Tony Gurr

Crafting Scenarios for 21st Century Fluency Lessons

In Classroom Teaching, Curriculum, Guest BLOGGERS on 29/12/2011 at 3:47 pm

I know, I know…so many of you have had just about enough of 21st Century “this” and 21st Century “that”!

But, we do have to finish the series of guest-post from  Lee CrockettIan Jukes and Andrew Churches before the end of the yearand you know that they really do “walk-their-talk” with everything 21st Century and allthingsFLUENCY. 


This is the final post in the serialisation of Literacy is NOT Enough – and perhaps the most important

If you remember (from the last post – Stop Talking, Start DOING!), the guys told us that Chapter 11 is really the “guts” of the book – as they walk us through the process of developing scenarios and provide us with samples and templates of the unit plans they have created for their great 21st Century Fluency Kits.

Now, obviously I cannot post the whole chapter – but you’ll be glad to hear that the guys promise me that the public beta version of their “curriculum integration kits” will be up on the website very soon. These “kits” will give you full details on the types of lessons, processes and rubrix you can create to build lessons that really encourage your learners to flourish in all the fluency areas we have been talkıng about.

So, while we wait for them to appear on the site, here’s the latest post from Andrew, Ian and Lee – outlining the critical starting point; Crafting Scenarios.


In the 21st-century classroom, the instructional model shifts. The teacher is no longer the focal point of the classroom. Instead, students work in groups to create real-world solutions to real-world problems. Embedded within these problems are the curricular objectives.

The teacher now takes on a new role as the facilitator of learning, presenting scenarios outlining real-world problems that are relevant to students and simultaneously aligned with curricular goals.

There are endless possibilities for crafting scenarios. At first, it may seem to be an overwhelming task, but rest assured that after you go through the process a few times, cultivating scenarios will become easier and you will be begin to see connections between the content that needs to be covered and everyday life experiences. One teacher shared this story with us: 

I was standing in line at the coffee shop. I was looking around, mindlessly waiting for my turn, when I saw the barista take a paper cup off the big stack by the espresso machine. Instantly, this idea for a whole unit jumped into my head about sustainability. I started typing madly on my phone to try and capture some of the details. 

Suddenly I was at the counter with the huge line behind me. I asked the person taking my order to just hang on for a second while I finished my thought; then I let the person behind me go ahead. I realized it looked ridiculous. I looked like one of my students that I roll my eyes at. ,What’s happened to me? I’ve turned into a thumbster teenager!


Start With the Curriculum 

Our entire educational system is built on standards. There is no getting away from the defined curriculum. Standards vary from state to state and country to country, but it makes no difference if your district has its own or aligns to the Common Core standards; you are still accountable for the curriculum. So the curriculum is an excellent place to start.

Select a single curricular objective. From that one objective, identify the specific skills or content that the students need to master. It is critical from the outset to remember that if we want to develop independent, lifelong learners, our intention must be to shift the burden of responsibility for learning from the teacher, where it has traditionally been, to the learner, where it truly belongs.

It is the students’ job to learn the curriculum. The teacher’s job is to guide them in that process, provide support, and develop a structure in which they can grow.


What Would Be Relevant – in Context, or Applicable to Your Students’ Lives?

The best place to start crafting a scenario is to ask yourself where your students may come across this information or this skill in their lives outside of school. If it’s something they’ll come across in their own world, then instantly there is a connection that brings relevance and context to the learner. If nothing immediately comes to mind, try to identify the kinds of tasks that students would be performing when they applied these skills or used this knowledge, and consider how using this content could be made compelling for students.

At this point, many people start to think vocationally and consider professions that would involve this particular skill or knowledge. While that can be useful, this approach is often quickly discarded by students.

Although we don’t want teachers to discount situations in which people may predictably come across this type of challenge as part of their occupation, we should also work to identify occupations and skills that include unpredictable circumstances. For example, if a nutritionist needs to use specific technical information related to a dietary matter and a student has no interest in becoming a nutritionist, the student will quickly disconnect from this information. In other words, there will be no personal relevance to the learner. Relevance must always be the top consideration in developing scenarios for learning to occur.

When using vocational examples, you have to ensure that there is relevance to the students. For example, what if a nutritionist was a consultant for your school’s football team, helping the team members to fine-tune their healthy eating habits in hopes of helping them win the state championship? If your school is big on football, this might be something students could relate to. Better still, maybe this actually is a real-world example and the football team is involved. Perhaps the problem could be tied to specific players. Maybe the quarterback could provide a food journal of what he eats on a daily basis and the students could make recommendations as personal nutritionists. In this case, the quarterback might use the suggestions, gain 4 pounds of lean body mass, and drop his body fat by 3 percent. Maybe because of this, your school will win the state championship. All the students would then acknowledge you as one of the reasons for victory – your brilliant unit plan about nutritional strategies would have won them the championship. There would be a parade, and all the students would carry you on their shoulders shouting your name. A statue might be erected in your honor, and they would name the new football stadium after you.

All right, perhaps we’re taking things a little too far, but do you see what we mean about connection? If students can relate to it, if they can get excited about it, and if they can connect to it, then they will learn from it, and this is easiest to do with a real-world scenario.

This can never be emphasized enough, so let’s repeat it one more time. For learning to stick, it has to have relevance – not to the teacher, but to the learner.


Ripped From the Headlines

Once you’re comfortable writing scenarios that are generic, you’ll find yourself creating scenarios on the fly – just like the teacher who wrote to us about her coffee shop experience. You will start seeing possibilities everywhere, because they are everywhere!

