Written by Maria Ivanova – English teacher,
“Hristo Botev” Primary school, Plovdiv

What is a project and how to use it effectively with young learners.  Some approved approaches and useful ideas for a dynamic classroom. Ideas to exchange? Come and share!

This talk is about projects. I will explain what a project work is, what benefits it brings and how it can be introduced and used into the classroom. The ideas are based on my classroom experience and on Tom Hutchinson’s booklet – “Introduction to project work.” (OUP).

  1. What is a project?

The best way to answer the question is to show examples of my own students’ projects. Photos of different projects, presented by their auhtors and some real projects are shown. A short introductory discussion is made.(See some of the attached pictures)

  • One of the great benefits of the project work is its adaptability. It can be adapted according to the students’ level. It can be pictures or simple words for the lower levels (2nd graders) or more complicated texts for more advanced students.
  • You can do projects on almost any topic. They can be factual or fantastic. This is how projects can help Ss to develop the full range of heir capabilities.
  • Projects are often done in a poster format, but Ss can also use their imagination to experiment with the form.(Ex. The  fashion project with a  shape of a woman, puppet projects)
  • It can be popular or imaginative

Common characteristics of the projects

  • Hard work –Each project is the result of lot of hard work. The authors of the projects have found information about their topics, collected or drawn pictures, written down their ideas and then put all the parts together to form a coherent presentation.
  • Creative –the projects are very creative in terms of both content and language. Each project is a unique piece of communication, created by the project writers themselves.
  • Personal – Ss write about aspects of their own lives and so they invest a lot of themselves in their project.
  • Adaptable- The project work is highly adaptable methodology. It can be used in every level and with all ages. In the handout 1-p.2 there are ideas about how the topics of “Families”, “Food”, “Space” might be used.

The success of a project depends on many factors including the age, level and interests of the learners, the resources available, the limit of time and space.
What is a project?
A project is an extended piece of work on a particular topic where the content and the presentation are determined principally by the learner. The teacher or the textbook provides the topic, but the project writers themselves decide what they write and how they present it. In short, the learner-centered characteristic of the project work is vital. Being quite egocentric Ss enjoy project work very much. On the other hand if a project work is made as a group work it can stimulate cooperation and friendship.
Other benefits of the project work are:

  • Students can experiment with the language as something real, not as something that only appears in books. Which means that project work captures better than any other activity the principle elements of the communicative approach. It contains:
  • a concern of motivation (how the learners relate to the task.);
  • a concern for relevance (how the learners relate to the language);
  • a concern for educational values (how the language curriculum relates to the general educational development o the learner).

Now let’s look at these three points in a bit more detail:
1. Motivation
Positive motivation is the key to successful language learning and project work is particularly useful as a means of generating this. Why? Because:

  • It is very personal. The Ss write about their own interests-their families, towns, dreams, fantasies.
  • Learning through doing- It’s a very active medium. Ss don’t have just to receive and produce words. They have to be active.
  • Sense of achievment – There is feedback from the Ss as they realize what they can do with the English they have learned.

2. Relevance – Learner become real language users. They realize that English can be used to talk about their own world.

  • Intergation of language with other skills – Project work helps to integrate the foreign language into the network of the learner’s own communicative competence. It creates connection between the foreign language and the learner’s own world.
  • Real needs of language learners- The project work helps to make the language more relevant to learners’ actual needs. It enables Ss to rehearse the language and factual knowledge that will be of most value to them as language users.
  • Language and culture – The purpose of learning a foreign language is to make the communication between two cultures possible. English, as an international language, should not be just for talking about the ways of the English speaking world. It should be a means of telling the world about your own culture. With project work the language acts as a bridge enabling two cultures to communicate with each other. (See handout 1-p.2).

3. Educational values

  • Independent investigation – The learners have to do their own investigations. That’s why they have to be initiative, independent, imaginative, self-disciplined and cooperative, which really develops their research skills.
  • Cross-curricular studies – Maths, science, music, art. The project work integrates learner’s own world, his/her communicative skills and other realms of knowledge. (See  handout 1- p.2)

For every benefit there’s a price to be paid. Here are some of
the project work worries.

  • Noise – It’s a natural part of any productive activity.
  • Time – It’s time consuming that’s why it is an excellent homework.  It can be done outside the class, which helps students to cooperate and gives them opportunities for reach learning experiences.  I give the students the choice to group each other and then to present their “co-production” (See handout 2).
  • Use of L1 (the mother tongue) – It helps to express them better. It’s their natural working environment. It, on the other hand, provides them with realistic translation work and writing practice.
  • Different levels – The students’ levels are different. Project work, being quite adaptable, can be used from absolute beginner to advanced and with all ages. Evaluation should be adaptable too.

The key to a successful project is the preparation.
What everyone needs is:

  • Scissors/rulers/glue/large sheets of paper or card
  • A dictionary/ a grammar book/ an atlas
  • A stock of magazines, maps, leaflets
  • A start with concrete, small scale activities
  • Preparational project discussion
  • Project at the end of a chapter/unit
  • Presentation ( as a poster/book)

Be prepared:

  • Not just the language – A language is only a  part of the total project
  • Not just the mistakes

There was a very nice discussion at the end of the seminar. The participants shared their own experience and their students’ projects performances. Useful ideas were exchanged.