Be the change, Innovation Day, Student-centered

What’s So Genius about Genius Hour?

Our very first genius hour – a glorious mess erupted!

I hope you have heard of genius hour or 20% time before and that this will be just an extra post to highlight its amazingness.  However, if you haven’t or are not quite sure how to do a genius hour, please read and hopefully be inspired to do it with your students.

Genius hour first started popping up in my life a few years ago as I was implementing Innovation Day in my classroom.  Luckily some really smart people whom I admire took it upon themselves to even create a wiki detailing how to do it, sharing resources, and answering questions about it.

Essentially, genius hour in my room is an hour in which the students get to learn and create something under a certain umbrella topic all within one hour.  (Actually this year it has been within 40 minutes, but still…)  Genius hour can be applied to any subject area but science and social studies lend themselves particularly well to it in my room.


  • Discussion is your key.  Explain to the students that they will be  in charge of creating something within an hour and what it will be relating to.  We have been studying early Native American in social studies, so our first genius hour was asking the students to learn and create something about the Eastern Woodlands Indians.  Students can create something by themselves or with a partner, I discourage more than 2 kids working together because it always seems to leave one child to not do much.
  • Show examples.  I give the students examples of what they could create (a model, poster, presentation etc) as I give them background knowledge needed.  They take notes of ideas as we go through the lesson and I then help out those who have no idea.
  • Focus on time and effort.  The students may think an hour is a lot, it is not, and I try to stress this with them.  They will not have time to create a perfect thing necessarily and that is totally ok.  The point here is for them to learn something that I have not covered and create something to show their learning.
  • Talk about supplies.  I tell them what I can supply (paper, tape, glue etc) and then point out that they should not break their parents’ bank account getting cool supplies.
  • Check in with everyone.  I make sure everyone has a clue before they leave my classroom.  I also post about it on our website so that parents have a clue as well.
  • Remind!  Whenever a genius hour is coming our way, I remind the students often.  There are no surprises of when they need their things by and when it will take place.


  • Stay out of the way.  The genius of genius hour is truly that this is student-directed and student-created.  So we need to stay out of the way.  I check in with kids, compliment, and sometimes push a little, but I do not interfere or offer up solutions unless it is an emergency.  This is vital to build student responsibility and problem-solving.
  • Time manage.  I shout out time left throughout the hour.  It helps students get on track.
  • Be a helper.  If students need something printed and picked p, I offer to do it, or if they need an extra emergency supply due to an idea not working out I try to help.  But other than that, again, stay out of the way.


  • Present.  It is important that all children present what they have created but when you have a big class like I do, this can take a long time, so behold: the gallery walk presentation.  Half of the class sets up their creation (this often happens the following day) around the room and then another child stands in front of them.  I set the timer for 1 minute – 2 if we have the time – and then the students present.  When the timer goes off, the listening student moves to the next presentation.  My students learn to get to the point and share only their best pieces of information and we can get through everyone within 30 minutes.
  • Self-reflect.  I also think it is important for the students to have a chance to self-reflect on how it went and what they need to change.  I have adapted this Google form from the wiki to fit my needs.
  • Don’t grade.  This is just me so if you want to grade, ok, but I don’t, because I don’t want students to be afraid to take risks.  Grades tend to hinder risk taking so I instead look at things like how they worked together, time management, whether they pushed themselves or made something super simple etc and then store that way for future assessment.
  • Reflect as a class.  I love hearing overall ideas, feedback, and suggestions.  What have they learned as a class,  how is this benefiting them, why should we do it again.  Let the students lead the discussion and take stock of their ideas.
  • Publish.  I always take pictures during the day and presentations, I want parents to see what we have been creating so get those out to the word.

