Engaging Focal Points
A focal point can add motivation and interest to a project. For example, a classroom pet can serve as the center of attention. A hedgehog is the focal point in a primary class at West Elementary School. Students explore reading, writing, art, music, science, and social studies within the context of a hedgehog.
This page will explore how you can identify focal points in each of the following areas:
  • People
  • Places
  • Things
  • Topics/Issues
  • Technology

Ask students to focus on a person. It could be a person from the past, present, or future. Consider famous and infamous people. You and your students could even create a fictional character. Then, create a(an):
  • Autobiography
  • Biography
  • Oral History
  • Narrative
  • Life Story
  • Career Study
The example on the right is a slide show that focuses on an artist.
Another category is place. Ask students to explore one of the following areas:
  • School, Community, Country
  • Historic site
  • Natural area
  • Career location
  • Job site
The three examples below focus on places.
Any "thing" an be used as a focal point. Every small town has a local event or festival. Start here. Is your town famous for any of the following?
  • Apple
  • Rock
  • Honey
  • Lumber
  • Sunflowers
Once you've identified a topic that students are interested in learning about, match websites and resources with concepts that you need to teach such as nutrition, life cycle, math problems, and history.
An issue, topic, or theme can also provide a focal point. Consider some of the following areas:
  • Controversy
  • Change
  • Evolution
  • Debate
  • Issue
The student project on the topic of Fashion is a good example of linking art and history.
A technology can also serve as the focal point for a project. Keep in mind that it's the information being communicated by the technology and not the technology itself that is the focal point! Let's explore the following four areas:
  • Documents
  • Books
  • Still and Motion Video
  • Computer Software
Documents can bring reading alive for students. Try some of the following document types. Many of these can be found on the Internet.
  • Diary
  • Sketchbook
  • Journal
  • Log
  • Form
  • Recipe
A group of students created a project called Cape Cod Sketchpad based on a historic, locally created sketchpad. They scanned pictures from the sketchpad and compared the historic sketches with present-day Cape Cod.
Books also make great focal points. Keep in mind that there are many types of books.
  • Reference
  • Nonfiction
  • Fiction
  • Picture Books
  • Student or Teacher Produced
When choosing a book as the focal point, you may wish to use online resources to expand the book's contents. For example, you could search for information in each of the following categories.
  • Author
  • Title
  • Lesson Plans
  • Topics
  • Student Projects
Use software like Inspiration to organize ideas related to the book. Go to Literature Ladders to learn more about locating Internet resources to match your book.
Video projects are particularly good when trying to address the multiple intelligences of learners. Consider videos from each of the following categories:
  • Student-Produced Video
  • Video Clips
  • Laserdiscs
  • DVD
  • Popular Movies
  • Television
Many popular television programs have online resources available for use in your classroom. Explore some of the following program websites:
Educational software packages can also be used as the focal point of a project. Consider problem-solving, decision making, and simulation packages.
For example, Tom Snyder Productions produces many quality decision making software packages.
When using software as a focal point, be sure that students understand the desired outcome. Otherwise, the activity may become a meaningless game rather than a rich learning environment. A classic example of this problem is found in the MECC simulations including Oregon Trail, MayaQuest and others. Oregon Trail can be a great way to help students simulate life during the westward movement as long as the teacher is a careful guide.

Oregon Trail
Focus on Fun!
The key to a good focal point is motivation. Keep it fun by focusing on student interest. The theme of this workshop is based on a children's book titled The Black Pearl by Scott O'Dell. It contains the following elements:
  • Popular Author
  • Adventure
  • Suspense
  • Science
  • Discovery
Then, add websites like the following great diving resources:

Dive for Pearls

Pearl projects are coooool! Join the fun!
Select a focal point from one of the following categories. Then, discuss what outcomes might match your curriculum needs. Finally, brainstorm some project ideas.
  • People
  • Places
  • Things
  • Topics/Issues
  • Technology