10 Reasons Why PBL with English and History Make the Best Combination

PBL in the classroom.

It seems obvious that PBL using ELA and History would work well together, but how do you start? I’ve got tips for you!

ELA and History & Their Perfect Connection With PBL


One of the best ways to engage students is with Project-Based Learning (PBL). Recently, I read a post about a teacher who was switching her entire class to strictly project-based learning. Previously, I covered Project-Based Learning with Science and English, but did you know you can use PBL with just about any subject? There are many ways to use PBL in the classroom but History and English seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. When kids enjoy learning on their own, we have been successful.

This blog post will explore creative ways to use PBL in the English classroom to enhance ELA and history education.

Why PBL with ELA and History?

10 Reasons Why ELA and History Make The Perfect PBL Connection

Integrating project-based learning (PBL) in the ELA classroom offers numerous benefits for both students and teachers. It’s one of my favorite ways to teach, and ELA and history work well together. On average I have about 2 major projects per year, or 1 per semester. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

  1. Enhanced Engagement and Motivation – PBL provides students with real-world, relevant problems to solve. This relevance often increases student interest and motivation to learn, as they see the direct application of their studies to their lives and the world around them. For instance, a project on the Civil Rights Movement can allow students to explore historical events and their impact on contemporary society.
  2. Development of Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills – Through PBL, students are required to research, analyze, and synthesize information from multiple sources, fostering critical thinking. In ELA, a project might involve comparing themes in different literary works, while in history, it could involve evaluating historical events relevant to the time period. This approach encourages students to think deeply and critically about the material they are studying.
  3. Improved Collaboration and Communication – PBL often involves group work, requiring students to collaborate, share ideas, and communicate effectively. These skills are vital in both academic and real-world settings. For example, a history project might involve creating a documentary, where students must collaborate on research, scriptwriting, and production.
  4. Integration of Cross-Disciplinary Knowledge – PBL naturally integrates learning across different subjects. An ELA project might include historical context, while a history project might require strong writing and analytical skills. This interdisciplinary approach helps students see the connections between different areas of knowledge and apply what they learn in one context to another.
  5. Development of Research Skills – PBL tasks students with independently finding and evaluating sources, fostering strong research skills. In ELA, this might involve researching an author’s background and its influence on their writing, while in history, students might investigate primary sources to understand a historical period more deeply.
  6. Creation of Authentic Assessments – PBL allows for more authentic assessments, where students demonstrate their understanding through products and presentations rather than traditional tests. This can include writing essays, creating multimedia presentations, or developing interactive exhibits. Such assessments often provide a more accurate picture of student learning and skills.
  7. Increased Student Autonomy and Responsibility – PBL empowers students by giving them control over their learning process. They choose topics, manage their time, and take responsibility for their outcomes. This autonomy can increase student investment in their work and promote lifelong learning habits.
  8. Real-World Relevance and Application – PBL projects often involve real-world problems and audiences, making learning more relevant and meaningful. For example, students might create a public service announcement about a historical event’s contemporary relevance, thereby connecting their studies to current societal issues.
  9. Support for Diverse Learning Styles – PBL caters to various learning styles by allowing students to express their understanding in different ways. Visual learners might create posters or videos, while kinesthetic learners might build models or perform skits. This inclusivity can help all students succeed and feel valued.
  10. Encouragement of Creativity and Innovation – PBL encourages students to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions. Whether they are writing a historical fiction story in ELA or designing a museum exhibit in history, students are pushed to use their imagination and think outside the box.

ELA and History go hand-in-hand in the classroom, and together make for fun PBL. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a common element built into the presentation and research of PBL projects, and UDL is a requirement in many districts.

ELA and History PBL Lesson Ideas

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Over the last 15 years, I’ve spent time with many teachers. Some teachers are more open to working together than others but I guarantee students always benefit when teachers work together. I work in a high-needs area, and some of my students only know their teachers as role models (outside of social media!). They don’t see a lot of healthy adult interaction. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy working with other adults in front of students. It’s important for them to experience.

Below is a list of PBL assignments I’ve completed with my classes. They’re in idea format, but I am happy to share actual lesson plans with anyone who would like them.

