Project-Based Learning with Only 30 Minutes a Day!


One of the reasons I’ve heard teachers give for not trying project-based learning activities is that their time is SO limited. I completely understand having very limited class time. I’ve often wondered how our recesses are getting shorter and shorter, but we still don’t seem to have enough class time to get everything done.

If you’re interested in trying PBL, but time isn’t on your side, try this process to fit it in:

Break the project into bitesize pieces.

Plan a long-term PBL that consists of small, bite size activities. Incorporate as many subject areas as you can in order to get the most bang for your buck. Keep each activity at 30 minutes or less, but have each activity build on the last. You want your students to make connections each day, so that it doesn’t seem like you’re just handing them random, quick work.

Don’t overwhelm students with choices.

Project-based learning activities are so engaging for students because they get to make so many choices during it. Their project is not like any other student’s PBL because they all have different perspectives. Many people dread trying PBL because their students don’t use their time wisely as it is. What they don’t understand is that project-based learning is still a guided activity. You need to give students choices within the framework of the project, not just let them loose to do whatever they please.

Here are some ideas:

  • If students are presenting their results as a presentation, give them a PowerPoint template, so that they don’t waste an hour just picking their theme and getting slides set up. The content is what’s important, not the design.
  • Give students a choice of 3 websites to find specific information on. If they’re looking up party supply prices, don’t just let them go on Google. Give them 3 easy to navigate websites to choose from. You’d be surprised by how much time this saves.

Prepare students for the PBL using mini-lessons.

You can save a lot of time by preparing students for their project. Use mini-lessons to give students the notes and skills they need for each part of the PBL. This means that when you get into your short project block, you can concentrate on facilitating instead of more direct instruction.

I personally make my projects math focused because I feel like it’s an easy starting point. We do our mini-lessons as direct instruction and I differentiate within the project as needed.

Here are some of my favorites:

Related Resources

Sneak pieces of the project into other subject areas.

If students need to read about or research something for their project, incorporate that into your regular reading block. You can easily align reading and research from any project with almost any ELA standard. If students need to make calculations for their project, incorporate that into your math block. Not only is it great to make connections between subject areas, but you can “gain” more time by having the leg work incorporated into another subject block.

Set up supplies beforehand.

I like to start project-based learning activities after lunch if I can. This has several benefits, especially when I’ve had classes that seem to totally disengage after lunch. A key benefit is that you can have helpers come in and set up any necessary supplies beforehand. More often than not, my projects don’t require this, so I just use the last 5 minutes before lunch to get the directions displayed. I used to have directions up and folders passed out when they came in from lunch, so they could immediately get started with no time wasted. I wouldn’t even do a warm-up. Now that we’re all digital, I load the directions into their Google classroom and they know to get started immediately.

Teach procedures.

I teach my students general procedures before our first PBL and I’m consistent with having them practice these procedures. This saves a lot of time because students know exactly what to do when they need help, need supplies, or are “done”.

If you use these ideas, you CAN, and should, implement project-based learning activities with just 30 minutes a day! Check out this blog post series to get started: Implementing PBL from Start to Finish


April Smith

Curriculum Writer and Online Professional Development Coach. 


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