One of the most valuable things we can give pupils: the confidence and willingness to have a go, even if their language resources are limited. Some pupils can operate effectively in a foreign language even though their grammar is limited and they make a lot of mistakes. Many of us fall into this category ourselves with respect to at least one foreign language which we use occasionally but have never mastered. One of the most important things about using projects in teaching English is that it promotes learners’ confidence by providing them with plenty of opportunities to use language in the classroom without being constantly afraid of making mistakes. Once they have a stock of words they can begin to communicate. And, once they begin to communicate, we can help them shape their language so that it becomes more complex and more grammatical. Many traditional methodologies begin by teaching grammatical forms and then go on to set communicative activities in which learners will be able to use those forms. As far as I can see the initial aim of project based learning is to encourage pupils to engage in meaning with the language resources they already have. This makes pupils acutely aware of what they need to learn. They are then given form-focused activities to help them develop the language. They may later do a repeat task which gives them the opportunity to incorporate some of the language they have focused on at an earlier stage.
Another reassuring aspect of using projects in teaching English is that you do not have to be a highly experienced teacher for engaging yourself in project activities. Any teacher will need basic classroom skills, the ability to motivate learners and organize activities in the classroom. They will also need to be able to demonstrate and explain important language features. So an experienced teacher who already has these skills will start with an advantage. But the most important thing in project based learning is the willingness to engage with pupils in communication, and to allow learners the freedom to use the language. My difficulties showed up at this stage of project work, because in my previous teaching years I was used to controlling pupils’ language in order to avoid mistakes. But using projects requires a willingness to surrender some of that control. As a young teacher not having enough confidence in my own capacities I responded by controlling learners very strictly, so I could predict almost everything that would happen in the classroom. But I found out quite early that if pupils are always controlled, they will never learn to use language freely. Once pupils are involved in a task which engages their interest, they will not even notice using English freely. And I had to learn to accept the mistakes that were part of their spontaneous use.
Chapter I explores some commonly held views on using projects and addressing some common misconceptions. It distinguishes between approaches that begin with a focus on grammatical form and those that begin with a focus on meaning, and looks at the principles that underpin them. It explores the meaning of ‘task’ and ‘project’ and argues that a teacher-controlled focus on grammar should come at the end of a project cycle. It explores the role of the teacher, too.
The next three chapters focus on designing projects. They illustrate a variety of different project types, and look at ways of grading, appraising, and evaluating tasks. For each project type, there are examples of specific projects used in classrooms. There are detailed presentations of effective projects for different levels of learner integrating reading and writing activities. It explores stages in a project cycle where pupils are naturally concerned with improving their English and becoming more accurate. The use of projects opens up a far wider potential for real world language use. This chapter lists typical features of spontaneous spoken English, examples brought into the classroom. It also deals with adapting and refining tasks to tailor them more precisely to the needs of specific classes, to make them more engaging and give rise to maximal participation by less motivated pupils. Planning a project-based lesson involves making decisions about pre- and post-task activities, the outcome, interim goals and structure of the project, interaction patterns and the degree of accuracy and spontaneity. The chapter also illustrates the need to devise very clear instructions.
The last chapter (5) takes up the most frequently asked questions about projects that have not already been answered in the first chapters. It begins with a summary of the most commonly reported problems about using projects in teaching English, and then responds to questions that arise out of these problems, such as integrating projects into the prescribed course book. It looks at ways of turning textbook activities into projects, making time to do projects in class, dealing with large classes, stimulating unmotivated and unwilling learners, combating overuse of pupils’ mother tongue, and handling mixed ability classes.
The Applications include lesson plans and commentaries for tasks, projects and scenarios ‘
I.1 The basis of a project: a task-based approach
When children begin to use their first language they communicate without using sentences. Early utterances may simply consist of pairs of nouns like ‘horse run’. Depending on the context and intonation and the accompanying gestures this may be interpreted as ‘The horse is running.’ or ‘Please show me how the horse is running!’ Relying on a shared context, children manage to convey meanings quite effectively without using grammatical sentences. Almost the same could be true of learners at the elementary level.
Taking this observation as a starting point, one might argue that early communication is primarily lexical and that grammar plays a subsidiary function.
It is possible to make meanings with a very limited grammar, and most of us know people who can manage quite effectively in English even though they do not have command of basic grammar like the past tense and question forms. But if we want to express meanings in an efficient, listener or reader friendly manner we need vocabulary, word order and grammar that identifies things clearly and places things in a temporal setting.
According to Dave Willis: Doing task-based learning, Oxford University Press, this suggests two possible starting points for language teaching or two ways of teaching that complete each other. One possibility would be to see meaning as the starting point of language development, and to see form as developing from meaning. If we take this line we would encourage learners to use the language as much as possible to communicate. Vocabulary is central to communication, so it would be necessary to introduce learners to the basic vocabulary for a given topic, but it would not be necessary in the same way to provide complex grammatical input for the task. This approach would provide learners with guidance to help them develop an acceptable grammar of the language but it would be subordinated to encouraging learners to use the language freely, without worrying too much about formal accuracy. The success of the teaching programme would be judged in terms of the learners’ growing ability to use the language for communication.
The second possibility is to see form as primary. If we take this view, we seek first to introduce acceptable forms in the target language and then to provide learners with opportunities to associate these forms with appropriate meanings. Teaching procedures are designed to teach learners to produce a range of grammatical sentences. This does not mean that vocabulary is ignored and that there is no focus on meaning. Vocabulary is taught but it is secondary to grammar. The aim of teaching is to introduce acceptable sentences. We can think of these sentences as grammatical frames. Vocabulary simply provides items to fill out these frames.
This approach does not ignore meaning and communication. Once the grammar has been taught learners are provided with opportunities to use it in meaningful situations. The primary focus, however, is on grammatical accuracy. The success of a lesson is judged in terms of the learners’ growing ability to produce formally accurate sentences in the target language.
Of course most approaches to language teaching seek to provide a balance between form and meaning. In this paper I will present a variety of lessons, with some of them offering a primary focus on form, and others providing a primary focus on meaning. Project-based learning can easily be developed from the so called skills-lessons having a primary focus on meaning.
Some of the most successful activities in the classroom involve a spontaneous exchange of meanings. Perhaps the teacher starts by telling a personal story which immediately engages the learners’ interests. They respond with stories of their own. Students who are not telling stories are listening with interest, working hard to understand what is going on. The teacher can help by providing the odd vocabulary item and by occasionally stepping in and rephrasing learners’ contribution. The same kind of thing might happen with a discussion. The teacher begins by stating an opinion. Students respond with their own opinions and a useful discussion ensues. These are precious moments in a language lesson. There is a real personal involvement of pupils, with an accompanying increase in confidence and fluency. In this way learners will experience some language development: they will pick up the odd useful phrase or vocabulary item from the language they are exposed to, and they may find the answer to some grammatical problem which has been occurring in their communication for some time. They may suddenly find, for example, that the question forms which have been so elusive begin to come spontaneously and fluently. At this stage an experienced teacher may look for some appropriate topics to offer pupils for further researches in a subsequent lesson or as a task for a project work.
I.2 Planning a task sequence
Obviously it is important to plan a task sequence. The planning starts with identifying a topic. The next stage is to decide on a target task. In most cases the tasks should closely reflect activities which learners may engage in the real world. The group discussion and the reading both reflect language use in the real world. The teacher has to decide how to prime learners ‘ how to introduce relevant vocabulary, how to focus learners’ minds on the content of the task sequence and how to explain or demonstrate what will be expected of them in the target task. In this case there is also a need for a preparatory stage at which learners can think about both topic and language.
