Show Some Love for Pets – A Kindergarten Class’s Journey in Project-Based Learning

Last semester, our two Kindergarten classes engaged in a Project-Based Learning (PBL) adventure about pets. The students researched their favorite animals throughout the year from experts, story books, movies, and informational texts, and then turned their knowledge into content for a storybook that they affectionately called “P is for Pets.” The students illustrated each page of the book using collage art. They also designed songs for an accompanying music album. The project culminated with a book publishing event complete with a screening of their music videos, a book reading, and book signings by the authors.

Here is the digital version of the book they designed with the accompanying songs.


P is for Pets is a book two kindergarten classes designed over a school semester. Source: Brad Walsh

The Gold Standard PBL model was used to highlight key elements of the P is for Pets book publishing project.

This project followed the Gold Standard PBL model.


Challenging Problem or Question /Essential Question

All of our teachers own or owned pets, and we had noticed students were also passionate about animals. One of our school’s core values is “show some love to others,” (care and empathize with others), so we decided that caring for pets was a great way for students to understand this core value.

Some ideas for essential questions we originally came up with were “How can we care for animals?” “Why do people care about animals?” Eventually, the students and teachers tied the essential question and project outcome together after analyzing models of excellence for the storybook design. “How can we show some love for pets?” was the final iteration of our project’s essential question. It came from a student sharing his thoughts about how a book about pets could inspire others to care about pets.

Project Launch

The children interacted with the animals and insects at Chaoyang Park in Beijing over a few weeks to help them relate to the goals of their project. Source: Brad Walsh

At the beginning of the semester, we had the privilege of being located in ChaoYang Park in Beijing. This allowed us to get outside and be one with nature. It also provided us with the great opportunity to see firsthand the children’s interactions with animals and insects. We reflected on these experiences with the children using thinking strategies such as “I used to think… Now I think…” and “I see… I think… I wonder,” which helped them make connections to our project topic. For example, we interviewed a woman running a goldfish fishing game about how she cares for the fish before they are caught, and if she wonders about the fish safety and well-being after they are taken home. One student’s response to this event was “I used to think these goldfish were happy, and now I think people treat them as toys. I hope people can show more love to them.”

Sustained Inquiry / Need to Know / Knowledge Harvest / Research

First, students brainstormed pets and animals they knew. We also did some fun phonics activities to help students identify and categorize the pets according to their initial letters.

Many letters had more than one pet/animal associated with it, so the students did class surveys to identify one favorite animal for each letter (This is why we ended up with odd pets, such as a narwhal!)

The kids surveyed each other to decide on which pets they wanted in their book. Source: Brad Walsh








Next, we held reading workshops and prepared Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) activities such as MeTalks, PictureTalks, MovieTalks, One Word Images, and StoryAsking to build the students’ English language fluency in the target language they would use to create content for their book. After each activity, students shared their learning in a KWL reflection exercise, which we documented.

The students researched and documented the content for their book. Source: Brad Walsh
The students performed TPRS activities, such as Story Asking, to build up their target language skills in before developing the content for their book. Source: Brad Walsh

Some other authentic activities that helped build the students’ language skills and knowledge for creating the book content include:

  • Caring for class pets (butterflies and hamsters).
  • Talking with insect guest speakers
  • Interviewing policemen who care for police dogs
  • Interviewing people who manage the goldfish fishing activities in Chaoyang park.

The children participated in a variety of real-world connected activities to help them come up with content for their books. Source: Brad Walsh

Publicly Presented Product

The teachers decided on a book as a publicly presented product, but we respected “student voice and choice” as much as possible in other project aspects, such as the book’s layout and illustrations on their own. The students also composed a music album. They felt the songs would make the book more attractive to students their age who couldn’t read. Here is how we designed the book step by step with the students’ voice and choice at the forefront:

Part 1: Designing the book illustrations

The content for the book was inspired by the book E is for Earthworm.

For the illustrations, we began by analyzing and evaluating ‘Models of Excellence (MoE)’ in order to create our own guiding rubric of the work we produced. We looked at different children’s books, such as the book “E is for Earthworm”. They loved the book’s collage artwork, so we looked at more books with this illustration style, such as works by Eric Carle (i.e. The Hungry Caterpillar). To help maximize the outcomes of these brainstorms, we had the children share their thoughts using “I see… I think… I wonder…” The teachers recorded the children’s thoughts on the artwork.

