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Promoting Project-Based Learning

PrProject-Based Learningoject-Based Learning has always had a significant place in the English Language classroom. Teachers soon realise that the topic of language and grammar is not the most engaging, especially for younger learners and teenagers. Even for adults, there is rarely an occasion to discuss the use of the present perfect or passive forms in natural conversation. Projects, therefore, help provide a topic and situation to consolidate language and provide further practice of specific tenses and/or lexis.

Personally, I have always enjoyed seeing students’ reactions when they realise that the piece of artwork and/or writing they have been working on is part of a larger picture, to create a display for a wider audience.  They develop a sense of pride and achievement knowing that their work is being viewed by parents, carers, teachers, students, and other interested parties. Some of the most ambitious projects I coordinated as the Director of Studies at International House Porto were whole school projects where each student, from every class regardless of age or level, was given the same rubric or task.

This inter-generational, cross-level endeavour meant that differentiation in what was produced was by outcome, allowing each individual to work according to their own abilities. This is preferable (and easier to coordinate) to setting a different task for each age group and level. The underlying principle of Project-Based learning is that learners can work to their own strengths, and at the same time the spectacular displays can create a wonderful sense of community within the school, often with families coming to visit the school to see the final exhibition.  The project, though, is driven by the teacher or institute and the work produce is ultimately for display purposes.

Project-Based Learning (PBL), however, is much more than producing wall displays and completing projects set by the teacher. The teacher’s role should be to instigate the project, but then to let the learners navigate and steer it. The driving force should come from the students, as they find a way to tackle a real-life problem, or conduct some inquiry research into areas that have an impact on their lives. PBL is about the process rather than the final product (which could still be a wall display, if appropriate), and developing the skill-sets such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity which are needed for life and work in the modern world (click here for more information on 21st century skills).

PBL is more akin to Content-Based Learning (CBL) and CLIL (Content and Language Integrated  Learning) in that the pedagogic principles focus on encouraging learners to expand their cross-curriculum knowledge through challenging experiences, developing technological skills, contextualising communication skills, all by engaging with authentic and meaningful projects.

Here are 7 points to consider when creating an effective PBL program:

  • Identify a challenging problem or a question which must be researched (not just Googled!) in order to expand knowledge and understanding of the area
  • Feature real-world contexts which are both stimulating and interesting, and which will ultimately have an impact on the lives of the learners
  • Engage the learner in associated cognitive processing as they sustain a level of inquiry
  • Collaborating and communicating within the classroom community and beyond in order to set themselves tasks, delegate, and carry out research.
  • Develop appropriate language awareness and language skills
  • Self-reflection and evaluation, questioning what has been achieved and how it could move forward

And finally

  • Produce a public product to present, display or exhibit to interested parties beyond the classroom.

Project-Based Learning is well-suited to mainstream schools and education systems, and there has been a lot of research to prove that it is the way forward. But how well does it fit into the English language classroom? In my upcoming webinar I will explore further what is involved in Project-Based Learning and how you could use it in the English Language classroom. I will set out a basic framework which should be adaptable depending on individual teaching situations. We shall also have an opportunity to share ideas, make suggestions and inspire each other to try out different kinds of PBL.

Click here to register.


References:

Buck institute for Education. (2018). What is PBL? In project based learning, teachers make learning come alive for students. [online] Available at: https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl. Accessed 10/5/18.


Jane-Maria Harding da RosaJane Harding da Rosa worked as a Director of Studies at International House Porto where she specialised in teaching younger learners. She gained her Master’s in TEYL, and now works for IH Newcastle as a senior teacher and CELTA and DELTA tutor. She also presents workshops and training sessions. She contributed significantly to the writing and re-structuring of the IH Certificate of teaching Young learners and Teenagers, which is now assessed by Cambridge Language Assessment unit.


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Using a social media project as a tool for motivating young adults learning English

Close up of smartphone with social media icons

Image courtesy of pixabay.

Stacey Hughes, former EFL teacher, is a teacher trainer in our Professional Development team. Here she uses course material from Network to explore how social media can be used in the classroom to motivate young adults learning English.

Want to get young adult learners really motivated? Then make the language they are learning meaningful by linking it to authentic English practice opportunities. One way to do this is to set up a social networking project in which students can apply the vocabulary, grammar and communication skills they have built up in class. In this blog I will first list some of the pedagogical benefits of using a social media project. I’ll then suggest a few ideas for projects before outlining how a social media project can be set up in class.

Why use a social media project?

