Pedagogy, TLT

Pedagogy Pointer: How to write your own PBL problems

Problem-based Learning

“Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which complex real-world problems are used as the vehicle to promote student learning of concepts and principles as opposed to direct presentation of facts and concepts.” (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)  If you’re not familiar with the term, the goal of PBL is to encourage interdisciplinary thinking, collaborative learning, ethical and quantitative reasoning, and critical thinking all while working on authentic, relevant and real issues.

Regardless of the type of PBL you want to use in your teaching, it all relies on the “problem” that will be resolved.  Therefore, learning to write a good problem is critical to the success of PBL.

Use existing problems

You can find existing problems on the internet or maybe even on your textbook site.  The University of Delaware Institute for Transforming University Education has a PBL problem database that is free to use as well.

Write your own

Writing your own problems ensures that the problems and questions align with your course learning outcomes.  Therefore, before setting out to write a problem the first step is to make sure you have written your learning outcomes.

STEP 1: Write your learning outcomes for the PBL assignment.

STEP 2: Write a “hook.”  This is a story or statement that draws the students into the problem and makes them want to find a solution.

STEP 3: Use the rubric below to help you craft a fully engaging problem.

STEP 4: Review the problem, to ensure it has enough complexity to support group work.

STEP 5:  Make sure it encourage solutions that may: require a decision or recommendation; be open-ended or depend on assumptions.

rubric provided by the University of Delaware.


The PBL activity is based on a problem.

Write the problem and the corresponding questions that will lead the students to demonstrate that they understand and can achieve the learning outcomes.