Students practiced layering techniques for their book’s artwork. Source: Brad Walsh

Some artwork ideas the students came up with included:

  • using contrasting colors
  • using similar color themes (i.e. different shades of red)
  • using playdough for animals
  • use colored paper
  • layer the paper for a 3D effect
  • taking quality pictures of the artwork
What happens when the quality of work doesn’t match expectations? This happens in just about every project, and ours was no different. Our first final draft was largely left to the students’ own creations, but the final outcome was not up to their high personal standards.
The original drafts of each page in the book were not up to students’ expectations, so they continued to evaluate and revise their work. Source: Brad Walsh

So as not to discourage the students, but still push them to persevere in improving their work, we held art design skills workshops guided by Critical Friends sessions. The students gained the constructive feedback necessary to guide their iterations.

The students were given a chance to draft their drawings of different pets first. We got inspiration for this drafting process from Austin’s Butterfly.

A  student’s pet frog drawing before and after receiving feedback and revisions. Source: Brad Walsh
Source: Brad Walsh









After, students practiced designing their collages. They learned how to center the pets images on the page, how to layer, how to design color themes with similar and contrasting colors. Eventually, the pages started taking on personality. Most importantly, the children were satisfied with the quality of the artwork they designed.

The students practiced layering techniques to make their collages more vivid. Source: Brad Walsh

For example, students chose various shades of blue and orange as the color theme for the narwhal page. The students identified ice, sea, splashing water, sky, fish and clouds as the elements in a narwhal’s environment, and then we matched appropriate shades of blue for each of those elements. The contrasting orange was used for the sun.

The students learned how to select color themes for each pet page. Source: Brad Walsh

Part 2: Designing the book

We used Book Creator to design our books. We first familiarized students with its functions, such as uploading pictures, writing different text fonts, adding in sound, deleting images, drawing in images, and adding background colors.

When the students were comfortable with the Book Creator functions, they worked on designing the page layouts.

The students used Book Creator to add illustrations to connect with the book content. Source: Brad Walsh

During one Critical Friends session, a student pointed out that some  of the text wasn’t represented in the artwork. So, we went back through all of the pages to fill in the missing illustrations. For example, on the ‘H is for Horse’ page, students noticed that hay and a brush needed to be added to the picture to support the text, so they drew it in using Book Creator’s drawing function.

The author’s page was a last-minute personalized add-on, which made the kids laugh and scream with excitement. We saw how the children’s faces were superimposed on the worms in the book “E is for Earthworms,” so the students all agreed to include this in their book. This aspect really made the book publishing experience authentic for the children.

Personalizing the book with the students’ pictures on their favorite animal helped make the book publishing experience authentic for the children. Source: Brad Walsh

Part 3: Designing the music

We spent some time with the students in sampling children songs, selecting rhythms, adding and mixing beats, and allowing them to practice singing their lyrics to the beats. The student’s enthusiasm for the songs is almost tangible as they listen to their CD at home and at school every day. They have also memorized all the song lyrics. You can listen to the music here:

Authenticity – Exhibition Day

We planned a book publishing event to celebrate the publishing of our book on Amazon for just this reason.

Students also designed a music album for their book. Source: Brad Walsh

Before the book release, we had professionals discuss with students what a book publishing event is, and discuss book publishing choices, such as binding options, book cover and printing options, ISBNs, etc.

Our book publishing event involved a screening of music videos from our album and an autograph signing. (The students absolutely loved signing their names on the author’s page right below their pictures!)

The students held a book signing for the release of their book. Source: Brad Walsh

We also published the book online using an Amazon online seller account through Amazon’s CreateSpace. Check out our book here!

Assessments and Reflections

We reflected on our creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking growth in the project using these rubrics. We also had a “What I know now…” discussion about our pet knowledge. Perhaps the most impressive reflection on the project came from a young girl in class. She said “I know now that books are magical. They help you share something you love with many people, which can help make us all better. More kids should publish books about what they love.”


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Brad Walsh
I am ETU School’s Vice Principal in charge of Project Based Learning Curriculum Development and English Teaching. Throughout my teaching career, I have been specializing in developing positive psychology in children through STEAM-based (Science, Engineering, Art, Technology and Mathematics) activities, and have even written and published textbooks with my team in these subject areas.  I am also very passionate in learning about innovative classroom projects, so please feel free to share your ideas with me!



Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling – Engaging EFL/ESL

What is your biggest hope for your students at school?

Most educators would say they want their students to “achieve high academic goals” and “be engaged in learning.” If you are anything like me, then building engaging lessons for your students is a priority. Academic achievement isn’t an afterthought, but a direct result of engaged learning. If you have ever taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL), then you know that engagement is especially important for learning. Learning foreign languages is stressful, so engagement is the key to avoiding students tuning out their learning.

I began teaching over a decade ago at a prominent English language school in Taipei, Taiwan. I overcompensated for my lack of teaching experience by being the fun teacher. This involved mainly learning through games. My go-to classroom materials were the sticky ball, a flyswatter, stuffed dice, cards, crosswords, word searches, a “star” leader board, etc.

Over time, I realized engaged learning is more than just fun and games, and so my teaching strategies matured. A friend and mentor of mine introduced me to Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS). TPRS made learning more engaging for my students. Classes were more active and comprehensible. My student’s language acquisition and classroom behavior also improved after I started teaching with TPRS. Most importantly, TPRS has made me confident that every class will be an engaging learning experience for my students, and thus I enjoy teaching much more.

I have worked in multiple cities across Asia and North America, and found that TPRS is not well known or practiced in EFL/ESL teaching circles. This is surprising to me because it is such a fun, engaging, and effective teaching method. In some schools, TPRS has improved enrollment in post-secondary foreign language studies programs by 400%. My colleague and I even had our current school’s EFL department adopt TPRS as our key form of instruction. In this article, I will briefly introduce TPRS in hopes to inspire more EFL/ESL educators to adopt it as their teaching practice.

What is TPRS?

TPRS is an effective method for teaching proficiency and fluency in foreign languages. Its goal is to immerse students into a foreign language so the language is subconsciously and effortlessly acquired as opposed to consciously learned.  This is done by teachers making class content comprehensible and meaningful to the students through story asking and a lot of reading. Conversely, the Skill-Building Hypothesis of language learning involves memorizing grammar rules, which is slow and restrictive to the thinking process.

TPRS children's drawing
With TPRS students design personalized stories every 1-2 weeks.

TPRS is an evidenced-based teaching practice grounded in research. The main research supporting this practice is Stephen Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition and its five main hypotheses. A discussion of the research into TPRS is beyond the scope of this article, but you can find more information about it here.

TPRS started as Total Physical Response (TPR), which involved students simultaneously listening to and performing commands from instructors. TPRS was then developed by Blaine Ray in the 1980s so teachers could expand teaching imperative language with the TPR method to the narrative and descriptive modes of speech. This is done by having students read stories and design their own stories with target language.

How does TPRS create an engaged learning experience for EFL/ESL students?

  •  TPRS is personalized.

Students buy in to learning when it is about them, but teachers struggle to personalize lesson plans to all the unique personalities in their class. Personalization is a key to TPRS lesson plans. In TPRS, the focus is on the students rather than the content being taught. This is achieved during Personalized Question-Answer (PQA) time. During PQA time, teachers personalize lessons by asking students about topics relevant to their lives.

With TPRS students design personalized stories every 1-2 weeks. These stories are for the students, by the students. When students take the lead in story creation, they often use names, places and issues meaningful to them. After, students dramatize their stories for a public audience, which solidifies their ownership and engagement in learning. Finally, students publish their books using media design programs, and then place the books in a classroom DIY library where they can curl up in a bean bag chair to read and laugh a with classmates.

TPRS book page about owls
Students publish their books using media design programs.
  • TPRS facilitates active thinking/learning.

Active learning is the essence of engagement. Students that are participating in class are engaged, and are thus actively learning.

One example is TPR. TPR is still used in the TPRS classroom as a vocabulary introduction technique.  In TPR, the teacher repeats commands in varying sequences while the students execute those commands. The students are actively thinking about what the teacher is saying by doing the actions proposed to them.

For example, in a TPR classroom the teacher may say the command “stand” as she and the student perform the standing action together. Then, the teacher will say “stand” again, but delay her action to allow the student to respond independently. After, the teacher may say “stand” and “walk,” or other verbs, to chain commands together. Finally, the teacher would include descriptors such as “slowly and quickly” to the commands as the student follows them.

The repetitive nature of the TPRS classroom requires teachers to constantly ask students questions. The TPRS teacher navigates from class-directed to individual-directed questions throughout the class, which keeps students attentive. Also, the questions being asked are at a level where all students have the confidence to respond, so student participation is always high.