  1. Historical Fiction Writing
    • Description: Students write a historical fiction story set in a specific period they are studying in history.
    • Skills Developed: Research, writing, historical understanding, creativity.
    • Example: Writing a story set during the American Revolution, focusing on a young protagonist who experiences the war firsthand.
  2. Living History Museum
    • Description: Students create a “living museum” where they dress up as historical figures and present their stories to an audience.
    • Skills Developed: Research, public speaking, writing, creativity, collaboration.
    • Example: Creating exhibits on key figures from the Civil Rights Movement and presenting their contributions through monologues.
  3. Debate on Historical Issues
    • Description: Students research and debate historical issues or events, taking on different perspectives.
    • Skills Developed: Research, critical thinking, public speaking, argumentation.
    • Example: Debating the causes and impacts of the Industrial Revolution from the perspectives of factory owners, workers, and social reformers.
  4. Literary Analysis of Historical Texts
    • Description: Students analyze primary source documents, speeches, or historical texts and relate them to literary themes or concepts.
    • Skills Developed: Analytical reading, critical thinking, writing, historical context understanding.
    • Example: Analyzing Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech for rhetorical devices and comparing it to literary works on freedom and equality.
  5. Multimedia Presentations on Historical Events
    • Description: Students create multimedia presentations (videos, slideshows, podcasts) on significant historical events, incorporating both literary and historical analysis.
    • Skills Developed: Research, technology use, writing, presentation skills.
    • Example: Producing a documentary on the Harlem Renaissance, combining historical context with analysis of the literature and art of the period.
  6. Diary of a Historical Figure
    • Description: Students write a diary from the perspective of a historical figure, incorporating accurate historical details and personal reflections.
    • Skills Developed: Research, writing, empathy, historical understanding.
    • Example: Creating diary entries for Anne Frank, focusing on her life in hiding during World War II.
  7. Newspaper Project
    • Description: Students create a newspaper from a specific historical period, including articles, interviews, advertisements, and editorials.
    • Skills Developed: Research, writing, collaboration, design.
    • Example: Producing a newspaper from the 1920s, covering events like the Stock Market Crash, Prohibition, and the Jazz Age.
  8. Historical Character Instagram Accounts
    • Description: Students create Instagram accounts for historical figures, posting as if they were living through their historical events.
    • Skills Developed: Research, creativity, writing, digital literacy.
    • Example: Posting updates, images, and “stories” as Harriet Tubman during the Underground Railroad.
  9. Historical Poetry Anthology
    • Description: Students write poems inspired by historical events, figures, or periods and compile them into an anthology.
    • Skills Developed: Research, creative writing, historical analysis, editing.
    • Example: Writing a series of poems about World War I from different perspectives (soldiers, nurses, civilians).
  10. Cross-Cultural Comparisons
    • Description: Students research and compare historical events or movements across different cultures or countries, presenting their findings in essays or presentations.
    • Skills Developed: Research, comparative analysis, writing, presentation skills.
    • Example: Comparing the French and American revolutions, focusing on causes, key events, and outcomes.

Project-based learning (PBL) is an effective approach to teaching and learning that allows students to engage in real-world, authentic tasks and projects. By integrating PBL into the ELA classroom, teachers can enhance English and history education while fostering critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving skills.

Designed for Choice and Autonomy

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One strategy for designing engaging PBL activities is to incorporate student choice and autonomy. When students have the opportunity to choose topics or themes that interest them, they are more likely to be motivated and engaged in their learning.

For example, in an English class studying a historical period such as World War II, students could be given the freedom to choose a specific aspect of the war that they find compelling.

This could include researching and presenting on a particular battle, writing a fictional narrative set during the war, or even creating a documentary-style video highlighting key events. By allowing students to have ownership over their projects, they become active participants in their own learning journey.

*** Note: There are always students who get completely overwhelmed with choice. Begin by giving students 2-3 options to choose from. As students become more familiar with this style of teaching, you can make more choices available. When students get stuck, it’s easy for teachers to also become overwhelmed. Take a few steps back in the project and help students get back on track.

Real-World Connections

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Another strategy is to incorporate real-world connections into projects. By connecting classroom content to real-life situations or issues, students can see the relevance and importance of what they are learning.

For instance, in a history class studying civil rights movements, students could be tasked with researching current social justice issues and proposing solutions based on lessons learned from past movements.

This not only deepens their understanding of historical events but also encourages them to think critically about how these lessons can be applied to contemporary society. By making these connections, students develop a sense of empathy and awareness of global issues.

Promote Teamwork and Communication Skills

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Collaborative projects that promote teamwork and communication skills are also valuable in the ELA classroom. Through working together on projects, students learn how to effectively communicate ideas, delegate tasks, and resolve conflicts.

For example, in an English class studying literature from different time periods or cultures, students could be assigned group projects where they analyze a specific text and present their findings to the class. This allows them to not only develop their own understanding of the text but also learn from their peers’ perspectives. Collaborative projects also mirror real-world scenarios where individuals must work together to achieve a common goal, preparing students for future professional settings.

Create Clear Guidelines and Set Expectations

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In addition to these strategies, it is important for teachers to provide clear guidelines and expectations for project-based learning activities. Students should have a clear understanding of the objectives, criteria for success, and assessment rubrics.

By providing structure and guidance, teachers can ensure that students stay focused and on track throughout the project. Regular check-ins and feedback sessions can also help students monitor their progress and make necessary adjustments.