A social media project provides English practice opportunities in an environment that is familiar. Many of our students frequently use social media already when they tweet, post questions or comments online, blog, share videos or links, and chat online. By linking this social media use to English learning, students feel that what they are learning is meaningful for authentic communication and they can personalise learning as they build a network of classmates and peers to communicate with. Social media also provides plenty of models for how language is actually used and endless opportunities to use critical thinking skills to evaluate sources of information. Finally, social media projects can show young adults how to apply social media skills to further their professional growth.

Examples of social media projects

Social media projects aim to get students to use social networks to perform authentic tasks or solve authentic problems. Smaller projects include creating a profile or uploading and sharing a photo with a comment. An example of a larger project might be researching to find a place to live or places to stay on holiday. The projects can be chosen to suit the language level of the student.

Below is a list of social media projects you can do with your students.

  1. Build a personal or professional profile
    Students decide how much information to share and the best image of themselves to project, where to post the profile and how to share it so others can see it.
  2. Post a blog or comment
    Students respond to another blog or set up their own personal or professional blog. They comment on and rate an article, product or event.
  3. Connect online
    Students find an old school friend or a new friend in another country, join a group online that shares their interests, or collaborate on a project.
  4. Investigate something local
    Students learn about a local problem, find out about local events, or contact an organisation in their community.
  5. Find out
    Students find places to stay when travelling, find a job or a place to live, find a suitable restaurant – the possibilities are endless.
  6. Evaluate a website
    Students decide whether the information on a website is credible or not, or if a site or posting adheres to accepted ‘netiquette’.
  7. Game
    This may seem an odd choice, but there is a lot of language involved in learning the rules of the game and playing it well. Many games also have online forums and opportunities to link up online with other gamers.

Lesson plan for setting up a social media project

The following example of a social media project could be done over several weeks.

Use social networking to find a job

Level: Elementary and above

Aim: Students will research job finding resources and present their findings to the rest of the class.

  1. Lead-in: use an image or anecdote to begin a discussion about finding a job. Ask students if they have experience looking for a job and what resources they used to find one. Find out if they use any social networks (friends, family connections or social networks online) to look for jobs. This discussion could bring up some interesting cultural differences.
  2. Put students into pairs or small groups to brainstorm resources they could use to find a job. They should list a variety of resources, not just online ones. Ask each group to share their list with the class. Example resources include a career centre at school, newspapers, websites, professional networks, company web pages, jobs fairs, and personal networks (friends and families).
  3. Write the following questions on the board:
    1. Where is it?
    2. Who can use it? How?
    3. What kind of information is available?
    4. Do you get personal attention?
    5. Can you set up interviews?
    6. What employers use this resource?
  4. Ask each group to research the job-finding resources they have brainstormed and answer the questions. You may ask each member of the group to research a different type of resource, or each student could research them all. The research can be assigned for homework.
  5. If you are doing the project over the course of several weeks, ask students to bring in examples of new vocabulary they have found. Use these new terms to create vocabulary walls or a class wiki.
  6. Bring the groups back together to share the information they found. Ask them to create a group presentation. The presentation could be on a poster or could use presentation software such as PowerPoint or Prezi. Encourage them to use tables, charts or bullet-points for a good visual effect.
  7. Each group can practice their presentation in front of another group. Ask the groups to give each other feedback by posing questions: Was there anything you didn’t understand? Do you have any questions about the information that the group didn’t answer?
  8. Ask each group to give their presentation. Encourage groups to listen to each other, take notes and ask questions.
  9. As a follow-up, ask the class to write a short blog listing ways to use social networking to find a job. Ask each group to list 1-2 ideas, then collate these into one document. Share the document online and invite other classes in the school to read it.

(This project plan was adapted from Network 1 Teacher’s book, page vii)

In conclusion

The plan above demonstrates how a social media project can bring the real world into the classroom and make language learning meaningful for authentic tasks. It brings in a range of related vocabulary and grammar, and practices all four skills, but keeps the focus on the task. This focus is motivating and completing the task can give students a sense of achievement, especially if they then have a live audience to share with.


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#EFLproblems – Revising, reflecting, adapting, improving

Teenage students in classWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. This week, Verissimo Toste responds to Juliana Mota’s Facebook comment about how to connect one lesson to the next.

Juliana wrote:

How should we review lessons learned and make a connection with the new class?”

The first obvious answer is, “It depends.” But that’s not very useful. So let me propose some ideas and activities which you can adapt to the age of your students, their learning preferences, and their different abilities.

