How to Implement Passion Projects for Elementary Students (Stress-free!)

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Genius Hour (passion project or 20 percent time) is an incredible way to bring student choice, inquiry-driven learning and differentiation into the classroom. If you’re not familiar with it, read this post outlining the what and why of Genius Hour first.

If you know you want to implement Genius Hour, but aren’t sure how, this post will break down everything you need to start passion projects for elementary students.

I’ll be going through how to start a passion project, the 6 main steps and some ideas and resources for you.

The Genius Hour Framework

There’s no one way to do Genius Hour in the classroom. However, there are a few main components to organizing a successful project.

Firstly, consider how you want to schedule your Genius Hour projects. I like to do about one hour each week (Friday afternoons are perfect for this). In this way, I can make it a more integral part of my Literacy program and keep it running for longer.

Other teachers, prefer to make it a standalone project and work on it every day for a month or so. Depending on your schedule and preferences, this is up to you but think ahead and plan for the duration of the project.

Make sure you’re familiar with exactly how you want to plan, organize and run your passion projects for students. They’re going to be getting a lot of freedom with this so if you’re not clear on your expectations it could get wild quickly!

How to Start a Passion Project

In my experience, students have a (surprisingly) hard time identifying their passions and choosing their initial topic. There’s a good chance your students are used to being given a lot more direction and can feel a little overwhelmed to start. So start prepping them, and building excitement early.

I would highly recommend only doing Genius Hour after you’ve taught Asking Questions Reading Comprehension Strategy. This will make the task of choosing their inquiry question for their passion project much easier. We learn about thick and thin questions and become familiar using a Q-Chart.

Reading books like The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco is a wonderful way to build interest and celebrate creativity, innovation and risk-taking.

I also created a Genius Hour Prezi with a few videos and action tasks to introduce the concept and get students excited about it.

There are 6 main steps to completing Genius Hour in the classroom:

  • Brainstorming passions
  • Choosing a topic
  • Researching
  • Creating a product
  • Presenting finished project
  • Reflecting

Brainstorming Passions

I take my students through some brainstorming questions to help them think about things they feel strongly about, love to do, or would love to learn.

Once students have some general ideas, let them think of possible topic ideas and develop ‘burning questions’. The one main rule here is that the question cannot be answered with a simple Google search.

This is where having pre-taught Questioning comes in. My students are familiar with the Q-Chart and thick and thin questions. Inquiry questions must be ‘thick questions’. Essentially, how and why questions are great!

This is where the bulk of my Genius Hour lesson plans come into play. The quality of their idea generation and topic selection will determine the success of the entire assignment.

Passion project resources and ideas for elementary classrooms.

Choose a Topic

I have a conference with every student when they think they have a couple of possible questions. It takes a little time but is worth it to make sure all students have a high-quality question that will really allow them to delve deep and get good research.

If questions are a little to ‘thin’, I give them some ideas on how they can adjust them to make it ‘meatier’. Or they can change directions if they choose.

Have students consider the type of final product they could create with their topic at this stage as well. While they can definitely change their minds, it helps them visualize the direction and depth of their topic.

Passion Project Ideas

Some teachers will give possible Genius hour topics or give suggestions. I prefer to leave it wide open for my students to be as creative as possible when brainstorming their passion project ideas.

My only ‘rules’ are that it:

  • must be something they feel strongly about and want to become an ‘expert’ in,
  • includes a final product (this could be considered the passion project part) that will be shared so the intended audience must be considered,
  • makes the world better somehow. *I define this loosely as it benefitting themselves, the class, school, community or world at large.


When everyone has a topic, it’s time to research. I encourage students to use a variety of sources: books, websites, newspapers, documentaries, first person interviews…

This is a great time to book the computer lab, Chromebook cart or whatever your school has for technology as well as a visit to the library.

My role is mostly that of a facilitator at this point. I ensure students are on task, help where needed and give suggestions if they are getting stuck.

I have a list of age-appropriate websites available to make this a little easier as well. I post each one on our Genius Hour bulletin board with a QR code so students can easily access each site.

Genius Hour bulletin board mockup with 20 percent time project ideas and research links.

Final Product

Every passion project needs to end with a product to be shared. Encourage students to go beyond the usual powerpoint or poster (unless that truly is the best format for their topic).

This is the perfect time to be creative and try something new.

Students might create a video, give a performance or demonstration, present a skit/song/poem, make a model, create a website… The possibilities are endless.

Again, I created a list of possible passion project ideas for students to help give students some inspiration and think outside the box. These also get posted on our bulletin board right at the beginning of the project. I didn’t do this the first time around and I got a whole lot of posters!


Finally, students present their Genius Hour passion projects to the class. You could even bring in a wider audience: a younger class, their peers, the principal, parents or community leaders.


I actually build this in throughout the project rather than save it all to the end. However, the important thing is to allow time for students to reflect on the experience.

After work sessions, I have my students reflect on what they accomplished, what they need to be successful moving forward (and plan for it), what goals they will set for their next work session and so on.

At the end of the entire project, students might consider their learning, the challenges they experienced, the parts they enjoyed most, the work ethic they demonstrated…

Depending on the age of your students, reflection might look a little different but it’s an important part of learning that is easily overlooked.

Sample student pages on a desk with a laptop and pencil.  Research and reflection pages in Genius Hour Passion Project resource pack.

How to Assess Passion Projects

I was hesitant to implement Genius Hour at first because I wasn’t sure how to assess something that was so open-ended. Every student has very different passion project ideas, topics and final products so where do you start?

While it is absolutely possible to tie this into a subject area, i.e., environmental issues for Science or important historical figures for Social Studies, I prefer to keep it wide open.

I realized that, despite the differentiation, every single Language Arts strand was being addressed.

  • Reading was happening during the research phase,
  • Writing was covered during both the research and final product creation,
  • Oral Communication was happening during the final presentation, and
  • Media was being created by every single student for their final product (albeit different forms of media).

I created a generic rubric for each of the 4 Language Arts strands. They are based on the Ontario Expectations but open-ended enough that they work for different projects and different grades.

Language Arts rubrics for assessing Passion Projects for Students in elementary grades 4 - 8.

20 Percent Time Project Ideas

Some of the projects my students have created over the years include:

  • Learning a musical instrument,
  • Learning to master a video game,
  • Learning to build a website,
  • How to bake the perfect cupcake,
  • How to become an excellent watercolour artist,
  • Build a functional bathouse…

As you can see, the topics are as varied as the students behind them!

Passion Projects for Elementary Students

I’m not going to lie, these projects are not a walk in the park to get started. It takes some work the first time around but once you get the ball rolling you won’t look back! I haven’t been able to do it yet, but I envision a class where this runs year round and students just take as long as they need to finish one passion project idea before rolling into the next one!

Are you ready to get started with Genius Hour in your classroom? Reach out with any questions and I would love to hear how it goes!

Pin this post to keep for easy reference!

Students working on laptops with sample resources available to implement passion projects for elementary students.
Teacher planner page with the item: Start Passion Projects and the text "Implementing Genius Hour in Elementary Classroom".

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