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Fifty Ways to Leave Your Term Paper/Book Report & Tell Your Story

'Endless grading of term papers' photo (c) 2007, Jo Guldi - license: my September newsletter, I decided to resurrect and majorly update an old PowerTools document of ideas I had for mixing up the traditional student project and for offering students alternate strategies for communicating their knowledge and creativity.

Yes, I have tried many of these at home with adventurous teachers.  I thought I’d share.  Please feel free to add your own creative ideas to this list in our Google Doc.

Although we believe that students need to develop the skills necessary to prepare a thoughtful, well-written, inquiry-driven research paper, our students have many other engaging product options. They can acquire subject knowledge and develop transferable information literacy and technology skills through a variety of creative activities. The following is a list of some alternative assessments for your class. For any research product or response to literature, consider how we might offer video, digital storytelling and publishing, art, drama, or presentation as an option for students to creatively communicate/share/publish/broadcast the knowledge they have gained. Stop by the library and together we can plan and discuss project ideas, available resources, and product options to meet your goals for student learning.  And as we make choices, consider the importance of student choice and authentic audience.  Note: Some of these ideas work best as formative expressions and others work better as summative assessments.

Infographic: Infographics are packed with opportunities for exploring all types of literacies and students can create them to display their knowledge and analysis of a topic, issue, piece of literature, event, system, person’s life.  Students collect and synthesize content on any topic with an eye toward presenting patterns using charts, timelines, maps, and other graphics to illustrate conclusions. For example, the topic of Italian Renaissance artists could be presented through charts to compare style, training, support of patrons, colors used, and subjects of paintings. Check out this Guide for models, as well as resources and inspiration on using Infographics as a creative assessment.  Also check here for charting tools.

Annotated works cited: Students search for the best materials relating to their question or thesis and evaluate them for relevance, scope, point of view, and credentials of the author. Posted on the Web, these selective lists may be especially useful for future researchers.  Check this Guide for a model.

Pathfinder: Students create a path for future researchers on a defined area of knowledge. Students carefully evaluate available resources and select and annotate the best print and online sources, offering search strategies, context for the topic, question or thesis, and concluding summaries reflecting on the issues they discover while researching. If these are designed as wikis or blogs they may be shared and may serve to guide other researchers.

Curated pages: Assess learners’ skills in identifying quality, appropriate sources by having them curate and share content using such online tools as: Livebinders, Google SitesSqworl, Diigo,

Newsletter: Using a desktop publishing program or a blog and ask students to set their newsletters in another time or place or culture. They create classified ads, theater and book reviews, sports stories, and business information. This is a perfect collaborative project. Consider using Microsoft Publisher, a Google Docs Templates, or LetterPop, or blogging software.

Debate: Choosing two historic (or modern) figures and an issue, students duke it out. The rest of the class is responsible for asking questions and judging the debate. Videotape the debate for later discussion or for sharing with another class.  Consider using a VOIP program like Skype to involve a class from another school.

Brochure: Using a desktop publishing program, like Publisher, Google Doc templates, MyBrochureMaker, or SimpleBooklet students create flyers to advertise a product they’ve developed, a place they’ve researched, a period of time, a solution to a problem, or to offer health advice.

Résumé: Using a desktop publishing program, (like Google Docs or LetterPop), students create professional-looking (print, online or multimedia) résumés for a famous person and attach cover letters in the individual’s voice. They might simulate interviews of the historical figure applying for a job at a university or business. Students present the résumés and “sell” their character’s qualifications.  For the interviews, consider involving an expert or administrator, possibly using Skype.

Family/relationship tree: Students design a tree for a character in a novel. They can make the boxes large enough for illustrations and descriptions of characters and their relationships. You will also find a number of free online forms and charts.

Press conference (with famous people of a time period): Select a group of famous people to be interviewed and have the bulk of the class prepare questions. Students being interviewed should prepare well enough to imagine how their famous person would respond to provocative questions. Consider recording these interviews to post on class and library websites as learning resources.

Trip itinerary: Students studying countries, cultures, states, or time periods, and literary journeys prepare a detailed itinerary listing sites of importance, what to pack, costs considering exchange rates, temperature for the season, where to stay, how to get from place to place, special events, advice, etc.  Consider using Google Lit Trips as a model or use any of a variety of interactive mapping tools.

