Individual ELO Design

Individual ELO Design

High quality ELOs

High quality ELOs include eight elements, consisting of four key features and four learning components.

Four key features:

  1. Community-based
  2. Community partner or mentor
  3. Credit-bearing competencies
  4. Essential Question

Four learning components:

  1. Research
  2. Reflection
  3. Product
  4. Presentation of Learning

ELO Design Template

The ELO Design Template is a tool to help you incorporate all elements of the ELO.

The design process may vary. For example, an ELO may be initiated by a student and teacher, and then other learning team members are added, or a teacher and community partner may initiate an ELO to propose to a group of students. Schools may develop an agreement form that outlines a consistent process to ensure the quality of the ELO designs.

Four key features

High quality ELOs have four key features anchored in UbD (Understanding by Design):

1. Essential question

This is the driving question behind the ELO. A good essential question will:

  • motivate and shift students toward ownership of learning
  • be thoughtful, provoking, and philosophical, and not have a simple (or “google-able”) answer
  • provide a baseline for the student to refine his or her own answer throughout the ELO experience.

2. Competencies

Competencies are clear criteria that guide students’ learning and translate the learning into credit towards graduation. A competency map is a good tool to show the connection between ELO activities and the competencies the student is working to master.

ELOs may cross multiple content areas since competencies lend themselves to interdisciplinary thinking. See samples of interdisciplinary ELOs on this site.

More resources on competencies.

3. Community partners

Community partners take the learning outside of school. Through them, students engage in meaningful learning that contributes back to the larger community.

Plan strategies for successful community partnerships:

  • Use the ELO design template to clarify exactly how feedback and coaching will happen during the course of the ELO
  • Use the Community Partner template as a guideline for developing and nurturing partnerships
  • Consider having  a policy on background checks
  • Gain a working knowledge of your school insurance policy
  • Understand the NH Department of Labor rules around work-based learning.

4. Projects

Projects are the natural end result of the student’s learning journey and provide a vehicle for processing and exploring the competencies through the essential question.

In high quality ELOs, students should be working on projects that:

  • result in an original product or idea
  • contribute back to a larger community
  • support disciplined inquiry (i.e., the student acts as a mathematician, historian, artist, or other role in order to do the work).

Explore Buck Institute for Education (BIE) for project ideas. The Buck Institute supports teachers to use Project Based Learning, which they define as a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge.

Four learning components of a high quality ELO

High quality ELOs have four components that encompass different modes of student learning. The components provide opportunities for the student to:

  • delve into an essential question
  • explore competencies
  • grow as a learner
  • create new meaning and knowledge.

The four-page NH DOE resource, “What is a Good ELO?” provides detailed explanations and a variety of examples for each component. Detailed planning for all four components happens before the ELO begins:

  1. Research
  2. Reflection
  3. Product
  4. Presentation
Four key ELO components: research, reflection, presentation, product

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Winnacunnet High School has information sheets for students for each component, with examples and tips:

Turning an Almost ELO into a high quality ELO

You may be really close to doing ELOs at your school without even realizing it. With minor changes, common academic structures and activities can grow into high quality ELOs.

The Almost ELO chart (PDF, 1 page, 2018) lists activities that meet the state definition of ELOs (Section 306.27 (b) of the NH Minimum Standards for School Approval), and shows what you would add to make them into high quality ELOs.

For example, a senior project ELO might just need an essential question and a final presentation. An internship might need an essential question, research, reflection and a product. It all depends on how your school currently sets up these activities.

Chart is available as a Word doc

MSWord version of Almost ELO Chart. Feel free to customize for your school.

Example: a summer career exploration program at Keene State College, ACES, was turned into an ELO structure with just a few hours work with the ELO Design Template. The planners had to connect to specific competencies, tighten up the reflection process, and ask the program director to write student narratives.

To get started on your own Almost ELO,

  1. Gather the ELO Design Template and the four-page NH DOE resource, “What is a Good ELO?” that provides detailed explanations of research, reflection, product and presentation.
  2. Fill out the design template. Your work to answer the template questions will show you what you need to tweak.
  3. Try it out with somebody!

Competencies resources

example of a VLACS competency

Biology competency list from VLACS.

