Heather Wolpert-Gawron

PBL Secret Sauce #2: Student-Generated Questions

By on September 21, 2017

For Part II in my PBL video series, I thought I’d share how I integrate student-generated questions throughout the sequence of the unit.  In other words, the students generate the prompts that help propel them along the PBL journey.

This post picks up with my last one left off.  In PBL Secret Sauce: Entry Level Event, I covered how to launch the overall unit. This video represents the very next step, that of having students develop questions generated by their curiosity from that launching element. And while these videos are meant to chronologically follow the day-to-day implementation of a PBL unit, I also share some advice on how to integrate student-generated questions periodically throughout the unit to bring in student choice and voice over and over again.

It’s important that we begin to release the authority in the classroom and hand it over to the students.  HOWEVER, when you inspire them to ask great questions, you won’t be disappointed about where those questions will lead you.  A colleague of mine who is new to PBL is currently running a unit set around the National Parks.  Her entry level event was a Skype with a ranger, and the questions the students generated after that interview blew her away:

“I am so amazed what the kids can do.  They were so eager to learn more about condors and bighorn sheep after talking with Michael…And I did no teaching/lecturing myself!”


She went on to tell me that the questions the students generated represented the very pathways she herself had planned for her students!  What’s even better, however, is that the students created the journey through the unit themselves.  Their questions pointed the class in the direction the teacher initially planned to take them. During a PBL unit, you relinquish authority, but you still pull the strings.  See?

In the video below, I share five different times during my unit in which I have the students generate questions to guide the next part of the journey.

  • Inquiring After the Entry Level Event
  • Leading up to an Guest Speaker
  • Pitching a Possible Topic to Focus on After Initial Research
  • Asking for Specific Feedback During the Drafting/Prototyping Period
  • During a Presentation as an Audience Member




Interested in learning more about The Superhero Unit?  An outline of this unit is available in my book, DIY for PBL in ELA and History (Routledge).  I also go into some more detail about PBL and the need for meaningful learning in my newest book, Just Ask Us: Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement (Corwin and AMLE).

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