On more than one occasion, I have heard friends who are parents say something along the lines of, “I hope I got an A on my kid’s project!” And they’re joking, but not joking, because “helping” with a school project really meant that they scrambled to construct a habitat diorama or California mission while their child passed them the glue.
School projects can therefore easily get a bad rep around the parent circuit, and even among teachers too. I believe, however, that projects can be very beneficial when designed with the students’ best interest in mind. I assign one take-home project per trimester (three total projects for the school year) and make my best conscious effort to ensure that each one of them is worthwhile and student-centered. Parent support is definitely encouraged, but the idea is that the student would be able to do much of the work independently with minimal help.
I believe that a winning combination for a good project is one that is standards based but has an element of novelty to it that makes it engaging. The first project of the year that I usually like to assign is called the Character Mask Project, and it checks both boxes. It has also been well-received based on feedback that I’ve gotten from parents.
The project hits multiple Common Core standards in the areas of reading, writing, language, and speaking and listening. Here are the specific ones that it covers for grades 1-3:
For the project, students choose a favorite character from a book they have read. I do not assign the kids a specific book or character, but rather leave that part up to them. I’m sure you’d agree that choice is a biggie when it comes to engagement, especially if you’ve ever sat through any Professional Development training or staff meeting about Marzano’s strategies for highly engaged classrooms. Kids have more buy-in and are more intrinsically motivated when they get to have an opportunity to choose.
Once students have chosen their characters, they have 3 components to complete for the project:
- A written report
- An oral presentation
- A mask of their character
The writing assignment is very straightforward. Since it is still early in the school year when I typically assign this project in October (the whole mask aspect coincides nicely with Halloween), students still need basic practice with answering questions in complete sentences and providing details. The questions that they answer for the written report are also Common Core aligned (you can view the questions in the project instructions in the photo above). If you would need to customize your own questions or create your own writing assignment for the mask project, this resource is editable.
The oral presentation gives students the opportunity to practice speaking/listening skills in front of an audience, as well as deepen their understanding of point of view. During their speech, they act and speak in the point of view of their character. They can also earn a little extra credit if they choose to make gestures or include props during their speech that are appropriate for their character.
Creating a mask is that element of novelty that I mentioned previously. Without it, it’s unlikely that most kids would be super pumped about simply answering questions and speaking in front of the class about a book. But throw in a mask, and it gives them a chance to express their creativity, as well as get more excited about their character. It also makes it much more entertaining for the rest of the class when it comes time to watch numerous presentations.
Another word about the masks. I feel like this is one part of the project where a parent might feel compelled to be the one to “get an A” and just make the mask for their kid. If you notice on my grading rubric below, the mask is only worth 1 point. It is not what will make or break their child’s grade. As long as the student puts in the effort to make a mask, I’m not concerned with how elaborate it does or doesn’t look. Whether it looks like it was made with or without parent help, the student will earn that 1 point all the same. I stress to the parents that it’s their child’s writing and the effort that they’ve put into their presentation that I care the most about. The primary purpose of the mask is that it makes the project more fun for the kids, and parents can personally choose how much or how little they want to assist their child with it.
The rubric makes it very easy to grade the written reports and oral presentations, and because the project covers so many standards, it definitely stands out as one of those “Glad we did this!” assignments when report cards roll around.
More than anything, I absolutely love seeing the characters that students choose and getting to watch them do their presentations, often with different voices or actions to mimic their character. It’s extremely entertaining, and memorable too. Someone always brings up this project when we reflect on our favorite memories from second grade at the end of the school year.
The resource has also been recently updated to include a Google Slides digital version if you would like to assign the project for distance learning. I am currently teaching virtually myself, and so I will be giving students the option to type their written report on Google Slides (or take a picture of their handwritten report to submit on Google Classroom). They will also submit a video of their presentation on Flipgrid.
As I mentioned previously, this resource is also editable so that you can edit, add, or delete as you please to meet the needs of your class. Using the text that’s already there, it’s quick and easy to customize your own questions or criteria for the written report, add more requirements for the oral presentation, change the rubric, etc. Both the printable and digital versions of the project are editable.
Are you in need of additional project ideas for the school year? You might also like my American Heroes Project, which my class usually does in February, as well as a Family Treasures Project in the spring.
Do you have any projects that you love to do each year with your students? Feel free to share in the comments. And if you decide to try out this Character Mask project to teach p.o.v., I would love to know how it goes and hear YOUR point of view!