Capstone Project Teaching Guide


The Capstone Project gives students the opportunity to demonstrate strong independent research skills about a topic that they are passionate about.  They will choose a topic in the career, creative, or the social issues category and develop an essential question around this topic.  This essential question will be the complete focus of their research.  In addition to conducting research around an essential question, they are required to have multiple Real Life Experiences, where they will have the opportunity to meet experts in their topics of interest for job shadows, interviews, internships, and more. These Real Life Experiences take students outside of the classroom to provide hands-on experience, add a "real" element to their goals and dreams, and answer specific, challenging questions about their topic.  The products of the Capstone Project will be a cited research paper and a formal presentation in which students report their findings.  This project gives students a chance to think deeply about an interest or what is in store for them educationally and professionally.

This website is a collection of resources to aid and guide the capstone coach and students. It contains worksheets, guides, tips, and resources to support capstone participants from the day they begin the project until the week of capstone presentations.  Use this website as a reference for all things capstone!


This project was designed by a group of teachers who felt that our high school seniors lacked a direction and plan for their educational and professional futures.


The project provides space for the students to demonstrate strong independent research skills about a topic that they are passionate about.  In addition to conducting traditional research around their essential questions, students are also required to have multiple Real Life Experiences where they meet experts in their topics of interest for job shadows, interviews, internships, and more. These Real Life Experiences move outside of the classroom to provide students with a hands-on experience, add a tangible perspective to students' goals and dreams, and answer specific and challenging questions about their topics.  Students also practice independently writing cited research papers and conducting a formal presentation to report their findings.

General Goals

  • To reinforce independent, inquiry-based research skills
  • To strengthen students' formal communication, orally and in writing
  • To Stimulate thought, planning, learning and excitement in our students regarding their futures
  • To Expose students to actual professionals and professional atmospheres within their areas of interest

Subject Matter Description

Inquiry based research based on students' choice of topic.  The students can choose any topic that falls under one of the following areas: career, creative, and social issues.

Learner Description

Our capstone students are typically over aged because they have experienced serious challenges or interruptions in their education.  Life's stumbling blocks have made it particularly challenging for them to find success in a traditional school setting.  These students have found success at our school, because it was built specifically for them and they are preparing to graduate.


It is a prerequisite for capstone students to complete their classes in all subject areas prior to entering the project. They enter the project with decent research, writing, and presentation skills from the many classes they have completed during their years in high school.  

Learning Objectives

  • Traditional research skills (using Internet, books and periodicals)
  • Practice soft skills (code switching, proper dress, etiquette and conduct)
  • Formal writing skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Proper source citation


  • A computer with an Internet connection
  • Capstone web site
  • Links listed in the "resources" section of the web site
  • Inspiration software
  • Web editing software
  • Word processing software
  • A projector
  • A working email address
  • A telephone

Plans for Assessment and Evaluation

  • Students will be assessed for the research process, research paper and presentation using the capstone rubric.  (there will be a link to the rubric here)
  • Students also conduct reflective self-evaluation in their research papers and their presentations.

Instructional Plan

Choosing a Topic

Choosing a topic is one the most daunting tasks for a new capstone student.  Some students enter with a good idea of what they want their topic to be about.  Other students have no clue what they want their projects be about and they are probably freaking out about it!  To solve this problem, use the simplified, but very productive Capstone Topic Worksheet.  The worksheet asks students a series of simple questions about their interests within the 3 capstone categories: Career, Creative, and Social.  The Finding the Right Question worksheet will help students turn their topics into one essential question.


Capstone Topic Inventory

Start by having students fill out this worksheet.  At the end of the worksheet, students are asked to narrow down their list of topics to the 2 or 3 they are most passionate about. This is important for the next step of the process.


 Finding the Right Question

The next sheet reviews thick, thin, and “just right” questions.  This was taught in I-Search, so students should have a pretty good grasp on this concept.  On the back of this worksheet, students are asked to take their top 2 or 3 topics and brainstorm potential questions for each topic.  They are encouraged to use the computer program Inspiration to carry out this brainstorm.  This is a brainstorm of all questions around their topic.  At first, they should not eliminate questions that they’ve identified as too thin or thick.  Sometimes good questions come from a combination of multiple thin questions or a part of a thick question.  Students will, with your guidance, pick an essential question from this brainstorm or keep adding new questions about their topic until they find one that works for them.  Make sure the essential question you approve fits into the “just right” category (not too thick or thin).

 Once your student has come up with a suitable essential question, you are ready to move on to the Proposal.


The Proposal

 The proposal has two main purposes.  First, it is an opportunity for them to think about what the entire project would look like.  It is structured to allow them to start filling in the details of the project.  Second, it is a tool to allow the instructor to approve or decline a project before students begin their research.  When students have their essential question, they are ready for the Proposal Worksheet.  Students should use the Project Proposal Formatting worksheet to help them type the proposal.


Proposal Worksheet

The Proposal Worksheet will allow students to brainstorm about the several different sections of the capstone project.  Because students use their proposals in their final presentations, they should be typed.  They can either type the answers into a word document or handwrite them into the worksheet and type them later.  Once the proposals are submitted, read them and decide to approve or decline them.  The only time you should really decline a project is if you determine that the subject matter is inappropriate or that the student would have difficulty conducting research for the project. Would the student have difficulty finding books or internet articles that would help answer their essential question?  Would the student have difficulty finding multiple real life experiences that would help answer their essential question?  If the answer is no, you should generally approve the project and the student can begin their research.


