Believe me when I tell you this is a constant struggle. It's one that I probably fail at a good portion of the time. I had some success with this particular one, and hence, I'm putting it here. Plus, I regularly help children focus on the small successes, those that build up to larger ones, so why not afford myself the same support?
My state's standards tell us that first graders need to be able to tell a story about each of five famous Americans. About each one, there are particular facts that they are required to know. There are 5 things they are required to know about George Washington, and we are studying him now. There are so many ways to teach it, and I'm always looking for new ones (please feel free to comment with any ideas if this sparks ideas of your own or you have ideas to share).
This is a project that developed out of one of those premade projects in resources like The Mailbox and various books with multiple blackline masters. The project had the children cut out puzzle pieces that had various facts about George Washington printed on them, then the children would cut out and put the puzzle together, and, voila! the Washington Monument!
So, sort of a cool project. Definitely something first graders would be highly jazzed about. But, the preprinted puzzle pieces didn't relate to the required knowledge that my state expects. So, I adapted it. My kids now receive a paper with the empty puzzle pieces and they draw representations of what they're supposed to know about Washington. Then they cut, arrange, and glue it, and still, voila! the Washington Monument! But with their own personality and their own work.
I like this way better. It connects to the children's learning; it meets the six year old desire to do projects with their learning, and it allows them to add other things that they know (either about Washington himself, or the monument) onto their picture. It also really helps me informally get a sense of who is integrating this learning into their schema and who needs more support from me about ways to connect it to their own learning.
It's not a perfect project, but three years worth of children have appreciated it, and they typically hold onto the knowledge (and more than just the expected 5 facts) rather well.
Plus, look how cool... [note: click on any picture to make it bigger]