How to Makeover Book Reports with Creative Project Based Learning

This post explains five steps to transform books report projects into higher-order project based learning. Real student examples of creative thinking project based assessments are included for a choice novel unit.
The book report project is a classic summative assessment to measure students’ understanding of their assigned reading. While the book report has good intentions and certainly can be a good stepping stone for beginning students, book reports tend only to measure basic thinking skills. In fact, according to Bloom’s Taxonomy, “report” is a lower-level thinking skill in the Understanding Domain. My goal is to take students from those lower-level thinking skills to higher-level thinking skills. In order to do this, students engage in creative thinking project based learning (PBL) as a book report alternative. The goal of this project based assessment (PBA) is to get students to use their extended thinking skills (connect, critique, analyze, create, prove, design, etc.) to provide the class with a meaningful new perspective on their books, a takeaway. I’ve been doing this project for a few years now, and I am always impressed by the creativity and variety of the projects. You can check out my creative thinking project here.

1. Give them choice.

In order to get buy in, your students must be passionate about the topic. Give them an overarching theme or book list for structure, but within that structure, allow them the opportunity to find a topic interesting to them. You can read about how I make choice reading work in my classroom here.

2. Teach them what higher-order thinking means.

One of the biggest issues that I found with my students is that when given such autonomy, they know where to start. When this happens, students usually end up exhibiting basic thinking skills, like summarizing, reciting, or defining. I like to explain higher-order thinking skills with an iceberg analogy. I show them this image and explain that what we see from the surface is similar to the literal meaning of the author’s writing. Understanding this part only requires surface-level thinking. However, when we dive under the water, we can discover something amazing beneath the surface. I challenge students to see their books under the surface, to explore the deeper, complex, and beautiful meanings of a work.

3. Ask them to reflect.

For projects like these, students need to reflect on their reasoning. After my first year assigning this project, I noticed that students tended to jump right into an idea without thinking through their reasoning. To combat that situation, I ask students to complete a metacognitive proposal. The idea is to get them to reflect on their own thinking related to how they want to complete their creative writing projects before they start creating. Not only does this help the students brainstorm, but it also gives me something to focus on during our conferences, which leads me to the next point.

4. Give them guidance.

After students complete their meta-cognitive proposal, we conference. This is the first of several conferences during the project, so I can guide them to use higher-order thinking skills. I’ve found that often times students just need to talk it out. During this project, I give ample time in class to work on their projects. I do this mainly so I can monitor their work and informally meet with each student during the project. This helps me to know that they are on the track to higher-order thinking.

5. Give them time (to present).

Looking at the beautiful projects are certainly awesome, but the real magic happens when we get to hear why and how they did it. It’s important for the student to have the chance to explain his/her thinking. This type of reflection is how I determine their level of thinking about the meaning of the text. I recommend using a detailed rubric to give students guidance for their presentation material. I grade these projects in real-time as they are presenting with a rubric. This saves me a lot of grading time, of course, but it also helps so that I don’t forget their reasoning.

Creative Thinking Project Examples

Here are some examples of my students’ projects from the past. Keep in mind these projects were paired with presentations in which the students explained all sorts of deeper meanings and literary significance, such as symbolism, allusion, theme, and more. This first project was created digitally using Google Slides and recorded with a screencast. The student created an “app” to analyze characters in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Creative thinking projects are a great way to engage students in higher order project based learning.

To analyze Gulliver’s Travels, this student created a scrapbook from the perspective of Gulliver. The scrapbook documented major settings, conflicts, and symbols in the novel.


Creative thinking projects are project based assessments that encourage students to dig deeper into the text.

I love how this map project for The Heart of Darkness looks antiquated! This student analyzed the literal and symbolic journey in the novel.

Creative thinking projects are project based assessments that encourage students to dig deeper into the text.

This student used characterization as the focus for her creative thinking project on And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

This project created an invented journal for the killer in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. This journal presented a psychological analysis of the character.

Creative thinking projects are a great way to engage students in higher-order project based learning.

Analyzing Portrait of a Killer by Patricia Cornwell, this student re-created the crime web to track Jack the Ripper. Using this board, the student presented an alternative theory to the author’s conclusion.

The Critical Reader's Novel Study includes everything you need for a whole class or choice reading unit and includes a creative thinking project for the final project based assessment.

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