The point of a good scenario, and therefore a good unit, is that it has relevance to the students – that it has real-world context. What better place to find real-world context than in the real world? Ask yourself what is happening in the world. How is what’s happening going to affect us all? How can what is on the front page of the paper today be brought into the classroom?

You will find within newspaper and magazine stories the basis for dozens of scenarios. Every conceivable curricular objective for every subject—mathematics, social studies, language arts, economics, geography, science—it’s all there! As an added bonus, if it’s in the news, it’s something your students can instantly relate to. When you find a connection between local, national, and global situations in a headline story, you have the makings of a great scenario.


How Can a Task Be Designed to Require Higher-Level Thinking?

Earlier, we discussed Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy and noted that lower-order thinking skills (LOTS) involve simply remembering or understanding. As we move up through applying, analyzing, evaluating, and finally creating, we cultivate higher-order thinking skills (HOTS). If students are required to compare or contrast two or more things; if they are required to make inferences and find evidence to support generalizations; if they are required to form an opinion, or make a choice and justify the details with research; if they are asked to apply acquired knowledge, facts, techniques, and rules in a different way; if they are required to create something; or if they are asked to defend opinions by making informed decisions, then higher-level thinking is involved.

This, of course, is the objective. We want to ensure that by the time the students graduate, they are capable of unconsciously and consistently applying the higher-level skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy in their everyday lives. For them to achieve this, students must be given repeated opportunities to practice these skills. This is why it’s our responsibility to make sure higher-level thinking is involved in every educational scenario.


How Can Digital Tools Be Used to Create a Real-World Product That Demonstrates the Learning?

Wherever possible, the outcome should provide students with the opportunity to create, preferably with digital tools, a real-world product. Keep in mind the 6 Ds: Define, Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver, and Debrief. Delivery of a product must involve not only production but also publication. Publication is an essential step that allows students to debrief completely – to evaluate the product and the process through its real-world application to the original problem.


Putting It All Together

You now have everything you need to start assembling your scenario. This example is from a Grade 6 Language Arts lesson plan called “A President Is Born.” In this lesson, students work in groups to develop unique class presidential candidates and design creative campaign packages for them. Later on, the candidates square off against each other in a structured class debate.

 “A President Is Born”: The Scenario 

Our political leaders use various tools and strategies when running for an election. From a well-designed series of graphics to represent their ideas, values, and personalities to a catchy and compelling campaign slogan to their crucial political speeches, candidates must do a great deal to promote themselves and their ideals. In groups, take a look at the campaigns of recent political leaders and how they are structured to gain ideas for the next phase of the project. You can introduce videos or recordings of chosen campaign speeches for the class to consider and have them take notes as to what they observe about structure and content. 

Each group will dream up a running candidate for a fictional class president. Give the candidate a name, a unique personality, and a mission statement for the election. Your group will start by creating an original image for the candidate you are campaigning for, and there are no limitations here—person, animal, and so forth. Once you have created your running candidate, create a speech for him or her, which you will present orally. Conduct research and gain insight by asking people about what kinds of work leaders and politicians do for the people they represent. Look at other leaders for inspiration and ideas. Revise and edit your speech as you gain new insight and knowledge through research, which must include human resources (e.g., parents, friends, community leaders, etc.). Your speech needs to be a compelling political speech. 

Last, create a unique and stand-out campaign poster for your candidate. It should be eye-catching, original, and define your candidate’s personality and beliefs using images or maybe even a symbol of some kind. Also, make sure the poster includes a “campaign motto” or statement that is unique to your candidate. It should be one short line that sums up your character’s ideals and values and their pledge to the people if elected. 

Finally, it’s time to find out where your candidates stand on an important issue and how they would handle it if elected. With the teacher acting as mediator, the class will structure a debate about a chosen issue either in the news or in their community, and open a dialogue where the candidates square off and present their views and arguments. At the end of the debate, all groups will share their thoughts on how they felt each candidate represented himself or herself both on the campaign and in the issue debate and what strengths that candidate ultimately has as a vote-worthy figure.


The Acid Test for Scenario Development

Once you have developed a unit, you need to step back from it, do a Debrief, and find out how appropriate it is. Objectively, read your scenario and ask the following questions. If the answer to any of them is no, then go back to the beginning and review all of the steps until your scenario can pass this challenge.

  • Is there a problem or challenge?
  • Is this relevant to the learner?
  • Does it require higher-level thinking?
  • Does it address multiple curricular objectives?
  • Does it cultivate the 21st-century fluencies?
  • Are digital tools used to create a real-world product?
  • Are there things that need to be discovered?


I’d like to take a moment to thank Lee, Andrew and Ian for allowing me to use their book Literacy is NOT Enoughto produce this series of guest posts.

As I mentioned above, you will be able to find more information on their curriculum integration kits and some great sample lessons on their site in the very near future. You can also subscribe to their great blog – The Committed Sardine. 


  1. […] Image: Tony Gurr. ‘All Things Learning‘… […]

  2. […] Image: Tony Gurr ‘allthingslearning’… […]

  3. […] T. (2011, December 19). Allthingslearning. [Image]. Retrieved from… Howell, J. (2012). Teaching with ICT: digital pedagogies for collaboration and creativity, South […]

  4. […] Gurr. (2011). Crafting Scenarios [image]. Retrieved from…According to the Boise State University (BSU, 2016), Digital Fluency is “an evolving aptitude that […]

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