In most cases the sequence cannot be covered in a single lesson. So it is possible to go through priming in an earlier lesson and ask learners to do the preparation as part of their homework. So in one lesson the teacher would introduce the topic and the opinion survey (priming) and ask learners to respond to the opinion survey (preparation) for homework. The next lesson would begin with a brief summary from the teacher followed by the class discussion and the reading.
This approach has the advantage that it affords plenty of time for preparation. Students will have time to prepare what they want to say. Conscientious learners may consult a dictionary and a grammar summary in their students’ books as part of the preparation. They may even make written notes to help them with the coming discussion.
I.2.1 A sample conversational task
In our everyday conversations we often talk about our everyday activities. In this example I will want my students to give an account of a very busy day they had recently.
Around this target task I will plan a sequence of tasks.
Here is one way of building a task sequence:
We might begin by telling learners about a very busy day of our own or by asking them to listen to a recording of someone talking about a busy day, and encouraging them to ask questions about it.
We could ask learners to make a written list of all the things they did on their busy day. They may use dictionaries to help them with this task.
(If we plan ahead, the priming can be done at the end of one class, and the preparation can be done for homework. The target tasks can be done in the next lesson.)
3. Target task
We can put learners in groups of three or four. They should tell each other about their busy days, and decide which person in the group had the most difficult day.
Groups are asked to help the person with the most interesting story to prepare to tell the whole class what they have done.
5. Target task
Two or three pupils are asked to give their accounts to the class, who listen and then vote who had the busiest day.
I.3 Selecting topics
One way to raise motivation is to ask pupils to suggest their own topics, or get them to choose topics they like best from a list of topics that have proved popular with previous learners. In fact getting learners to select and rank topics they like could form an excellent decision-making task at the start of a new term. According to my experiences giving learners a chance to choose their own topics have significantly enhanced pupils’ engagement.
Not all learners will be equally keen on all topics but, if an engaging task is set, any reasonable topic can engender enthusiasm, especially if it is explored from a new or unusual angle.
The choice of potential topics is boundless. We can choose topics that
. feature in our pupils’ English textbooks
. typically appear on students’ lists as a favourite one
. appear elsewhere on the school curriculum (for example in geography, history, arts, or other subjects)
. are of topical or seasonal interest
. often figure in casual conversations in social settings (for example, in breaks)
. learners want to be able to talk about outside class with foreigners they might meet, or write about to email pen friends, or ‘chat’ about in web-based chat sites
Some topics suggested by pupils were:
7. Making pancakes
8. The best places in town
9. Dating/How to meet a girl or a boy
10. Breakfast in our families
11. Teenage anxieties
12. Applying for a job
16. A childhood incident
18. Family values
19. World cup
20. The Olympic Games
22. My favourite place
23. Plans for a class trip
24. Earthquake safety
25. Language learning strategies
26. Advice for tourists
27. Personality tests
28. First Aid Instruction
29. Travel to school
31. Meeting foreigners
32. Healthy eating
33. National parks
34. Pop music
35. Taboo topics
36. Emotionally charged past experiences
37. Transport then and now
40. Pocket money
41. Household chores
42. Favourite advertisements
44. Local dishes
45. A favourite literary character
47. Favourite film characters
48. School timetables
50. Tourism in our region
51. Tourist attractions
53. Ghost stories
54. Presidents of the USA
I.4. Tasks involving listing
These are the simplest types of tasks, but the linguistic challenge can vary according to what we ask learners to list. It could result in a list of words or short phrases or even quite complex sentences. With the topic ‘transport’ at the elementary level, pupils might simply list the kinds of transport available locally ‘ a list of nouns. At a later stage they could be asked to produce a list of the features of an ideal transport system ‘ probably a mixture of phrases and sentences. At a more advanced level they could be asked to list reasons for using (or not using) particular forms of transport. This would probably result in a list of quite complex sentences. Even more complex would be a list of recommendations for improving their local public transport system or comparing the advantages of travelling by train to those of travelling by car.
Listing can be split into two kinds: brainstorming and fact-finding.
Brainstorming has been found to be an extremely effective way of getting even shy learners involved in topics and promotes richer task interaction (See Cullen 1998 for background, principles, and useful techniques for brainstorming.)
Brainstorming can either be teacher-led involving the whole class, or with learners in pairs or small groups brainstorming among themselves. Or as a combination of both – starting with a teacher-led class brainstorm which learners then continue in pairs.
Here are some ideas for listing tasks, starting with a class brainstorm then going on to complete their list in pairs or groups:
. qualities of a good friend
. criteria for choosing a place to stay for a vacation or weekend
. landmarks typically used when giving directions in our area
. things to mention when describing a specific animal
. items to include in your luggage for a three-days’ holiday on a desert island
. things that teenagers tend to like doing
. household chores (and who does them in your home)
. strategies for learning English outside the classroom
It is probably advisable to give learners a specific number of items to aim for, for example, five qualities for the ‘good friend’ task. Then learners know when they have completed their task. To judge what number to set, we can do the task ourselves, then deduct one or two ‘ so that learners can achieve the task without frustration. We can also estimate a suitable time limit to set for learners.
I.4.2. Fact ‘ finding
Fact-finding involves asking learners to search for specific facts in books or leaflets or on a website, or to ask other people outside class. If we introduce the topic the lesson before and do a ‘priming’ stage for the task then, we could set a fact-finding task for homework. They then work out how to express these facts in English and come to class ready prepared with a draft list.
. Find out five facts about volcanoes to share with other students next lesson. Also note down three or four useful words or phrases about volcanoes you could teach your partner.
. Find out what three people outside this class think about dogs. Do they like dogs or not? List the reasons they give. Prepare to report their views in English in your next lesson.
. Find out the birthdays of seven people who are important to you. Write the name of the person, who they are, and the date of their birthday. Bring your list to class.
I.4.3. Games based on listing
The listing process can form the basis for many simple activities like quizzes, memory challenge, and guessing games. For example, the volcano lesson could begin with each pair collating and finalizing their list of facts, and then writing a true/false quiz, by changing some of the statements in their lists so that they are not true. Or they could write five quiz questions about an active volcano to give another pair to do, or to ask the class. This could even become a competition, with the class divided in two halves taking turns to respond orally to the true/false statements, or to ask and answer each other’s questions, with points being scored by each team for right answers.
Guessing games can also incorporate listing. For example, they can involve
. the class asking the teacher questions (or vice versa) such as ‘Guess what I had for breakfast this morning’, or
. Students writing five short sentences about their chosen animal and then reading them or saying them for the class, then asking ‘Guess what animal this is’, or
. the well-known game ‘Guess what I’ve got in my bag’.
Game: Junk we carry round with us
The teacher gets learners to guess what she has in her bag that day. After accepting guesses from the class, the teacher reveals the objects one by one and talks about them. ( A good example of teacher talk forming comprehensible input.) This can lead on to a classification task, after which learners do the same guessing task with each other, in pairs.
I.4.4. Tasks for real beginners
Taken more slowly, this task (‘Junk we carry round with us’) would also be suitable for beginners. If learners need consolidation of the new vocabulary, a task like this could subsequently be turned into a memory challenge game by covering up the objects once they have been taken out. Then learners in pairs can draw or write a list of the objects they remember. The challenge is then to see which pair can remember the most objects. The teacher can give them clues if they get really stuck early on. And finally, after seeing all the objects again, learners or teams of learners can take turns to tell the teacher what to put back in her bag. To make it more fun, this could also be done as a memory challenge, each learner naming one thing that has not been mentioned before until all the objects are back.
This sequence of small tasks offers plenty of opportunities for learners to recycle the names of common objects as well as exposure to natural interaction as their teacher talks about them and the activities themselves.
