Genius Hour & the Writing Workshop – a new series!

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Reading and Writing Workshop are my teaching superpowers and my kryptonite. While the workshop model enables me to be the teacher I want to be to empower my students to be the kind of students they are truly capable of being, they can occasionally make me hesitant to try new models. I love consistency (so do students), and I want everything in my class to neatly tuck up under these powerful umbrellas.

This is all to say that I’ve wanted to try Genius Hour (or 20% time or what will you) for years and years. But I’ve had trouble conceptualizing how I would make it fit in with the other reading and writing work. I put Genius Hour on my mental backburner.

But after a year and a half together, my eighth graders and I hit a wall this winter. As a group, they had literally read every book in our small library during reading workshop. They had written a million notebook time entries and independent writing projects. The routine — the consistency that I depend on so much — was actually slowly killing us.

Desperation is usually the mother of invention in my class. And so I pulled Genius Hour toward the forefront, determined to make it not just an addition to our class but part of the workshop lifeblood.

What is Genius Hour?

In short, Genius Hour is time set aside in a class each week to allow students to purpose passion projects. It comes from Google where employees get time each week to pursue their non-Google-related passions. It makes them smarter, happier people, and ultimately better employees.

It makes perfect sense why this trickled down to schools. We want smarter, happier children, and ultimately better students.

There are a million ways to structure this and a quick Google search will lead you to seemingly endless resources. It’s overwhelming and wonderful.

I know so very little about Genius Hour compared to the experts in our Twitter-fueled education circles. If you want to know all the things, please go find and follow Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr). She has a book and a LiveBinder of resources and has been my guru for understanding Genius Hour for years. Our friend and contributing writer Noah Waspe (@MrWTeach) does incredible things combining Genius Hour and maker spaces and English.

My Genius Hour

Here’s the short version of what it looks like in my class:

Students chose a passion to pursue for the semester. Throughout the course of the semester, they will read,watch, and listen to things about their topic, they will talk to people about their topic, they will take courses online about their topic through Skillshare. And, once a week, they blog about their progress.

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Do you see the building blocks of workshop in there? Independently chosen reading is now in service of their project — book-length texts and articles online. Their independent writing is now blogging about their project.

Each week, I devote one 50-minute class period to Genius Hour. (I used to give this hour to independent reading and reading conferences in the library. We still go to the library on Thursdays, but now our focus is Genius Hour work.) While they work, I confer — a combination of writing conferences about blog posts, reading conferences, and project management conferences to make sure we are all still rolling along.

What to Expect in This Blog Series

As my students blog their progress, I’m going to be blogging mine here. You’ll get to see the nuts and bolts of my project along the way. But since Moving Writers is a blog about secondary writing, that’s what my focus will be here — how Genius Hour is moving my writers.

Because in terms of writing, Genius Hour is an extended writing study in information writing, argument writing, narrative writing, research writing, and blogging all for an authentic audience.

Here are some topics I’m already planning to share here in the coming weeks:

  • How Genius Hour plays with the elements of workshop:  giving choice, making time, teaching skills, encouraging talk, assessing growth
  • Writing and giving pitches about Genius Hour projects a la Project-Based Writing.
  • Studying blogs with student bloggers.
  • Multigenre writing through blogs
  • Teaching research skills and research writing through Genius Hour
  • Individualized grammar instruction through Genius Hour

Are there topics you want to hear about? Let me know here:

On the Speaking and Listening Podcast, Noah Waspe said that running Genius Hour projects becomes the teacher’s Genius Hour project. How true it is. I am excited to share my own Genius Hour project with you over the course of the next few months!

Do you do Genius Hour? How do you structure it? How does it connect to your reading workshop or writing workshop? Share in comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter. You can find me @RebekahOdell1.


  1. Thanks for the shout-outs, Rebekah!
    I’m so excited to see how this process unfolds with your lucky students!

  2. Hi Rebekah! I did Genius Hour in my classes the last two years with some success, but really need to continue to tweak it…this year with some new curriculum changes, I haven’t been able to do it, but I might try to fit it into our fourth marking period, so I’ll be following your progress!
    I also wanted to mention that I have been utilizing the Project Based Writing Model (modified to fit my 6-8 creative writing classes) and loving it! The kids love the choice, and I highly recommend it!

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