Whether you call it Genius Hour, Independent Study, Passion Projects, or something else - Students love choosing their topic and going in depth with it! However, I've seen over the years that without...
Tailored mini lessons
Small deadlines throughout
A lot of one-on-one conferencing
...Student products and presentations end up being pretty rough.
To remedy this, I have structured units that guide students through this process. I also pick a "theme" each year. Typically, the first time I do independent study I simply focus on what it is and the components and do a simplified version. This usually takes place in 3rd or 4th grade (though it can be done younger). Then, I work in units on quality writing, presenting, etc.
First Year Independent Study (by Kara Angell)
Independent Study Focused on Writing - Students are required to write a two page paper as part of the unit. Recommended for grades 4+
Independent Study Focused on Speeches - Students are required to create a presentation with no words (aside from titles, words on graphs, etc.) This forces them to learn their content, think about how visuals can convey information, and not read directly from their slides. Recommended for grades 4+
Pieces from the book Oral Presentations Made Easy are used throughout the slideshow. Can be found for free at the public library or you can find it for just a few dollars on Amazon - definitely worthwhile!
For a Virtual Version, check out these resources:
→Want more? Independent Study Program: Complete Kit is wonderful and comprehensive, but may be overwhelming for first year teachers (hundreds of pages and 25 lessons).
→Want to start smaller? John Spencer has amazing lessons, slideshows, videos and more for a "Wonder Day" and a "Wonder Week" which are 1 day or 5 days, respectively. He also has a pretty great peer feedback system for giving and receiving feedback on independent study projects.