‘International words’ is an example of a teacher-led listing task that can be done by most classes of complete beginners. It does not put pressure on learners to speak, only to listen and understand as much as possible and to try pronouncing some words. It helps beginners to get used to the flow of English and to recognize words they know in that context. It works because quite a few English words have become international, but of course the number of familiar words also depends on the learners’ own life experience.
Topic: International words of English
The teacher starts with a class brainstorm, drawing or writing on the board some words the learners probably already recognize in English, e.g. ‘taxi’, ‘football’, ‘television’, ‘supermarket’. The teacher talks a little about each word as it comes up: ‘Who likes football’?, ‘Who plays football’?, using gestures and facial expression to help them understand. The teacher might then ask learners to supply other words of English they already know, and to practice pronouncing them is English.
Internet caf?? bus football hotel
Tennis police TV problem music singer
Coca cola burger stop supermarket hello
Disco taxi O.K. radio goal baby menu
At the end of the lesson learners count how many words of English they already recognize. That they know so many is usually a surprise to them. This illustrates one basic principle of task based teaching: it is far more positive to build on what your learners already know, than to start with what they do not know. We should think of our learners’ cup as being half full, rather than half empty.
I.4.5. Evaluating a task
What makes a good task? A good task not only generates interest and creates an acceptable degree of challenge, but also generates opportunities for learners to experience and activate as much language as possible. This applies to all tasks.
a. Make a list of six typical things that dogs tend to do.
b. What different breeds of dogs can you think of? Make a list.
c. List the different colours that dogs can be. How many can you get?
Topic: Planning a party
a. What event in your country might people celebrate by having a party? Make a lsit.
b. Make a list of things you have to do when planning a party.
c. Who might you invite to your next party? Make a list of people you would ask. Give reasons for your choice.
I.4.6. Pre-task priming and post-task activities
Just as for the text-based tasks, learners would need some priming before the task, so that they can understand the topic, activate relevant schemata, recall or ask for useful words and phrases and get ideas flowing. Depending on the topic, we can use pictures, or brainstorm words associated with the topic, find out if anyone has personal experience of it. For example, on the topic of dogs, at a priming stage before task a, we usually start by asking pupils who really likes dogs and who does not. We have a good friend who hates dogs and we tell them why. Some pupils will join in at this point. We can tell them as well about a dog we used to have and that the children named him ‘Lassie’ like the dog in the film. We can show a picture of him and talk about the things he did ‘ some funny and some infuriating. Pupils like hearing about teacher’s personal life, so this usually works well.
Once learners have done the task they can compare their lists in a report stage and possibly collate their ideas making one longer list. They might hear a recording of other pupils doing a similar task, for example talking about what dogs do, and see if their ideas are on the list they made. Finally, move into a focus-on-form stage, with the teacher highlighting useful language forms and letting learners practice useful patterns, and record useful words and phrases in their notebooks.
To summarize, the outcome of a listing task will of course be some form of list, which can be drawn, written, remembered, compared with other people’s, or turned into a dressing game or quiz.
The advantage of starting a sequence of tasks with one or two simple listing tasks is that they can serve as a useful introduction to the topic, and provide a chance for setting the scene and introducing relevant vocabulary. In fact they act as facilitating tasks, helping to lighten the processing load when learners are tackling more complex tasks, as by then, many of the topic words and phrases used for listing will already be familiar.
Another benefit of starting with a listing task is that items on lists can be ordered or sorted or classified in some way or other, for example by making a mind-map, allotting items to categories.
I.5. Tasks involving ordering and sorting
This broad category includes a variety of cognitive processes, including sequencing, ranking, and classifying, which all require a little more thought and cognitive effort than simply listing. Some involve ordering items according to purely factual criteria, like dates or prices, others involve a certain amount of decision making, based on personal choice or opinion.
This may be chronological sequencing, for example, arranging a series of jumbled pictures to make a story, or a jumbled list of events to recreate the order in which they happened. It could entail describing in sequence the steps of a particular process. It could call upon learner’s prior knowledge, their imagination, or knowledge gleaned from a written or spoken or visual source.
. Order the steps in a baking recipe, where information may be given in a jumbled form, using words, pictures, or line drawings.
. describe in detail how to make your favourite food.
. Describe exactly what you have to do to order a meal from a take-away restaurant.
Sequencing can also be done as a memory challenge using a short clip of a film extract or a film trailer. After playing it twice with the sound off the teacher asks them to list from memory exactly what scenes and events were shown, arranging them in sequence. It is interesting, that different students remember different bits, so their lists are nearly always different and can be discussed and compared before showing the video again. This could be a good task to set before asking students to do a comparison of two similar film extracts.
I.5.2. Rank ordering
Pupils could list and then rank their school subjects with their favourite ones at the top, they could list seven kinds of pet and then rank them according to how much trouble they are to keep at home. In both cases, to stimulate more language use, learners can be asked to justify their order of ranking.
Lists can be ranked according to many different criteria like cost, popularity, practicality, or fun value ‘ different topics will obviously need different criteria. With the topic of professions/jobs, criteria for ranking these could include ranking according to rates of pay or jobs of satisfaction, working conditions, levels of stress, suitability for a working parent with children of school age, and so on. This topic could be extremely useful for the 8th graders who are about to decide which future career to choose, which class and which school to attend the following year.
Some ideas used for tasks involving ranking, some preceded by listing tasks:
Potential holiday destinations
Could be listed and then ranked in order of popularity with the class, based on criteria such as price, weather, accommodation, facilities, or activities on offer.
Qualities of a good friend
Could be started with a brainstorming, first silently on their own, up to eight qualities of a good friend and then in pairs or groups, to come to a consensus, agreeing on five of them. These steps work better with a time limit. Then, pupils as individuals arrange the five qualities in a ranked list, according to criteria they have chosen, and next discuss together, debating and justifying their decisions and referring to current good friends. This prepares the way for a second task, where their real friends, classmates are introduced.
Talking about families ‘ how strict are your parents?
This task sequence has three stages: a listening stage, a language focus stage and a speaking stage.
The listening stage comprises a recording of four people talking about how they were treated by their parents, and the students have to listen and decide which parents sounded the softest, and which ones sounded the strictest. They discuss that in pairs, giving reasons for their ranking.
This stage introduces the topic that the learners will take up later and provides valuable exposure to the kind of language that can be used in this context. This provides excellent priming for pupils who are about to do the task themselves.
The speaking stage is simply to talk with a partner and discuss their feelings towards their parents, and report back to the class whose parents were stricter. At this point we could attempt to get the class to rank their parents from softest to strictest ‘ to promote more class discussion.
I have used this task several times, and it always goes quite well. The students have no problem finding things to say about their parents, although there is sometimes a debate over whether ‘easy-going’ is a positive attribute for parents.
Ways to improve your English outside the classroom
The first activity for this topic is a listing task. Pupils make a list of four ways in which people in their situation could learn more English outside the classroom on their own. Then they exchange ideas with their partner and agree on a list of five possible ways.
Pupils usually come up with all kinds of ways to improve their English, depending on their age. Ideas include: – surfing the Internet
– Emailing pen-friends
– Reading comic strip books in English
– Reading bilingual books
– Exchanging conversation lessons with a person wanting to learn to speak their mother tongue
– Finding foreign residents to talk to in English
– Offering their services as a tourist guide to foreign visitors
– Listening to English songs with lyrics
– Listening to English CDs while travelling to school or at home
– Watching films in English
– Keeping an extra English notebook and writing down expressions they hear or read
– Finding an English speaking friend
– Attending an English speaking club
– Reading news in English on the Internet
– Practice speaking English in breaks
– Writing a diary in English
Having collected this list of suggestions, ranking according to expense is not likely to stimulate much interaction, but individuals interviewing classmates and then reporting back might stimulate more, especially if learners ranked them silently first, and then formed pairs and then fours, and were obliged to come to a consensus within a time limit. Beginning with silent ranking helps learners to commit themselves to a solution and engage personally with the task, as they can get their ideas together and plan how to express them, before talking to others about it. It is a way of reducing the mental demands and pressure of the task itself.
