As part of the celebrations for 25 years of Project, now in it’s third edition, and in preparation for the Project Competition to design the best class poster, Tom Hutchinson explains what a project is and shows us a few examples.
Project work is not a new methodology. Its benefits have been widely recognized for many years in the teaching of subjects like Science, Geography, and History. Some teachers have also been doing project work in their language lessons for a long time, but for others it is a new way of working.
In the first of a series of five blog posts, I aim to provide a simple introduction to project work. In the following posts, I shall then go on to explain what benefits project work brings in relation to motivation, relevance, and educational values. I shall also deal with the main worries that teachers have about using project work in their classrooms. So to get started:
What is a project?
The best way to answer this question is to show some examples of projects (click on the images to see full size versions).
Projects allow students to use their imagination and the information they contain does not always have to be factual. In the above example of a project which required students to introduce themselves and their favourite things, the students pretend they are a horse.
You can do projects on almost any topic. Factual or fantastic, they help to develop the full range of learners’ capabilities.
Projects are often done in poster format, but students can also experiment with the form, like in the project above. You will probably also note that project work can produce errors! Project work encourages a focus on fluency – some errors of accuracy are bound to occur.
What are the common characteristics of these projects?
Each project is the result of a lot of hard work. The authors of the projects have found information about their topic, collected or drawn pictures, written down their ideas, and then put all the parts together to form a coherent presentation. Project work is not a soft option.
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.
This element of creativity makes project work a very personal experience. The students are writing about aspects of their own lives, and so they invest a lot of themselves in their project.
Project work is a highly adaptable methodology. It can be used at every level from absolute beginner to advanced, and with all ages.
So, let us now return to the original question: What is a project? In fact, the key to understanding project work lies not in the question What?, but rather in the question Who? Who makes the decisions? A project is an extended piece of work on a particular topic where the content and the presentation are determined principally by the learners. The teacher or the textbook provides the topic, but as the examples in this section show, the project writers themselves decide what they write and how they present it.
This learner-centred characteristic of project work is vital, as we shall see when we consider the merits of project work in the second blog post.