Detailed journal entries or blog: For a fictional or historical character, students imagine what a real week would be like and create a series of entries in the life of a person present at a historical event or that a book character might have kept during a specific period. Include interaction and quotes from family and friends. Reveal deep feelings, thoughts about others, and respond to big events.

Mock trial for a controversial historical figure or fictional character: Bring Napoleon, Hitler, Socrates, Lee Harvey Oswald, Saddam Hussein, Galileo, or Richard Nixon in front of a well-prepared class made up of jurors, attorneys, witnesses, and a judge. Or hold a court simulation with students deciding a major issue, such as affirmative action, assisted suicide, or major constitutional controversies.

Board or video game: Let an event in history or a novel inspire a truly playable game. Host an hour of game playing in the classroom as your evaluation.

Google Sites: Web pages can advertise fictitious businesses, invented products, or present    electronic résumés for historical or fictional characters.Google Sites.

Visit by a person in history to the school (à la Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure): Students plan an entire visiting day and record the visitor’s reactions to gym, lunch, your classes, the mall, etc. Get cameras ready. Present as a skit, video, web page, or monologue.

A day in the life of a plant/machine/disease/person: Students prepare an essay or speech in first person to give the class a better idea of the history and daily life of the AIDS virus, for instance.

Awards event: Students plan a science fair for famous scientists; Grammy awards for classical musicians; or Latino culture awards for a Spanish class. Students present rationale for their selected person to win; they write detailed acceptance speeches, and plan the entertainment.

Dinner party: Students invite individuals from a particular period and plan what to serve and who will sit next to whom. Design the invitations and describe the entertainment. Re-create the conversation. Or host live, and teachers may evaluate the interaction among characters. Videotape and reflect on the highlights.

Historic experience simulation: Try a Civil War battle or a day at Ellis Island. Assign each student a role. The teacher should assume the role of a critical player to ensure the continuation of the action.

Skit: Students represent a typical day at a job for a career project or a major historical event. Consider videotaping the activity for discussion.

Online threaded discussion: Teacher poses questions among a group of related historical figures or characters in a play or novel. Students maintain assigned roles as they respond to each others’ posts in threaded discussion.  Break classes into smaller communities to encourage more active discussion.

Recipe: What ingredients, in what measure, and what conditions would students need to create the French Revolution? How would they prepare and cook their recipes? What changes would a slight alteration in the ingredients cause?

Film treatment: For a historical event, scientific discovery, or a novel, have a critical character or the author plan the film version. Address a letter to a producer suggesting and defending choice of actors based on knowledge of characters, select locations, and describe how you would stage specific scenes. Design the movie poster. Plan, perhaps film, the trailer. Avoid books that have already been made into movies. BigHugeLabs offers a movie poster template.

News article or newsletter: Write an authentic newspaper-style article about a historic event or event from a novel. Include quotes from the major players. (Use primary sources and artifacts.)

Dear Abby letter: Have a novel protagonist or historical, or current figure write to an advice columnist. Present the character’s problems and create a sincere, researched response from the columnist. Expect the advice columnist to use historic or book evidence and furnish serious insights.

Letter or email or text stream from one character or historical figure or scientist to another: Characters can share deep thoughts and reveal their personalities and rationale for their actions in personal letters. The letter should reveal something about the recipient’s character, as well.

Twitter stream: Students can communicate and interact in a series of Tweets, using the voices of historical figures or characters, in period language and style. Use hashtags(#) to gather tweets together. Also consider Twiducate.

Facebook: Who is the character in your book or the individual you are studying? Who would they friend? What would their updates look like? What issues would they support? What groups would they join?  What links and photos would they share?  Use a tool like: Fakebook

You are the president, the general, the inventor, the senator: Explore the what ifs? Create two reasonable alternate scenarios for a historic event or decision. How else might Lee have responded at Gettysburg? After the student presents the three possible scenarios, have the class determine the most reasonable choice, or the choice actually made.

Write a short story about people who lived during a particular period or event or in a particular place: For instance, describe the last few minutes of the Space Shuttle disaster from the perspectives of three of the astronauts.

You are the author, playwright, or filmmaker: Respond to newspaper and magazine reviews 
of your work.

What if? The alternate history: If you could change one aspect of an event or book, would you choose to change the setting—place or time? Would you alter a character’s personality or one of his choices? What if Richard III were the protagonist in Macbeth and Macbeth were the protagonist in Richard III? What if the Pilgrims met more hostile Native Americans? How would one change affect the big picture?