A surer way to find out which criteria for ranking is best is to experiment and try out all four kinds, with four different groups in the same class. The teacher can observe the groups carefully while they are doing the task, and then let them report their results to the whole class. In this way we can notice which ranking system seemed to work best. At the end of the task we can ask each group for their feed-back, once they have heard all the results.
Pupils can either be asked to work out their own categories for classifying, or to allot items in a list to categories already given.
For the task ‘Junk we carry round with us’ I asked the pupils to think of ways of classifying the things from my bag. They thought of categories like shape (rectangular or round), things with perfume, things that make a noise, objects to do with money. Different pupils came up with different ways of classifying. It is this variety of response that can stimulate rich discussion. It also makes for interesting teaching ‘ you can do the same task with different classes and it is different each time ‘ pupils can be very inventive.
When priming learners to choose their own categories, it is helpful to give them one or two ideas first or to do a parallel task with the whole class, like classifying the contents of a classroom cupboard or a desk drawer.
However, if the task instructions give the categories, pupils sometimes feel more secure. It makes it a more straightforward task but it may also reduce the amount of language use it will generate.
Giving positive/negative categories works well with many themes:
‘ After the task about dogs, we can have pupils make a list of things dogs tend to do and then we can ask them to sort their list into ‘nice things’ and ‘not such nice things’
‘ Food: pupils can classify food items (list provided) twice: first into ‘food they like’ and ‘food they do not like’, and later into food that is reasonably healthy (that you can eat a lot of) and food that is generally considered unhealthy if you eat a lot of it.
‘ Family values: agree or disagree? For this task, we can give pupils a set of slightly controversial statements and ask them to decide whether they agree (put a tick) or disagree (put a cross0 with each statement. Then, in small groups, they have to reach a consensus and change the wording of statements the group disagreed with to make them acceptable. Pupils present these to the class, compare their adapted statements and discuss the changed wordings.
These examples of classification tasks were all based on two categories, but of course there can be more. Animals, clothes or many other items can be classified in many ways.
‘International words’ can be classified into: things to eat, things to drink, sport, transport, electronic media, school, entertainment, etc. The teacher draws columns on the board for these categories and gives an example for each. Even beginner pupils can say which category the listed words best fit and possibly add one or two more words to each one.
FIGURE page 77
I.5.4. Games based on classified sets
Classified lists can be used as a basis for designing ‘Odd word out’ games, and ‘What do these have in common’? quizzes. These sets can be used to revise topic vocabulary:
‘What do the items in each set have in common and which item could be the odd one out and why’?
a. Apples, bananas, biscuits, oranges
b. Fish, chips, hamburgers, cheese
c. Car, taxi, bus, bicycle
Once pupils have got the idea, they can be asked to build up three or four sets like this at home to test the class. They can also be asked to write out the anser keys. For example, in
a. They are all sweet but the odd one out is biscuits ‘ the others are fruit.
b. They are all savoury, but the odd one out is fish as the others are all less healthy as they are high in fat content
Or: the odd one out is cheese because the others are junk food
c. They are all means of transport but only bicycle is environmentally friendly and healthy and does not need any fuel.
There will always be other ways of classifying, and it is this that provides added interest. For example for b. we could argue that ‘cheese’ is the odd one out as the others are all generally cooked or fried, or ‘chips’ because the others all contain protein. This is a good way of exploring alternatives because it stimulates genuine classroom language use.
I.6. Visual support: charts, tables, mind-maps
Seeing information set out within a framework can help learners process and organize information in a more structured way. This can both make a task less cognitively demanding and give learners a sense of security. It can also stimulate more interaction, as learners like to add their own ideas to fill any spaces. So if columns are supplied for the ‘International words’ task, learners can be asked to add three more words to each column (with the help of dictionary if it is needed). In the sport column, they might add ‘golf’. They might feel the need to ask the teacher for words they want to add but do not know, for example. ‘basket’ (like the Romanian ‘baschet’), where the teacher gains a chance to expand on learners’ verbal offerings (we say ‘basketball’ in English), creating opportunities for language exposure tailored to learners’ interest and knowledge levels.
I.6.1. Charts and tables
Charts and tables also help learners to focus on relevant information when doing listening tasks ‘ the classification is already clear, they simply have to listen to relevant facts to fill the boxes. Charts and tables with headings can also help learners to think of what aspects of the topic to talk or write about, and how to organize information coherently. They have the security of a framework within which to work, that reduces anxiety and allows language to flow more freely. To raise the degree of challenge for a classifying task, the teacher can give learners an empty chart or one with only a few headings. Then we ask students to think up their own headings and then order the headings so they begin with general information and go on to the more specific.
I.6.2. Mind maps
Mind maps have the same advantages as charts but they are more open, flexible, and can be added to more easily. Learners can use their artistic skills to make them look attractive. Like charts, they can be started on the board in preliminary discussion and then built on and filled in by learners.
Drafting a mind map
1. Add a few ideas to the ‘Planning a party’ mind map
2. Select three topics from the previously gathered ones which might lend themselves to an initial brainstorm to build up a mind map.
3. Spending no more than one minute on each, we rough out a possible mind map suitable for pupils to extend.
MIND MAP FOR PLANNING A PARTY p.8o
I.6.3. Time lines and storylines
Linear visuals are excellent for tasks based on sequencing. A time line could simply be made from a long piece of thick string or a washing line running along one wall of the classroom. To this can be attached dates and pictures with captions denoting historical events (for example, ‘A history of our school’) or stages in a manufacturing process (for example, ‘Cheese making: from cow to retail outlet’), or events in a story narrative. In elementary children’s classes, storylines can be drawn on a poster or a wide piece of card. The process of making a storyline or a timeline involves deciding what to include and how to draw or verbalize it so that it is clear to others, as such it is an engaging process and at the end there is a concrete outcome ‘ something to show to others ‘ which can be interpreted and enjoyed. Different groups can produce their own and then display them, and present them orally to other groups who can then ask questions about them.
One use of a storyline using pictures or drawings, getting learners reconstruct verbally and write down the story they are told. We can get students work in pairs and draw whatever they can. On a second listening they refine their drawings and at a later stage they are encouraged to add any words they can catch. This results in learners’ listening out for key words and trying to get the gist of main events which they can draw. Finally, they compare their results with neighbouring pairs and try to justify their story pictures to each other by telling the story in English as best they can. On subsequent re-telling, they refine even more.
I originally tried this exercise in the normal format of having them recreate the story in their own words. At their linguistic level but also their motivation level this did not work very well. However, I have found the picture version useful for pointing out just how much they really can understand, once they are allowed to express a reaction in a way they are good at.
A picture dictogloss done by 4th grade pupils
It is an illustration of a story about a romantic dog which swam between islands every day to meet his girl friend on the old island he used to live on before his family moved. His owner could never work out why he came home wet every night. So one day he follows his dog to the beach, has to get in a boat to follow the dog swimming the strait, and finally works out the mystery. The text on the picture reveals how wide the gap is between learners’ receptive abilities and their productive ones. It points up the value of starting off with the pictures exercise.