The Research

Once the proposal is approved, students are ready to begin their research.  Here are some tips to help students with their research.


General Research Tips

  • At the beginning of the research process, have your students break down their question into 3 to 5 subtopics to simplify and organize the research. Example:  A student with the essential question, “What are the common principles necessary to manage a successful sports team?” focused his research on the four major elements of a sports manager’s job (player management, financial management, marketing management, and event management). 
  • The secondary (book and internet) research and the primary (Real Life Experience) research should be happening concurrently.


Internet Research Tips

  • Google is the world’s easiest and most effective search engine.  It’s a good starting point for the research.
  • Encourage students to play with different keywords while researching with Google.


Book Research Tips

  • You should organize two trips to the library early in the research phase.  If students miss both library trips, they are on their own for book research.  I suggest Copley Library for a better selection of books.  Prepare students for the library by having them search the library catalogue prior to the library visit.  To assist students in searching the Boston Public Library catalogue, use the worksheet entitled Searching for Books – Boston Public Library
  • When a student is having trouble finding books at the library, direct them to Google Books (  This site is a book search engine with previews of the books.  Many of these previews include almost the entire book and the books are often more up-to-date than library books.  Students can not print from this site, but can take notes directly from the computer.


Note Card Tips

  • When taking notes, students should be constantly asking themselves, “is this information helping me answer my essential question?”  If it is not helping them answer their question, it is probably irrelevant.   
  • Make sure students keep track of where they got specific information.  An easy strategy is to have students letter their articles (A,B,C) and place the letter of the relevant article at the top of each note card.


Real Life Experience 

Spending time in various sites and having experiences in the areas expressed in their Essential Question allows each student to gain some hands on experience in their field / area of interest.  By experiencing these “primary sources” they will be able to explain, first hand, how things work in their chosen area of study. 


Menu of Real Life Experience options

This is an ongoing commitment.   Student arranges such internship with guidance from BDEA faculty.  Student works on site with a regular schedule of hours and under the supervision of one person.  The internship is a larger commitment to one particular site.  A student may complete interviews, observations, etc. at this site as part of their weekly hours.

 Job Shadow
Student pairs with an adult in a chosen field and spends 3-4 hours shadowing this person as they go about their daily activities.

 Interviews with professionals/workers in the field
The student would arrange these interviews.  Student would develop a set of 10-15 questions to ask and record the answers.   Interviews should be approximately 1 hour in length.

The student will create, administer, and graph the results of ten surveys that directly relate to the project topic.

Attend a class
Student arranges to attend a class associated with his/her topic.  The class should be at least 1 hour long although most community college and college classes run longer than this.  Student should plan accordingly to stay for the entire class (not leave in the middle). Student should take notes during the class or do as the instructor requests. 

Place of Interest Visit
A student would arrange a visit with a set of 10 questions or more for exploration.  Student visits the site looking for answers for his/her questions.  A visit of this nature would last approximately 1.5 hours.

Observation of Workplace/Place of Interest
Student picks one or two things to observe in a workplace or place of interest.  Student observes for a minimum of 1 hour, taking notes that document what he/she has chosen to observe. 

Attend a performance/event
Student arranges and attends a performance or event related to his/her topic/field.  Such performance or event should be at least 1 hour long.  Student attends with several questions in mind and reflects on these after the performance/event. 

Volunteer at a site
Student arranges and volunteers at a site.  This should be a commitment of at least 2 hours or more per week unless it is a one shot deal such as a serving dinner at a shelter for a holiday. 

Site Exploration
Student can spend some time “exploring” various avenues that relate to his / her Essential Question.  This could be a web search of various programs, a visit to a site that houses programs for certification, and / or conversations with various persons who have links to the topic.

Real Life Experience Requirements
Students are required to complete a combination of at least two Real Life Experiences.  The only exception is an internship.  Because the internship is much more involved than other real life experiences, it alone fulfills the Real Life Experience requirements.

Students are responsible for arranging their own Real Life Experiences.  However, it is the instructor’s job to support students in making these arrangements.  When assisting students in finding real life experiences, follow these steps:

  1. Determine if the student has any connections of their own related to their topic.
  2. Determine if you know a professional connected to the student’s topic.
  3. Email school faculty and staff (our colleagues have a wide range of professional connections are always eager to help!).
  4. Use Internet or yellow pages to establish cold connections.  This is the most difficult route and a last resort.


The Paper

When students are close to wrapping up their research, they’re ready to begin their first draft.  The handout, Writing the Research Paper Rough Draft: Getting Specific, is one of the most useful tools in the project.  It explicitly breaks down what is expected in each section of the research paper.

Each student generally writes 3 to 5 drafts to get the paper to the point where it fulfills all of the requirements and is grammatically sound.



Students are asked to write a bibliography to cite all secondary sources used in the project.  Use the Citation and Bibliographies handout to show students how to format their bibliographies.


  • Special thanks to the amazing educators who created this project: James Liou, Margaret Samp, Jennie Hallisey, Suzanne Gill, and Eileen Maguire. I was lucky enough to sit in on the meetings through which this project was created, as the web design teacher.  My purpose at these meetings was to provide input about the presentation piece.  Little did I know that I would one day be the primary capstone coach.  I was lucky to have inherited such a well thought out and meaningful project and witness its creation.
  • Thanks to Dr. Nguyen at Bridgewater State University and my classmates for pushing me to create a web site that I expect to be extremely useful for me or anybody who coaches the Capstone Project.
  • Thank you to Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana from the Right Question Project for helping me encourage students to ask deeper, more meaningful questions.