Random Thins:

  • What if a child fails completely?  I don’t think a child can ever completely fail unless they refuse to participate, in which case, they get to work on something else in the office.  (Which  I have never had happen).  But a child may have tried to do something way too time consuming or chosen something that they finished within 5 minutes.  While I try to prevent this from happening through pre-discussions, it still sometimes does, and that is ok.  I always then speak to the child about what they would change, how it would work next time, and then have them present their ideas for that too.  Embrace the failure and learn from it.
  • What if a child brings in a completed project and has nothing to work on?  Then they get to make something else, sometimes this happens as well no matter how well we have communicated the intent to parents and students.  I then ask them to make something on the fly.
  • What if  our first genus hour sucks?  My first one is always a glorious mess with some great successes and epic failures.  I tell the students that may happen and that this is the best way to learn how to do it.  Honestly, running through it the first time is the best way to learn how to do it right.
  • How many should I do?  As many as you want.  We do them throughout the year under various topics, some people have it once a week, others don’t.  Make it work for you and your schedule but do have a few in a short amount of time so students can learn from them quickly.
  • How do I convince others it is worth the time?  Show them the learning!  I am always impressed with the variety of projects created and how students get excited about the learning, we are still covering the curriculum but in a more authentic and meaningful manner, so showcase that.
  • More questions?  Please leave a comment or email me at p (at) globalreadaloud (dot) com – I would love to help.

To see more pictures from our genius hours’ go to our website 

I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this fall from PLPress.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

27 thoughts on “What’s So Genius about Genius Hour?”

  1. Thank you very much for sharing this PR! I have been interested in trying this out but I just didn’t feel confident in trying until I read this post. @missmac100 and I have talked about it and she has been very supportive in terms of providing me with ideas on what to do and how to do it. Your blog post will act as a road map for me and others as we work toward providing our students with engaging activities that foster their creativity and achievement. Thanks again.

  2. What an exciting idea, Pernille! Do your students do their research during genius hour, or beforehand? Do your provide specific sources for their research?

    1. I do not provide the specific sources and they choose whether they want to do the research beforehand or during. I do encourage students to think about how much time they will need to create during class so that seems to guide how much time they spend outside of the room. I don’t ever make it homework so it is truly in their hands.

  3. Kudos to Denise Krebs (@mrsdkrebs), Gallit Zvi (@gallit_z) and Hugh McDonald (@hughtheteacher) for the great wiki where we all go for help! I’d like to add your post to the Genius Hour LiveBinder under Grade 5, but I’d like to use a tag instead of the title, since I believe you’ll be writing about Genius Hour again… So I’ll use the “Innovation Day” tag – thought you should know, in case you wanted to add more. 😉 Enjoy the messy learning! I love that we all have our own spin on Genius Hour time. Thanks for sharing yours.

    1. I think there are many ways to make it work in your room, some people have a designated work day every week that is 20 more 20% time, I fit it in wherever it makes sense and just adapt it as needed. That is one of the genius things about it!

      1. It sounds as though you set the topic and the kids complete the entire project in the hour (45 minutes) they have that day. The wiki made it sound like they pick their own topics, whatever they’re interested in, and have multiple sessions to complete it. If I were to attempt to use this with my second graders, I would structure it more like the first way. Just wondering if I am understanding the way you do it. Thanks for your response. I am enjoying your blog very much.

  4. Yes, you have it right. That is how I do it anyway. They pick their topic and then everything has to be done within the 45 minutes, they then present the following day. Especially with younger students the contained part of it seems to work better for me.

    1. Absolutely. I could see my children really getting into this later in the year. Last year I had a few that were researching topics online at home when we were studying President Lincoln. They were really interested in John Wilkes Booth and brought in great information. This activity would have worked really well for that. I think I will try it in the second half of the year. Thanks so much for passing this along.

  5. Your way of describing everything in this piece of
    writing is genuinely pleasant, every one be able to without difficulty be aware
    of it, Thanks a lot.

  6. hello, I am an educ student and I choose Genius Hour as a trend in Education for my report, then may I ask, what if, the student already have in his mind to do/ experiment/ explore for their Genius Hour and yet, he dont have the means to do it, just like lack of materials, money, time etc….. please reply,,

    Thank you!

    1. Depending on the child’s situation or their project we either try to get the materials or steer them in a direction that works better. That is why doing the planning steps really helps!

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