I.7. Integrating reading and writing
It is often thought that tasks and projects are mainly for improving oral and listening skills. This may be because many of us have been taught in rather traditional ways with a heavy emphasis on grammar, reading and writing, or have had textbooks with only a small proportion of genuine speaking activities. But if we have learners who need to practice writing, or to focus more on formal accuracy, it is equally possible to ask them to brainstorm in writing, either individually or in pairs, and then to present their ideas in writing. They can write by hand in class and pass it round or pin it on a wall for others to read, they can email their writing to each other, or use their computers to produce a polished piece of work that can be used for public display or go up on the class website.
Although the tasks presented here do not generally start with a text, there are many occasions where written or spoken texts on a topic can usefully be introduced part of the way through a sequence of tasks. When discussing family matters I played a recording of four people talking about their parents and discussing how strict they were, gives the learners some idea of how to do the task themselves. So a listening task was followed by a transcript study. Once we have chosen a topic, if there is no suitable text in our textbooks, we can do a search on the web to find something our students will find interesting and incorporate that into our sequence of tasks.
A whole range of tasks can be generated here ‘ suitable for all levels. Many of them can be teacher-led and are thus ideal for real beginners who need lots of exposure before having to speak themselves.
I.7.1. Listening and matching
Even true beginners can listen to and watch their teacher talking about a range of objects (for example, food items like fruit) or pictures and relate words and phrases to meanings. Teachers often pick up or point to the relevant objects while talking about them as this aids comprehension. After a while, pupils can identify which picture or object relates to what they hear without the teacher showing them. So here, they are matching sounds or words with objects and responding physically. These ‘listen and do’ activities are very common in children’s language lessons, and can be used for older learners too, even before learning the alphabet, reading or writing.
A popular matching task for slightly higher levels is based on the idea of an ‘Identity parade’. Pupils are shown four pictures of people, and listen to a description of one of them, in order to identify the person described. Matching tasks like these are often used in formal assessments, and the pictures can denote anything from single objects, patterns with shapes, to buildings, house plans, maps, or street scenes.
Understanding street directions
‘ Learners hear a recording of someone giving street directions starting from a ‘You are here’ point, but not knowing what their final destination will be. They draw the route on their street map. They can do this several times with different destinations.
‘ Pupils listen and match words or phrases denoting local landmarks (for example, post office, petrol station, bus stop) to corresponding pictures.
‘ The teacher tells them about particular local landmarks and how to find them on the street map they have.
‘ The teacher demonstrates with a section of street map on the board, talking the class through the route she needs to take to go from A to B, with phrases like ‘turn left’, ‘right’, ‘go straight on’, or ‘second on the right’.
There are several ways of sequencing these according to how familiar pupils are with the area of the map and the names of landmarks. For low level learners we could start with listening and matching words or phrases denoting local landmarks and maybe turn into a memory game by giving out pictures to the class, talking about them as I give them out, so that the words for the landmark are heard several times. Then call out the landmarks one by one to see if the class can remember who has each one. Pupils place them face down on their table and hold them up when they are identified. Then we can go on to a predominately listening and identifying task ‘ where students put an X and a number on their map for each landmark. The next step could be to ask the class to make the gestures the speaker would use for each direction. And finally we could use a testing format: listening to the four recordings. To help learners get to grips with it, we could play the recording several times, with pauses, but without telling learners if they were right or wrong. Then they have to keep listening to double check. This prepares them for a typical test situation. Afterwards they can compare their final destinations with people near them.
As a follow up we can introduce a focus-on ‘form stage , where we could replay the recording, getting pupils to repeat and practice phrases indicating location, movement or direction, distance or time.
I.7.2. Reading and matching
These tasks can be adapted to incorporate some reading and writing components:
‘ labelling objects, including things or people in pictures, shapes, colours, etc.
‘ matching caption cards or short texts to pictures or photos
‘ matching descriptions to pictures
‘ matching written summaries to longer written texts
‘ matching words to jumbled definitions
‘ reading street directions and matching them to a route, or drawing a route on a street map.
For this last example, we could give learners a map with four different routes drawn on, all leaving from the same starting point. Pupils listen to or read three sets of directions and match each one to a route, in order to identify which route was not described. If we give an equal number of routes and sets of directions, pupils will not need to listen to or read the last set, as the remaining ones must match up. A more challenging task would be to give them a street map with no rotes marked, on which they trace the route they hear. Tasks like these could form part of a longer task sequence, ending up with learners giving directions for routes they choose and the class following them to see where they get to.
Giving directions task sequence
At the priming stage we could give out to pairs of learners small maps of their hometown, talk a little about where the school is on the map, where different places are to be found, and then we could ask them to tell their partner how to get to their home from school. So pupils find out where their partners live, even though they still use very limited language.
For the main task we can give out a sheet of written directions to our own house and pupils have to read them and match them to places on the map, and trace the route we described.
I have found it that if I personalize tasks in some way it results in higher interest levels and engagement amongst learners.
‘Summer holiday’ task sequence
I displayed my summer holiday photos and asked my pupils to match them to captions I had written for them. Then I read out an account of my summer, and students had to decide the order in which the photos were taken. So, the captions used in the matching task prepared students for some of the language they would hear in the ordering task. My students then went on to interview other pupils in their class to find out what they had done in their holidays and to draw appropriate pictures on a blank holiday postcard for them. The final task was to write the postcard, describing their holiday. For this, pupils worked in pairs helping each other.
The novelty of seeing their teacher’s personal photographs and hearing about my own holiday caught their interest and increased their engagement in the task that followed. They enjoyed drawing postcards for each other, too. I am sure that personalization is one of the keys to keeping a less motivated or low level class.
One big advantage of using tasks involving matching, is that learners gain a very rich exposure to language within the security of a tight and well-defined framework.
I.8. Comparing and contrasting: finding similarities or differences
I.8.1. Comparison tasks
Pupils can talk to each other in small groups of three or four to compare:
‘ Their morning routines ‘ who gets up and out the quickest’? The length of their school day
‘ Their journeys to and from school
‘ What time they go to bed ‘ who is generally the latest’? Their family trees and the balance of men and women in their close families
‘ Their best and worst clothes bargains
‘ Their favourite holiday places
‘ Their language learning strategies
For example, on the topic of ‘Travelling experiences’, I got my low intermediate 8th graders to bring in pictures of their favourite places.
I asked them: ‘What places did you enjoy most and why’?
Then I told them: ‘Walk around looking at your friends’ pictures and showing yours so that you can share and compare your travelling experiences. Find out if you and your friends have been to the same places. Were there any similarities in your trips’?
As a follow up to this, a variety of target tasks are possible: learners could write a comparison of two of the favourite places they had heard about, or a short summary of the most interesting travelling experiences. Or they could each write a list of what they considered the top five places, with a brief description of each place and why it was a favourite. This could then be passed round for the others to read and compare. The places could then be compared in more detail, with learners listing similarities and differences.
Comparison tasks can also be based on two or more texts or transcripts on a similar theme, for example texts from two or more different newspapers.
Tasks to practice more specifically the process of contrasting can be based on different media versions of the same news story, weather forecast on different TV or radio stations. Mail-order catalogues (for clothes or make up) have whole pages where very similar items are illustrated and described. Learners can be asked to choose three similar items and decide which is best worth buying regarding their price, quality and volume.
I.8.2. Games: find the similarities or differences
Comparison often forms the basis for games and other challenges, for example, ‘spot the differences’, or talking about personal experiences to find things in common.
Focusing on similarities, the following tasks are generally productive:
Things in common
Tell your partner what you usually do at weekends at this time of the year. Then find out what your partner does. Try to find at least three things in common or see how many things that you can find in three minutes you have in common.
Will your paths cross?
Talk to your partner about what they are doing over the next few days. Find out if your paths are likely to cross at any point over this period except school. For example: you might be going to the same supermarket for your shopping.
