged with the work.

A public product or outcome There are many possibilities for the outcome of the project work. Here are a few suggestions:

  • A presentation
  • A video
  • A play
  • A book or ebook
  • An app or piece of software
  • A work of art (picture, sculpture or piece of music)
  • A useful product

Student voice It's very important that, once the goals and aims of the lesson are set, the teacher takes a step back and lets the students direct the projects. It can be very tempting for teachers to step in, direct and redirect but this undermines the ultimate goals of PBL.

Reflection Reflection and self-evaluation can be difficult for students who are more familiar with being evaluated. Many students may need help to develop reflective ability. Make it clear that their ability to be self-critical and improve themselves is one of the criteria that you will use to assess their progress.

A challenging problem There are a number of types of problems you can base PBL around. Remember that students don't have to fix the problems, they just need to create some form of document that offers a solution to the problem Here are a few suggestions:

  • Creating an invention that addresses an everyday problem
  • Starting some kind of company that serves a particular need
  • Addressing an environmental problem
  • Create a weekly or monthly magazine or podcast
  • Design the perfect school
You can find more suggestions here: 10 Ready-to-Borrow Project Ideas

Critique and revision This can be a difficult area for students to handle meaningfully. Giving constructive feedback to peers is a skill and one that needs to be developed. Both the ability to ask for and offer useful feedback is also an important part of working collaboratively in teams. Part of your PBL cycle of instruction should include tips and useful expressions to help structure constructive feedback.