  • TPRS makes content comprehensible for EFL students.

In the TPRS classroom, the teacher conveys language audibly and in print to the students using a technique known as circling. In circling, the teacher scaffolds content down into simple and repetitive questions and/or statements, and incrementally has students build more details about the story by asking increasingly complex questions. Questions go from dichotomous (yes/no, either/or) to open-ended (who, what, where) as the students’ comprehension increases.

Krashen’s Affective Filter hypothesis states that motivation, self-confidence and anxiety have a major effect on learning languages, so foreign language learning environments must remain motivating, positive, and confidence building. Therefore, in the TPRS classroom, teachers respect the native language barriers to learning by slowing the pace of their class and doing native language comprehension checks. Texts are also presented bilingually so children can quickly confirm their assumptions of language meaning. This goes against most immersion class rules of “no native language in the classroom,” but it is a very effective method for increasing engagement and respecting culture in the foreign language classroom.

  • TPRS is fun for you and your students!

A typical TPRS class involves storytelling, story writing, reading, video viewing, media design, drama, and art!

  • TPRS makes you a better educator.

TPRS will make you a better communicator because you will learn to ask students more questions at levels they understand. I have often heard teachers say that more questions equates to more thinking in the classroom. I would adjust that to say “more quality questions equates to more thinking in the classroom.” The circling technique has done wonders for the quality of communication I have with my students. I am able to pace my thinking better, and ask questions they comprehend while simultaneously building up their thinking to a higher level.


Implementing TPRS into your classroom is one definite way to make your teaching more engaging and effective. TPRS has brought my students deep and rich learning experiences over the years. It creates a fun and interactive classroom where students are fully engaged in their learning. It teaches students in a meaningful and non-stressful way because the input is comprehensible to them.

There are many ways to practice TPRS in the classroom. Here are some great TPRS sites that provide some insight into TPRS teaching practices:

Ben Slavic – A Happier Way to Teach Languages

Susan Gross TPRStorytelling

Brad Walsh
I am ETU School’s Vice Principal in charge of Project Based Learning Curriculum Development and English Teaching. Throughout my teaching career, I have been specializing in developing positive psychology in children through STEAM-based (Science, Engineering, Art, Technology and Mathematics) activities, and have even written and published textbooks with my team in these subject areas.



Photos: Brad Walsh, All Rights Reserved

Classroom Rewards: What Is Your Flavor Du Jour?

Motivating students has been a teacher’s task since the beginning of teaching which is possibly the world’s second oldest profession.

At the Catholic school I attended my elementary years the motivation for the classroom was fear. The last thing any student of Sister Agnes’ third-grade class wanted was to be dragged behind the piano in the corner of the room where one’s backside would have a lengthy conversation with the custom-made, solid oak, half-yard stick. Sadly, over the course of the year every student in her class would have that conversation—a staccato firing of the oak with reports blasting throughout the classroom like Spring Festival fireworks. Even little Susie who never did anything wrong was forced to walk the walk-of-shame—coming out from behind the piano, Sister Agnes smiling her well-that-certainly-taught-you-never-to-backtalk-a-nun-didn’t-it smirk, while trying to hide the tears welling up from the pain and indignity as all the students did.

Thankfully, in most schools they don’t have the funds to put pianos into classrooms any more, and in most countries I’ve worked there are laws protecting students from nuns. (However, the last country I worked in, in SE Asia, the native teachers really had to mess up a student before the teacher was reprimanded. One teacher lost their job only after hitting a student in the head with a ruler and accidentally slicing off the student’s ear.)

And then, thanks to modern adhesives, someone invented the gold star and a more modern system of student rewards was born. Which leads to the question: What is your classroom reward flavor du jour?

Do you have a points system that you tally on the board? Do you have a gold star system? Do you have a multiple choice foamy sticker collection? Do you let students choose from a toy chest of Super Balls? Do you give the students lollipops or chocolates? Do you give them a cigarette? Or do you find that you don’t need rewards?

Whatever you do, there are scores of other teachers and classroom assistants doing the same thing. The bottom line is if it works for you and your students are constantly improving it’s probably a good thing for you. But, could it be better for them?