Spot the difference
This game is based on two nearly identical pictures. It can be done in two ways: co-operatively, with two people in collaboration, looking at both pictures and helping each other to spot a certain number of differences and writing them down in a list.
Or, it can be done in A/B pairs where each learner looks only at their own picture, and they find the differences by each describing their picture in turn, and stopping when their partner thinks they have found a difference to check it out and write it down.
Another way of spotting the difference, instead of a describing, A can ask B questions about the details in their picture, and then change over.
Matching and comparing as well as ordering and classifying are also useful processes for activities focusing on language form. And all these task-types can make good facilitating tasks for problem-solving tasks and projects.
I.9. Problem-solving tasks and puzzles
Problem-solving tasks invite learners to offer advice and recommendations on problems ranging from the very general, like global warming, to the very specific, like what to do if your parents do not understand you. These tasks can stimulate wide-ranging discussion and also offer scope for a variety of writing activities, including note-taking, drafting, and finalizing proposals for solutions.
There are a lot of topics that can lend themselves as a bone of contention to problem-solving tasks.
Possible problems as a basis for tasks could be grouped as the followings:
‘ Lack of communication between parents and teenagers
‘ No place to hang out and meet up with friends on a neutral territory
‘ Quarrels between friends
‘ Lack of money
‘ Fashion ‘ways of dressing, another ‘contradictory area’ between teens and parents
‘ Generation gap
‘ Healthy lifestyle
Classroom or institution-based problems
‘ Homework ‘ more or less’? Wearing uniform ‘yes or no’? Single sex schools
‘ Pocket money
‘ Boys and girls
‘ Traffic congestion in our town
‘ How to deal with water’? Pollution
‘ Lack of green areas in our town
‘ Selecting paper/bottles/nylon
‘ Preparing for the 8th grade examination
‘ Choosing the right career
‘ Interest and skills
‘ Working in teams vs. individual work
I.9.1. Preparing learners for problem-solving tasks
Problem solving tasks can stimulate rich discussion if learners have already thought out some ideas to share. They will benefit from time to think beforehand, they can get to grips with the problem and work out possible solutions and how to express them. It is often best to introduce the topic and do a relevant priming phase in a previous lesson, explaining the nature of the problem and telling learners that the task will be to discuss and agree a solution to this problem. Obviously learners are more likely to become engaged if the problem is one that affects them, or is within their own experience, and one they feel confident talking about.
I.9.2. Problem-solving task sequences and scenarios
Proponents of project-based learning argue that the most effective way to teach a language is by engaging learners in real language use in the classroom. This is done by designing projects – discussions, problems, games and so on – which require pupils to use the language for themselves.
According to Edwards and J. Willis 2005 ‘Teachers who begin with the notion that tasks should be central to teaching then go on to refine an approach which fits their own classrooms and their own students.’
All these years of using projects in teaching English I have asked myself if it is an effective way of teaching and I have collected questions about this method from my colleagues I have met or got to know through workshops, seminars or courses. I have also asked teachers who use projects regularly and who are committed to this method why their colleagues and other teachers they know do not use projects in their lessons.
What are their reasons?
What problems do they perceive with project-based learning and teaching?
Out of these questions and answers resulted a mind map (Figure ..) that gives an overview of their responses.
1. Lack of time ‘ to design and prepare projects
2. Our textbooks do not have projects in
3. There is no time to do extra activity and fit projects into the syllabus
4. Confusion about projects and project-based learning: what counts as a project, how a project works. ‘If I am not actually teaching how they can be learning’?
5. Previous learning experiences: ‘My students want grammar. Project work does not seem like learning.’
6. Lack of pupils’ motivation: ‘They use minimal language and take the easy way out.’
7. There is too much mother language used when planning and doing projects.
8. Not suitable for beginners and low level pupils: ‘they need the grammar first’, ‘they do not have enough vocabulary’
9. Lack of perceived progress. ‘It is difficult to tell if and what they are learning.’ ‘Learners do not get a sense of progress.’
10. Fear of losing control of class, of group work: ‘They can get flustered, unquiet.’
11. Fear of losing control of language. ‘Unpredictable difficult questions can come. Is my language up to it’?
These questions having risen I tried to come up with some answers based on my experiences on using projects in teaching English.
1. How can I integrate projects into my textbooks and save on planning time?
Reliance on textbooks minimizes preparation time. It offers a range of solutions for teachers who are obliged to stick to a textbook and do not have time to create their own projects. Some textbooks present material in a project cycle, but often it only takes a little transforming (e.g. adding a goal, identifying the title of the project) to produce a project based lesson. I can note that a lot of our students’ books contain a number of project based lessons and task-like activities but these are not referred to as ‘projects’.
Some suitable topics appeared in lead-in, warm-up, starter, or preview sections, some in reading and listening sections, some in writing sections, and some others in speaking sections. Projects, it seems, often comes to disguise. On the other hand there are sometimes activities in books that call themselves projects, but are in fact form-focused practice or display exercises, like acting out a shopping dialogue in pairs. The listing tasks, matching tasks, ranking tasks and sequencing tasks can easily be integrated in a project as a way of introducing target vocabulary. Questionnaires and quizzes are popular, as are prediction tasks, and there are generally some chances for pupils to talk about their own lives and share experiences, although they are rather vague, and need tightening up. But it is a good start for implementing a project in a group or can also serve as a starting point in preparing it.
1.a Topic ‘lead-in’ sections
The first page of a unit often starts with a topic and some points to be discussed in pairs or groups. In many cases they only need a slight transformation to turn them into project tasks that will generate more purposeful and more sustained interaction. The following examples give several specific ideas for pupils to talk about, but they could both be enriched.
1.b Vocabulary-building sections
Vocabulary ‘building sections often precede reading and listening activities sometimes contain useful sorting or matching tasks as preparation. Others contain activities that focus on form, getting pupils to practice or display control of form. With a little thought, these could sometimes be upgraded to projects, giving opportunities for genuine communication.
A day out
Work in pairs. Think about places near where you live. Where can people go for: an exciting, an interesting, a relaxing day out?
Face2Face Elementary: page 66
Here we could ask pupils to give reasons for their choices, thus adding to their agenda. We might also like to specify that they must agree on one best place for each category, which is likely to prompt more discussion and make the goal clearer. As post-task activity, we can get pupils to report to another pair or to the whole class, justifying their choice of place, and finally let the class vote on the best place for each category. So, finding the most popular place in each category becomes the final goal for this first lesson and gives the report a purpose. Further on this idea could be developed to a larger project-idea.
Clothes and colours
Listen to the fashion commentary. Identify the models, the clothes and the colours.
Describe the models’ clothes.
Work in pairs. For one minute, study the people in the class. Then ask your partner to close his/her eyes and tell you about three people.
Snapshot Starter: page 82
We assume that some previous knowledge must have been acquired regarding colours and clothes.
As a starting point we could use a teacher-led task getting pupils to identify ‘something white’, ‘something red’ as fast as they can. This can be done either with the textbook pictures or pointing to things in the classroom. This activity provides rich exposure, especially if you talk about the objects as learners point to them and requires minimal learner production.
Another idea to deal with this exercise could be the following: Get pupils to set a true/false quiz to give another pair. For example: ‘Cameron’s shirt is white.’
To increase the challenge, these tasks could be done with books closed (or eyes shut) as a memory-challenge task. Or we could send two people out of the room and have the class ‘ in pairs or as a whole ‘ remember what they were wearing.