By integrating project-based learning in the ELA classroom, teachers can create dynamic learning experiences that go beyond traditional textbook-based instruction. Through engaging projects that incorporate student choice, real-world connections, and collaboration, students develop essential skills that prepare them for success in both academic and professional settings.

So embrace project-based learning in your ELA classroom and watch as your students become active learners who are motivated, engaged, and ready to tackle any challenge that comes their way.

Implementing Project-Based Learning Effectively

Implementing project-based learning effectively is crucial for ensuring that students receive the maximum benefit from this instructional approach. By aligning projects with ELA and history curriculum standards, providing clear guidelines and expectations, and offering support and resources, educators can create a rich learning experience for their students.

Align Projects to Standards

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One key aspect of implementing project-based learning effectively is aligning projects with ELA and history curriculum standards. This ensures that the projects are not only engaging but also relevant to the content that students need to learn. By mapping out the specific skills, knowledge, and concepts that students should develop through the project, teachers can ensure that they are meeting educational objectives while still allowing for creativity and exploration.

English Example: An English class studying a novel set during a particular historical period, students could be tasked with creating a museum exhibit showcasing artifacts related to the time period. This project would require them to research historical context, analyze primary sources, and present their findings in a visually appealing and informative way.

By aligning this project with both ELA and history standards, teachers can provide a comprehensive learning experience that integrates multiple disciplines.

History Example: In a history class where students are working on a research project about influential figures from different eras, teachers could provide a detailed rubric outlining the criteria for evaluating their work. The assignment might include creating a presentation or writing a short essay about their findings. They could create a podcast or make historical videos. The possibilities are endless! When writing up the rubric, work with an English teacher to use standards from both subjects.

Meaningful Guidance

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Furthermore, offering support and resources is essential for facilitating successful project-based learning experiences. Students may need guidance and assistance at various stages of the project, whether it’s brainstorming ideas, conducting research, or troubleshooting technical issues.

Teachers can provide this support by offering one-on-one or small group conferences, providing access to relevant resources such as books, articles, or online databases, and facilitating peer collaboration.

By offering these resources and opportunities for collaboration, teachers empower students to take ownership of their learning and develop important skills in communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving.

Standards to Consider

I’ve pulled some standards as examples. These are California standards, so your state might differ, but I thought you might want to see a few to help with the brainstorming.


ELA Standards

  • Reading Standards for Informational Text K.2: With prompting and support, identify the main topic and retell key details of a text.

History-Social Science Standards

  • K.6 Students understand that being a good citizen involves acting in certain ways: Follow rules, such as sharing and taking turns, and know the consequences of breaking them.

Project-Based Learning Connection: Students can work on a project where they create a simple storybook that incorporates key community rules. They can identify the main topic and key details in their own or their classmates’ stories.

4th Grade

ELA Standards

  • Reading Standards for Informational Text 4.7: Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.

History-Social Science Standards

  • 4.4 Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power: Tracing the evolution of California’s water system into a network of dams, aqueducts, and reservoirs.

Project-Based Learning Connection: Students can create a multimedia presentation or a physical model to explain the evolution of California’s water system. They can use various forms of visual information like charts and timelines to support their presentation.

7th Grade

ELA Standards

  • Writing Standards 7.7: Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions for further research and investigation.

History-Social Science Standards

  • 7.11 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the civilizations of Islam in the Middle Ages: Describe the establishment by Muhammad of Islam and the ways it spread across Arabia in the years that followed.

Project-Based Learning Connection: Students can conduct a research project to answer a question related to the spread of Islam. They can use multiple sources for their research and create a presentation or report to share their findings.


10 Reasons Why ELA and History Make The Perfect PBL Connection

Project-based learning offers a dynamic and engaging approach to education in the ELA classroom, particularly when applied to English and history subjects. By integrating project-based learning into their teaching practices, educators can provide students with opportunities to develop essential skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity.

Moreover, project-based learning allows students to connect their learning to real-world contexts and encourages them to take ownership of their education. The benefits of project-based learning in the ELA classroom are numerous, from fostering a deeper understanding of content to promoting student autonomy and motivation.

By embracing project-based learning, teachers can create an enriching and meaningful educational experience for their students in both English and history classes.

If you’re interested in learning about additional types of pedagogies, don’t forget to check out The Enduring Montessori Approach: Fostering Independence and Lifelong Learning, Unlocking the 7+ Benefits of the Reggio Emilia Method, 7 Essential Benefits of Constructivist Teaching, and 4 Reasons to Stop Play-Based Learning – Use Directed Play Instead. Happy reading!


I am an educator with almost 15 years of experience teaching in Japan, Hawaii, and in Los Angeles. My goal is to change education and the way we view literacy instruction in America.

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