  • The NH Dept of Education developed a Competency Validation Rubric in 2010 to help you evaluate course-level competencies, and a Technical Advisory to provide more background. The four elements are:
    • relevance to content area
    • enduring concepts
    • cognitive demand
    • relative to Assessment
  • The NH Dept of Education has a page, State Model Competencies, which has links to approved competencies in English Language Arts, Math, Science, Arts, and Work Study practices.
  • VLACS (Virtual Learning Academy Charter School) has open source competencies for all their high school and middle school courses, available for anyone to use. VLACS is an approved New Hampshire high school, so the competencies may match up well with the courses in your schools. To see competencies for each course, go the VLACS Learning Catalog and click on the course name. Click on a specific competency to see the full description.
  • VLACS Learning Pathways (PDF, 45 slides, 2016) is a PowerPoint presentation that gives an overview of competencies and a competency-based approach to dividing course credit between classroom learning and ELO learning.
  • CompetencyWorks is an online resource to provide information and knowledge about competency education. It has a blog filled with practitioner knowledge and policy advancements, and a wiki to make it easy to get examples of materials.
  • The Art and Science of Designing Competencies by Chris Sturgis is a 16-page Issue Brief that brings together insights from a number of leading practitioners from around the country.
  • A companion resource to The Art and Science of Designing Competencies is the Competency-Based Pathways Wiki.

Roles and responsibilities on an ELO team

An ELO team is a collaboration of people with clear roles and responsibilities. Student involvement in all aspects of the experience is critical, including developing their ELO plan, learning goals, and assessment of their learning.


  • Work with ELO coordinator, community partner, and teacher to become familiar with the competencies, the assessment process, and the rubrics used for assessment
  • Work with teacher to determine assessment of competency mastery
  • Complete regular reflections, assessing progress on ELO, identifying next steps in learning, and periodically discussing reflections with mentor and/or teacher
  • Communicate regularly with the ELO coordinator, community mentor, and teacher
  • Meet timeline commitments for assignments, self-assessment/reflections, and final assessment of learning

ELO coordinator

  • Clarify the role of each person on the team
  • Provide coaching to individuals involved in the team
  • Ensure that appropriate and rigorous assessment rubrics are used in all ELO performance assessments
  • Ensure the student is involved in the development of the assessment process
  • Example: ELO Coordinator job description from Lebanon High School (PDF)

Teacher or certified school personnel

  • Identify competencies (what the student needs to learn) with the student
  • With the student and with input from the community partner, define how and when the student will be assessed on those competencies
  • Assess student’s mastery of pre-determined competencies, including input from community partners and students
  • Oversee the ongoing and final assessment of student progress using appropriate and rigorous performance assessment rubrics, and provide frequent feedback to the student regarding progress

Community partner/mentor  

The specific role of the community member in the ELO is determined at the outset with the student, teacher, and ELO coordinator. At minimum, the community partner will:

  • Support and coach students in their ELO experience
  • Provide the learning experiences/environment that allow the student to gain mastery in the pre-determined competencies
  • Provide the student with timely, detailed feedback to develop skills, knowledge, problem-solving ability, creativity, and complex thinking

Parent or Guardian

Student success is linked to parent/guardian involvement and encouragment throughout the ELO process. Parents:

  • Become familiar with the ELO process, including assessment
  • Provide support and coaching to the student throughout the ELO
  • Attend the final presentation of learning

Guidance/School counselor

  • Support the ELO by including it in the student’s transcript
  • Modify the student’s schedule depending on when the ELO occurs

Roles and Responsibilities in ELO Assessment (PDF, 1 page, 2011) contains most of the information on this page.

Students with IEPs or Section 504 plans

ELOs can be available to any student in any subject. There are specific considerations to take into account for a student with an IEP or Section 504 plan.

Students with IEPs

The IEP team works together with the ELO team to outline specific goals and roles for relevant support staff. Goals should:

  • include clear competencies based on curriculum expectations, related skills, and the postsecondary and annual goals from the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).
  • take into account student interests, needs, and aspirations that may not be reflected in the IEP.
  • be attainable in a logistical sense – designed so that transportation, time commitments, and coaching opportunities are all realistic for the student.
  • take into account the student’s accommodations as outlined in the IEP.

ELOs can also be referenced in a student’s course of study (educational plan) or as a transition activity in the context of the coordinated set of activities. See the Next Steps NH IEP Transition Requirements Resource for more information about the IEP transition requirements and Indicator 13.

Students with Section 504 Plans

Students with Section 504 plans do not have IEPs, but their Section 504 plans will specify accommodations and modifications to ensure equal access to an education. When planning the ELO, incorporate the student’s accommodations and modifications into the ELO structure from the beginning.


When planning the summative assessment, build in supports so that students can display their knowledge in a way that is accessible and meaningful for them and stresses their communication strengths.