Lesson plan: Have students creatively present the results of their research in a lesson of their own. The lesson should not be a lecture; it should actively engage the class.

Original song, song parody, rap: Ask students to describe an event, a person, a concept, or a character musically. Encourage a catchy refrain or chorus to get the class involved.

Oversized baseball card or wanted poster: Can you capture the essence of the person you’ve studied or met through a novel? Express those qualities economically in the form of a large baseball card (with quotes, stats, image) or wanted poster. The baseball card should include statistics and quotes, and use the border effectively.  Use a tool like BigHugeLabs for a template.

Alternate book jacket with blurb: Ask students to create new art to advertise a book—fiction or nonfiction.  Create a compelling blurb to draw readers in. NCTE offers a template for book covers.

Postage stamp for a person or event in history: Students attach a desktop-published stamp design to a three-paragraph essay defending why the subject was worthy of a commemorative stamp.  Post the students stamps online, on an image sharing site or a wiki.

Advertising campaign: Ask students to examine and deconstruct existing effective media campaigns and to inform the construction their own full-blown campaign for an invention or industry or a book. Or choose an important person and run his or her campaign for a major political office. Use any digital film or storytelling tool to film commercials.

Picture book or comic book: Students explain a concept or event through artistic illustration and economic language.  Consider using an online book making tools—cartoon or photo, scrapbooking tools, or scan print work and use a digital publishing tool like ePubBud, Page Flip Flap, Issuu, or scrapbooking tool.

Phone message or telegram: Students write a lengthy message from one historic character to his or her spouse or other contemporary about an important event.

CD or album cover with inside background pages: Students design a cover to represent an event and plan the songs with descriptions. They decide on the producer and musicians and perhaps even record a song parody. Consider using BigHugeLabs for templates.

Crossword puzzle or word search: Students use related vocabulary, names, phrases to create a puzzle for the class to attempt.

Petition: Students lobby for or against an issue they have researched with a formal petition.

“This Is Your Life” television show: Students videotape or enact the biographical show complete with guests, illustrations, and special surprises.

“Survivor” television show: Place teams of your students in a historic time or far off place. Provide challenges to solve to see who knows enough to “outwit, outplay, outlast.”

Epitaph and obituary or eulogy: Focusing on a person in history, students write epitaphs for tombstones, write newspaper obituaries, and deliver well-researched eulogies.

Photograph album or scrapbook: Students seek authentic historical photographs and label all the pictures in their albums, sharing “personal anecdotes” with the class, and including journal entries and letters. This assignment could be creatively extended to be the album of a character, a teen of a period in history, a disease, animal, or invention. Consider using an online scrapbooking tool.

Political cartoon: Students satirize a political or historic person or event or issue. (Use Web-based tools like ToonDoo or any of the others listed here.) And discover models of professional cartoons here.

Monologue: More-dramatic students may opt to create a scene from the life of a famous person or a fictional person caught up in a real event.

Want ad: Students compose an ad requesting personnel to solve a problem in history or a major issue.

Timeline: Students create a wall-sized, annotated, and multimedia time line, including important quotes. Consider parallel timelines—perhaps, one of actual history, another of book events—to enhance the reading of historical fiction. Consider also using Web-based timelining tools like MIT’s Timeline, Mnemograph, or Xtimeline

Soap opera based on a historical event: Students can add lots of drama and over-the-top characters.  After storyboarding, students may use a variety of digital storytelling tools to produce scenes.

Survey: Students use a tool like Google Forms to design a survey instrument, collect and analyze authentic data relating to a selected topic or issue. Additional polling tools.

So, what about that traditional paper? How about taking the most excellent of those papers, validating the student effort, and creating audience by publishing them digitally?  Share them on your websites and encourage learners to add them to their own portfolios of work. Use digital publishing tools, like ePubBud, Page Flip Flap, or Issuu, and embed and celebrate!

Creative Commons Attribution Joyce Kasman Valenza

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. I know this is titled 50 ways to leave your term paper/bookreport, but what about math projects? There are so many great ideas here for social studies, and literature, and some for science but how will we encourage student choices and authentic audience for math projects?

  2. Alas, I am still working on working with math and science. I think some of these could be adapted across disciplines, but PLEASE, readers, share your best ideas in Comments for all other types of classes. Or please help me grow this list in our Google Doc

  3. This is truly an impressive list. I work in a public library and can use several of these ideas with jr. high and high school students for after school programs. Thank you for sharing them.

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