As a teacher, in theory, you want to make a difference in your students’ lives—probably to make their lives better. Filling a student with knowledge and curiosity is a common goal amongst educators. Working hand-in-hand with educators to make the students’ lives better are the parents; sometimes a teacher knows the parents and more frequently not.

What if I told you that some of the things listed among the student rewards above are bad for your health and are among the leading causes of death around the world; cause cancer [1]; are a major cause of heart related diseases; are the cause of many dental problems; and are addictive?

You reply, “You did mention cigarettes, and of course I’d never give a cigarette to a student as a reward.”

Of course you wouldn’t. Yet, these health issues which are all directly related to cigarettes are also all directly related to sugar consumption as well.

But one lollipop surely can’t be that bad. Now replace the word lollipop with cigarette.

According to guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO), people should limit their sugar intake to 5 percent of their total caloric intake to prevent sugar-related health issues that include all the ones mentioned plus dozens more—including diabetes which is a heinous disease in the way it kills people. For an adult that’s 25 grams of sugar or 6 teaspoons per day. For a child the 5 percent applies as well.

In a survey I gave to 80 students in grades 7 to 10, ninety-seven percent said that humans require sugar every day with their answers varying in range from 3 teaspoons to 30 teaspoons per day. When I told them that humans do not require sugar some even had their parents come talk to me because they were so upset. Even at my thesis defense one of the committee members questioned that fact—fortunately, another committee member, an M.D., corroborated my position.

My current school has several teachers who use cigarettes candy as rewards. One gives out 100 gram chocolate bars—another, Chupa Chups lollipops, or something very similar.

One Chupa Chups lollipop weighs 12 grams, and its website says it contains only 10 grams of sugar (but it has 11g of carbohydrates so there is some number fudging going on since carbohydrates are sugars). This means it has 2 grams, 17 percent, of coloring and additives, which is difficult to believe.  So my belief is that it contains 12 grams of sugar, but I’ll humor the official ingredient list and say 11 grams because 11 grams of carbohydrates directly converts to 11 grams of sugar.

Now, if the student is a full-grown 17-year-old, one Chupa Chups would be about half of the WHO limit.  For a first- or second-grader it’s likely the total amount of sugar that student should have for the day. I don’t even want to calculate the 100g chocolate bar into this equation.

If you only give out individual, cello-wrapped candies that weigh 3 grams, is that OK? I can’t say. But I can ask what your job is. Is your job to fill a student’s belly with candy and get them closer to their daily limit of sugar? I propose that your job is to fill students’ heads with valuable, or otherwise, information that’s going to make a difference in their lives not filling their bellies with sugar that may unequally make a difference in their lives, in a deleterious way.

“But I’ve spoken with the parents, and they said it was okay if I give their child a candy during class,” you reply.

Maybe so, but would you give them a cigarette?  What if the parents said it was OK if you give the student a cigarette as a reward; would you do it then? What if the candy you provide is the beginning of a love affair with that candy that leads to their diabetes or cancer.  It may be a far-fetched scenario, but is it impossible?

These reasons are why I prefer to give stickers and stars rather than lollipops and candy bars to my students. Because I don’t know if the parents want me to give their student a lollipop. And I don’t know if the same parents know about the associated cognitive development and health concerns that have come to light with current research into sugar consumption—critical information that would enable them to reach an educated decision concerning the matter.

I don’t know the research on giving students stickers as a reward, but I know research shows that children who eat nutrient deficient food regularly perform worse in exercises requiring cognitive flexibility. And students who eat junk food regularly have lower grade percentage averages (GPA) than students who eat meals prepared at home from unrefined ingredients. One of the ingredients that determine whether a food qualifies as junk food is its sugar content. One Chupa Chup lollipop, a relatively small piece of candy, contains 12g of sugar, half of the WHO ideal for sugar consumption per day for an adult. So, as a group who want our students to succeed, should we be helping them reach their WHO recommended intake of sugar by giving candy as a reward?

For great ideas about rewarding and motivating students follow this link to my alma mater.



Christopher Jones
I came to Beijing to teach after teaching in Thailand for 9 years in primary, middle, and high school. I earned my MAT English, and Diploma in Teacher Education, while in Thailand, spending many weekends commuting back and forth to Bangkok from my home in Hua Hin. I am currently working on my thesis for a Master’s Degree in Scientific and Technical Communication (STC).


WeChat: Mr_C_Jones 


Illustrations by Nichalia Schwartz, All Rights Reserved