Increase student engagement with a ‘Genius Hour’

Perry Fiorentino is an IXL Professional Learning Specialist with experience as a middle school teacher and department chair.

Did you know that there is research showing that if students get even a little bit of time to work on something they are passionate about, they’re more productive for the rest of the day? One easy way to incorporate student-led creativity in your classroom is by setting up a “Genius Hour” in your daily or weekly schedule.

This hour is dedicated time for students to pursue their unique interests, learn more about them, create something, and share what they have learned.

One popular way to get started using Genius Hour in your classroom is by implementing it over the course of several weeks as part of a larger project. Here’s an example of how that looks:

Genius Hour Timeline
Brainstorming Week 1
Initial research Weeks 2-3
Creation Weeks 4-5
Final touches Week 6
Share out Week 7
Total = 6-8 weeks

*This is an example timeline, with one Genius Hour each day

1. Time to brainstorm!

Give students some time to think of what they want to learn more about. You can use the following prompts to help them reach beyond their surface-level thoughts. Set aside a little time each day for a week to let students answer one of these questions. By the end of the week they may have several ideas they want to pursue.

  • Day 1: “I wish I could do that.” List two things you have always wanted to do.
  • Day 2: “I wonder how that works.” List two times you have wondered how something works.
  • Day 3: “I am so happy when I get to do this.” What are four things that you already love to do?
  • Day 4: “I wish there was something to fix this.” What are two things that you wish there was an easy solution for?
  • Day 5: “I wish more people knew about this.” What is something you know about that you wish other people also knew about?

2. Initial research

During initial research week, students should select one question or idea to pursue and then answer the following questions:

  • What topic will I be learning more about?
  • What do I already know about this topic?
  • What are the questions I need to answer about this topic?
  • What do I want to create and share with the class?

Once students can answer these questions, they can take turns meeting with you individually to get approval and begin researching their topic.

3. Creation

Students will work independently on their projects. It’s the teacher’s job to make sure they are staying on task—however, you may notice that students are more focused and motivated during this time because they are working on projects that they are passionate about! To really get the creative juices flowing, play some instrumental background music while they’re working.

4. Final touches

Everyone should be close to finishing their projects and only need to add final touches towards the end of this week. Students who complete their projects early can start practicing how they will share their project with the class.

5. Share out

Your class will really enjoy seeing what their peers have worked on! You could take this opportunity to invite other grade levels or community members to these presentations.

Need more inspiration?  Here are some example Genius Hour projects that have been presented from students around the country:

  • Students built their own ukulele and learned to play it for the class.
  • Students designed and built a prototype for a football helmet that would better help prevent concussions.
  • Students started a food blog with recipes that are easy and safe for kids to cook independently.
  • Students researched the benefits of starting a community garden, proposed a school garden, and started planting vegetables to be used as snacks for students in after-school care.

Let us know what your students come up with!