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How to use One-Word Projects in ELA

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There’s nothing quite like knowing exactly what you’re going to do on the first day back after break as you cruise into the winter vacation. Giving yourself that mental cushion means that maybe when you wake up in the middle of the night over break, you can think about what cookies you want to make in the morning and which book you want to read by the fire instead of what to teach on the first day back! One-Word Projects are a powerful tool in the ELA classroom.

Because it’s OK to take a break.

So in today’s short and sweet episode – because I know you’re BUSY right now – I want to suggest an easy lesson for the first day back – the one-word project.

You can listen in to this episode below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.

Introducing The One-Word Project

I first heard about the one-word project fifteen years ago when I was living in Bulgaria. Struggling a bit to adjust to my new surroundings in post-Communist Sofia (Bulgaria’s capital), I started listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love on my regular jogs around my neighborhood, Mladost 1-A.

(In case you’re curious about life in Bulgaria, here are a few pictures from our time there… You can see Mladost 1A in the sunset picture on the top row).

It helped to listen to Elizabeth Gilbert process her life in Italy, India, and Bali as I tried to process my first foray into Eastern Europe.

One of the things she talked about – I think it was during her time in India – was this idea of choosing a word to define the year ahead. Unlike a six word memoir, which stems from all that we have been, the one word project helps us envision the future we want and choose a way to guide ourselves into it.

Setting up The One Word Project

Now this project could be incredibly quick if you just pass out paper and invite kids to choose a word. But I’d scaffold the process a bit to make it more meaningful.

You might start by having students write some reflection on the past year, 2023. What was most meaningful for them? What did they learn that they valued? What do they want to build on that really mattered to them? What would they say their theme songs were in 2023?

If they’re up for it, you might let them share with a partner, or add their theme songs to a big list on your white board.

Next, turn their attention to 2024.

Introducing the One-Word Projects

You know how I feel about one-pagers. I think the combination of visuals and text can really help highlight meaning. So I suggest you invite students to start by just jotting ideas in a notebook for possible words they’d like to use and ideas, goals, and visuals of their own lives that relate to those possibilities.

Then you can share a one-word prompt that invites them to write and illustrate their one word. They’ll want to write that defining word in big bold letters, then illustrate it with the smaller goals and steps that will help them to truly live that word in 2024.

Here’s a link to this curriculum set on TPT, if you’d like to use mine.

Digital Reboot: The One-Word Project on Canva or Slides

Maybe some of your students aren’t big on paper and markers? No problem. The one-word one-pager works great on a platform like Slides or Canva too. In fact, if you’re hoping to help students get onboarded to Canva in 2024 this could be a wonderful starter project.

One-Word Projects

If you’d like to share a basic template with them to help them get started, feel free to use the one I used for the model above! You can find it here.

Displaying the One-Word Projects

Once your students have created their one-word visual, either on paper or digitally (and printed them out), I highly recommend you turn them into a display! Covering a wall (with permission from students) in the words your students hope to use as guiding lights for the year can help keep them front of mind. You can even revisit them every few months with some reflective writing about how things are going with regard to their goals.

If some kids prefer to keep their words private, that’s totally understandable. You might suggest they tape them into the front of their notebook or hang them by their bed at home. But most kids will probably be OK with displaying their goals.

Final Wrap-Up for the One-Word Projects

If you still have time in class, you might introduce students to the idea of SMART goals, a popular form of goal setting in many workplaces these days.

If you haven’t heard about this format, here’s what SMART stands for:






Invite students to create three SMART goals in different areas of their lives for the term with their one-word in mind.

So, for example, let’s say a student’s one word is “Strong.”

Maybe they really want to become an incredible athlete in 2024 and make the varsity hockey team the next winter. A SMART goal would be to choose a strength benchmark they can realistically work up to and a time by which they will achieve it. Like “I will be able to do 10 pull-ups by May 1st.”

Maybe they want to become stronger in math, as it’s an area of struggle for them. A SMART goal might be “I’m going to ask my older brother to tutor me once a week on Tuesday nights and raise my math grade to a B by the end of this quarter.”

Maybe they want to become a stronger boyfriend, as they feel their relationship could be going better. A SMART goal might be “I’m going to try to ask my girlfriend how she’s feeling in a thoughtful text every weekend.”

Giving students time to really reflect on how to integrate their one-word vision into their lives is a gift to them, and a great way to start the year!

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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