Key elements of project-based learning

Project-based learning (PBL) is a dynamic, flexible pedagogy that may look different for every group of students in every classroom. The essential elements promote deeper learning, greater engagement and higher quality work.

These elements include:

  • challenging problem or question
  • sustained inquiry
  • authenticity
  • application of learning
  • integration
  • student voice and choice
  • A public product for an authentic audience
  • feedback loops of critique, reflection and refining of the product - including formative and summative assessment.

When PBL is effectively programmed and scaffolded, this can have a significant impact on your students and teaching practices.

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These resources will help:

Entry event

An 'entry event', or 'hook', is a powerful means of engaging students.

The ‘entry event’ is designed to capture student interest to inspire and motivate them. Some examples of entry events include:

  • a visit from a food truck at the start of PBL about running a food stall at a school event
  • dumping the contents of a vending machine on a table to introduce PBL about nutrition
  • visiting a park and hearing from experts talk about the local environment and challenges to wildlife.

Entry events can take any form but if they initiate questioning and open discussion, inspire engagement with the concept or issue, they will build anticipation in the students for the exciting journey that is about to begin.

Some projects require specific skills. In PBL, a 'need to know' is the essential knowledge or skills students need to have to understand the complex real-world issue at the core of the unit.

Co-constructing the 'need to knows' with students is a vital element of PBL and encourages student choice and student voice. Remembering to reference the challenging problem or question will help students to identify what it is they will ‘need to know’.

For example, in a PBL unit where the challenging question might be 'How can we redesign our outside space so that people use it more productively?' Questions students' might as for further information they need to know might include:

  • What sort of things might people do in the space?
  • What plants could grow well there?
  • How might we make different furniture?
  • What colours might improve the look of the space?

This process provides students with scaffolding for their learning and helps give them direction during PBL time. It also provides a framework for the sorts of explicit teaching that might be needed to build skills or knowledge. For example exposing students to multimodal texts, or teaching them how to read seed packets or plant labels effectively.

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