For instruction 2, rather than just saying the colours of the models’ clothes ‘ which is simply a language display activity ‘ everybody can already see what colours they are wearing, we could
a. Play a true/false game: ‘Say two things and one not true about the colour of the models’ clothes’. The class identifies which is false.
b. Get pupils to find out who in the group is wearing the most colours. For example: ‘In groups of four, list all the colours you are wearing. Which one of you has the most? Tell the class. Listen to the others to find out which person in the class has the most different colours on today’ or ‘Find out which group in the class has the most colours between them?
c. We could do a teacher-led colour survey task to find out the most popular colour. ‘Who is wearing something red? Hands up if you have something red on.’ Then we count how many pupils are wearing this colour.
d. Play an identification game: describe someone by the colours they are wearing. For example: ‘This person is wearing white, black, pink and grey. Who is it? This could be done by learners in pairs looking round the class and deciding who to describe, or in larger groups of learners who take turns to describe one of the group.
This exercise could also serve as the root of a project task, during which pupils can make their own fashion show, present teenage fashion, preparing questionnaires for their classmates to fill in with their taste in clothes, money spent on clothes and accessories, prepare a fashion commentary, etc.
2. How can we find time to design tasks and projects and plan project based lessons?
Every good lesson takes time to prepare. Planning project based lessons takes no longer than planning any other kind of lesson once you have gained some project work experience, especially if you use and adapt a course book.
Some other things we could try:
Working with colleagues who teach other subjects than English could give us suitable ideas for pupils’ actual interests that are widened in other subjects, at that very time of their development.
b. Collecting texts
Finding suitable texts like newspaper articles or extracts from a magazine pupils frequently read, displaying accurate information helps teacher arise pupils’ interest . We can also ask pupils to find text from the web, write a short review of it, to persuade other students their text was worth voting for. Students then read the reviews and ‘ on a separate sheet of paper ‘ give each a mark out of ten, and thus we choose the most popular ten topics for them. The ten texts will be sequenced, quick reading tasks and a range of writing tasks will be designed for each, language work will be planned for the term based on the texts and finally a short-term project will be discussed and implemented.
c. Collecting recordings
We can get our students to record. If they know somebody who is a native speaker of English can interview him or her on topics they have prepared beforehand. They obviously have to explain their purpose and ask permission to record their interviews, but once recorded, they can replay, listen and choose sections to transcribe and later present their interview in class, supported by transcriptions. This interview can also be used for further study.
3. How can I make time to do project based learning in class?
The pressure of completing the course book or covering the language syllabus by the end of the term can be quite frightening. But we need to think in terms of letting learners learn rather than trying to teach everything thoroughly. And rather than spending a lot of time teaching grammar and pronunciation maybe we should spend more of that time allowing them to learn through using or attempting to use the language themselves. Moreover, because it is only in class that they will get a chance to interact in English, and have the support of their teacher when planning and drafting what to say or write. While they are working in groups, we can give them some individual attention and respond to their individual needs. This is why I think using projects in teaching English is a good use of classroom time.
4. How can I change attitude of students who are not used to project based learning?
Most students will admit that they would also like to be able to talk to people in English, so we should explain them that
a. They will only learn to talk by trying to talk
b. By talking and listening to people talking they will naturally consolidate their grammar and acquire more
c. Plenty of people learn a foreign language without having any grammar lessons (e.g. their parents who work abroad in different countries to earn some extra money for their families)
d. We can choose some simple engaging tasks that are fun and have concrete outcomes, that they can prepare in advance and achieve with satisfaction and enjoyment
e. They can start with preparing in writing what they want to say
f. There will always be a conclusion and debate after a presented project, with a focus on grammar and new words and expressions that have come up in the project.
5. How can I motivate my students to do more than just the minimum
The key notion is engagement. Pupils have to want to engage to achieve an outcome.
For some pupils even a short-time project is a very long-lasting activity and they easily get bored. In this case it is advisable to set interim goals at the different steps of the project, to give precise instructions, charts or tables to fill in, and push them for a more detailed output.
If pupils have invested some of their own time at home prior to the presenting task in planning and thinking through what they will talk about, they are more likely to engage with the task when they do it.
There are some other ways, too, of making tasks intrinsically motivating.
a. Task design
The way the task is presented visually has an enormous impact on production
Personalization, preparing projects about mundane things, things that they are interested in, can only be fruitful
b. Goals and real-life purposes should be made very clear
The teacher should raise pupils’ motivation by telling them how interesting the project work will be and what the purpose of the activity is. When I tell my students that one of the goals is to enable them face this kind of situation in real life, helps them concentrate on the task more. Another possibility with such short-term projects is to give students the chance to meet, interact, and engage in a fruitful online conversation in the preparation phase. Writing emails opens up the possibility of international communication in English. Some textbooks give examples of finding email pen-pals and write to them about the topic they are currently interested is or doing in class.
c. Methods in class
We should give our help and support in the whole process of developing the project work.
After the presentation we should make our students realize how well they have performed.
We can draw a score chart on the board for each topic, after each presentation and give points for interest value among their classmates, new words or phrases used, degree of participation, using target language during group work, or some other aspects, that we should agree on previously. At this phase it is good to be generous and give lots of points, moreover to make it fun and be fair.
6. How can we prevent overuse of language one and encourage pupils to use English during project-work?
I do not think it is a good idea to ban the use of pupils’ mother tongue at beginner and low level learners. In this way some pupils ‘ even at a higher level of English – could feel they have no way to contribute in class or communicate with their teacher. I quite often begin activities in English , and then with the help of more advanced pupils we try to figure out once again, what the instruction was. As they repeat the task with others, and later work on some kind of report or presentation of findings, their use of English gradually increases.
But there are definitely other times when the mother tongue is useful:
. quick translation when an unknown word comes up ‘ especially if it is a word not common enough to teach or spend time on guessing from context
In this case I often ask pupils if they can translate the word for their classmates, so we can check comprehension.
.it is probably the best way to give all the classroom instructions and do the organization in English, as it creates a very real context and purpose for listening
At this stage it is useful to check if they understand the task instructions by asking someone to say what they think they have to do in their mother tongue. At a higher level, they can do this in English.
. we should make sure they know why using English as much as they can is beneficial: ‘use it to learn it’.
I also tried to draw up a set of rules for when language one is allowed to be used by the teacher and by learners. A good way forward is to let your students do this as a task, and then share ideas and agree on a final set of guidelines. I encouraged them to keep to these specific guidelines during group work on projects by:
. displaying the rules of guidelines where all can see
. going round and monitoring, helping when they get stuck at home, giving them opportunities from classroom time to check their preparation work
. asking groups after the presentation how many points out of ten they would give themselves for sticking to English during the project ‘ according to the guidelines
7. How do we keep pupils’ interest during a project presentation stage?
Answering this question I collected a series of ideas that could contribute to pupils’ showing interest for their classmates’ work:
. Ensure, when pupils are planning their projects, that the instructions encourage them to include relevant detail which makes the presentations more interesting
. Before starting the presentation phase, make sure most of them have finished planning their report otherwise they will still be trying to improve their own presentation instead of listening to each other.
. Give them a purpose for listening to or reading each others’ report or presentation. For example: note down three things that are similar to or different from their own reports, stories, presentation, or to take note of the fact to collate for a class survey.
. Tell the students they have to listen so they can prepare and writ two or three questions to ask the people reporting. They could be graded on the quality of the content of their questions.
. They can write two true facts and one false statement about each report or presentation they hear or read, to give as a quiz after the reports are finished.
. They can evaluate ‘ give a grade or a comment for different aspects of each report: on the interest level, content, entertainment value, presentation ‘ or complete a sentence on a slip of paper: ‘What I liked particularly about this group’s project was ”
8. How can we give pupils a sense of their own progress?
Much of the language that students learn during project cycles is acquired subconsciously and learners are simply not aware of what they are learning and ways in which they are improving.
The following techniques I have used could help them perceive their progress:
.keep records in pupils’ notebooks
It is important to make sure learners keep records in their notebooks of new words, phrases, and patterns from each stage of the project. It is also advisable to spend ten minutes every time going over these. At the end of the project stages they could count up totals of words and phrases.
.repeat with new partner
Even so often we can get learners to repeat the presentation or parts of the project work with new partners, and point out in what ways have they been improved by the end ( form, pronunciation, etc.)
.record and correct
If we get learners record and transcribe their project interaction, then correct and improve it, and finally do the same task again later. It is useful to save some early recordings and transcriptions so they can compare them with those they do at the end of the project.
.keep a portfolio
Sometimes it can help pupils to keep a portfolio of all written reports and all transcriptions (of interviews and projects done) so they can see how much they have accumulated and improved over a project.
.ask a visitor
We can invite a native speaker ‘ not necessarily a teacher ‘ to come into class on a regular basis to talk to learners in English and answer their questions about topics they have covered since the last visit. The visitor can also go round and watch and listen while learners are presenting projects that they have worked on and done before with a different partner and join in. At the end of the class, the visitor can give the class some feedback about what he or she enjoyed hearing about, and comment on the progress learners have made. If grades for oral work are needed, this is a chance for the teacher to sit at the back, listen and give points for each contribution.
9. How can we control and keep discipline in large or difficult classes?
Using projects in teaching English means that the teacher has a different role from the traditional one where the teacher is in focus throughout. We are very much concerned about discipline, however, in reality speaking tasks are noisy but at the same time well-designed and well-staged projects are motivating and give students a feeling of satisfaction. It is difficult for students to fall asleep during any stage of the project and if they are not participating in the group work it will be easy to see in the classroom.
If we have large classes and fixed desks and students who tend to get out of control easily, we can introduce set routines for different activity types making sure they know what the rules are. A set of rules can be proposed in pairs then agreed on by the class as a project task in itself. It can be shared, refined and drawn up into a document or poster that is kept on display.
The pupils cannot be ‘thrown into’ project based learning without having started with teacher-led tasks that require some kind of a written or drawn response from each student, for example, listen and draw, or underline, or sequence. As a teacher we should get them to check answers in pairs to reduce our marking load, but it is necessary to go round the class as they are working.
Pupils should be trained to work in pairs with the student next to them, then to repeat the task or report with the student behind or in front of them. It is easier to make pairs or groups if we number rows, so the odd numbers turn round, the even numbers stay facing forward. We can make fours in the same way: pairs turn to face another pair. In the previous years I even used a bell to mark the end of an activity or when I rang it students needed to change their partners or stop talking and listen.
In big classes, it is easier to monitor twice the number of pairs. But when we have groups of four or more than two, we have to make sure each person has a role, and check they know what their role is: ‘Hands up all secretaries!’, ‘Hands up all reporters!’ It is useful to have a group leader, whose role is to keep the group on the task agenda and using English, and who can raise a hand once they have finished or if they get stuck.
I have also used another method on team and member identification through colours or numbers, for example, the teacher might call out: ‘Red team number one ‘ can you ask your quiz question’? or ‘All number 4s, hands up, you will be the spokesperson for your team.’
Another possibly change in their well used pairs could get pupils to move forward one row. The front row goes to the back. It is easier for learners nearer the front to hear, understand and concentrate. We can also encourage students to mix up a bit as they move forward or back. This means they will be in different pairs.
10. How can we do projects with learners of mixed ability and ensure all the students can do it?
For a teacher working in a presentation-style methodology, teaching one target grammar item to a mixed class, mixed ability classes could pose a difficult problem: some learners will know it already and be bored, a few might be just ready to learn it, while others who are not yet ready will be bewildered. A project-based approach where the focus is on meaning means that all students have a chance to do the task within their own capabilities. It is however essential that all students understand from the start what each stage of the project entails.
With project-based learning, pupils are able to work at their own level, and there are times when it is necessary to give them a helping hand. As a teacher we can also help when grouping students. If we pair a weak student with a stronger one, the weak learner is supported and the stronger one learns through helping. Or sometimes we can also let stronger pupils stay together and let them get on by themselves, while we can spend more time with the weak ones. Weaker learners on their own together have more chance to speak out, and often gain confidence by being able to help another person.
When we share the roles in a group setting up a group work for a project work we have to make sure that pupils get practice at skills they are less good at, with support of the group.
I think we can never get all pupils to do the task equally well or to reach the same language level. But we should aim at all learners feeling they have improved and done their share of the task to the best of their efforts. If they feel they have achieved something worthwhile and have come to enjoy using their English, then we, as teachers, have done the best we could.
11. Tips for implementing projects in teaching English
As a convincing issue I would like to end the row of these questions having risen by any teacher who is making efforts to organize his/her classes as effective as possible with handing over of a few tips and ideas for those intending to implement projects.
1. Give clear instructions
Prepare your task well before you set it ‘ think through each stage very carefully ‘ how to organize it and what instructions to give at what points.
Make sure all the students know what to do.
Explain the goal and the type of work expected.
Students tend to want to just answer questions ‘correctly’. I have found that with some types of projects, I should not number the steps or students will answer them point-by-point and not try anything creative.
2. Accuracy and correction
Allow learners to make mistakes ‘ it is all part of the fluency process.
Resist the urge to correct errors the moment you hear them. Hold back!
Correct supportively at the end, do not interrupt a learner in flow.
Jot down a few common errors you hear during the project presentation cycle. In the final form-focus phase, or even in the next lesson, when you have had the chance to plan better, write the phrases on the board, gapping the place where the error occurred. Ask the class to complete them in pairs.
3. Introducing project based learning with classes not used to it
Start from the experiences your pupils already have.
To begin with, try a short simple task ‘ one with a definite short-term goal.
Explain the purpose of each task, and at the end, summarize language goals.
4. Involve your pupils
Talk to students ‘ they know best what they want.
Involve them in the selection of topic areas and even in the design of projects.
Look for feed-back from them on how they liked the task.
5. Be flexible
If a project is going really well, and all the students are engaged, let it go on ‘ but stop in time to complete the task and bring things together positively at the end of the lesson. If tou do not have time for a full report in the same class, you can set a written report of what they discussed for homework.
Be prepared to tweak the task as it progresses.
If things go wrong think of another way of doing it.
6. Be positive
Ensure all pupils realize their creativity and their participation valued.
At a form-focused feed-back stage, do not just correct mistakes, but concentrate on the positive, you could end with some of the good expressions you heard, or new phrases which were correctly spoken or written, and practice those with the whole class.
Look at the glass as half full not half empty. Do not think of your students as ‘objects to be taught’ but as partners from whom you can also learn about life. For me that is one of the basics of a project-based approach.
7. Do not forget the grammar
Project based learning does not mean you have to leave forms completely aside. The task will naturally involve a combination of structures, words, and meanings, which you can draw together and focus on afterwards.
Identify useful language from the text or project recording and prepare form-focused activities in advance for doing after the task. Then you know how much time to leave for this stage, and what to focus on at planning stage.
8. Challenge your students!
Do not underestimate students’ desire to be challenged.
Students ‘ even children ‘often know more than you think.
Do not intervene too much when students are doing the task. Set it up and step out of it. Let them do it on their own.
9. Do not give up!
If a task does not work first time, reflect on what went wrong, maybe ask your students or colleagues for their suggestions, adapt it and try it again.
Learn from your mistakes.
Always ask how you could make a bad project better, and a good one great.
10. Get started
Learn by doing: try out a simple task, a short-term project, add a planning and report phase, and see how it goes.
‘Risking and winning’
Once the first experience has been successful, you realize that there is another way of teaching, and that this new way is, among other things, much more motivating and enjoyable for both students and teachers.