It’s their responsibility

From the very beginning, I try to make any revision the students’ responsibility. Once we have finished work on a unit or a module, I give them time to go back through the work we have done and ask any questions. This, of course, is easier when the class is based on a course book. Students leaf through the pages and are reminded of the work done. I then ask them to assess how they feel about the work in grammar, vocabulary, and the different skills. This assessment differs from class to class depending on the age and level of the students.

Students make a test

I ask students to make the test for the work we have done. Usually students leaf through the pages and suggest activities from the class book and the workbook. I ask each student to do this individually then compare their suggestions in pairs. Then, I ask them to work in groups of four. At this point, they compare their suggestions, but they must also agree on one test for the group. This generates a good discussion on the length of the test and what content is most important. More importantly, however, is that it creates a context for students to revise the work done, to prioritise that work, and to assess how they feel they are doing.

With the test based on their suggestions, students get a clearer idea of what they need to do in order to prepare. Giving them time to revise the work done generates more questions, leads to some revision exercises, and helps them notice their strengths and weaknesses. This is further reinforced when they get their test back.

Connect learning

When possible, connect new learning with language students have already learned. For example, you can base presenting the past simple on a daily routine. The daily routine gives the teacher an opportunity to revise the present simple, both the grammar and the vocabulary. Teaching adverbs can present opportunities to revise adjectives, as well as verbs. A text on the events of a very bad day can revise past forms and lead to teaching the conditional, “If they hadn’t …”

Skills lessons

Lessons with the aim of developing skills can, and should, focus on language learned. A listening or reading text will, most likely, use language students have learned. Once you have worked on the skill itself, guide your students to notice the language used in the text. Noticing language is an important learning tool that will help students improve their English.

Developing the productive skills of speaking and writing, will also provide students with an opportunity to revise language they have learned. Speaking activities are usually based on language students have just learned. Controlled practice activities will give them a chance to correct any mistakes. Writing tasks can give students an opportunity to use the language they have learned. Unlike speaking, students have more time to reflect on their mistakes and opportunities to correct through the writing process.

Project work        

I am a big fan of project work, whether the projects are small, taking little time, or larger projects spread over a greater length of time. Project work offers students the opportunity to use the language they have learned. As they share their work with others in the class, they will be exposed to the language in different contexts to communicate real information, usually about them and their experiences. The project will give them opportunities to reflect on the language they need. As the projects are meant to be shared, students are careful about mistakes, motivated to correct them before the project is presented to others.

The activities I mention here are based on making revision an integral part of the class and not necessarily based on any particular language point or skill in which students have difficulty and thus need more work. The activities give students the opportunity to revise what they have learned, reflect on their progress, adapt their learning based on the reflection, and finally, improve their English.

Invitation to share your ideas

Do you have anything to add on the subject of revising language? We’d love to hear from you! You can respond directly to this blog by leaving a comment below.

Please keep your challenges coming. The best way to let us know is by leaving a comment below or on the EFLproblems blog post. We will respond to your challenges in a blog every two weeks.


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Mimosa’s report card – strengthening the school-home connection

Family gathered round computerKenna Bourke, Oxford Discover co-author, shares some creative ideas for using technology to help parents support their children’s learning.

Four times a year, I get an email that contains a mysterious thing called a report card. This is a school report on the progress of a six-year-old (name changed for privacy!) who’s not my child, but who’s very important to me. It goes on for several pages, and looks like this:

Sample report card

Great! But I don’t know what Mimosa is reading or how I can help turn her into a full-time genius! What stories is she reading? Does she like them? What’s she learning in science? I’d really like to know!

Do you want one simple way to help parents support your classroom teaching in the home?

Use technology.

Like teachers, parents are busy people. They might only look at a school website a few times a year, but many of them have social media accounts, which they look at daily. How about creating a closed page for your class on Facebook, or whichever social network is popular in your country?

Here are a few ideas for using this as a tool to help parents feel more involved and excited about what’s happening in your class:

1. Try sharing a short biography of an author that the child and family can research

For example, Who is Michael Rosen? What’s he written? When was he born? What’s his daughter’s name? What do you think about the poem ‘A Dangerous Raisin?’

2. Advertise your projects

Explain what you’re going to do so your students can prepare. Or post the results of the projects once they’re done so the parents can see them.

For example, How many subtraction problems can you think of at home? In what contexts do we use subtraction every day? What’s a funny subtraction problem you can ask your friends?

3. Share the week’s lesson theme so it can be discussed at home

For example, Oxford Discover begins each new unit with a Big Question: How do we have fun? What makes birds special? How do numbers help us? Great dinnertime conversation ideas!

4. Preview a reading text so children can discuss their prior knowledge of the subject with their family

You could do this by sharing a simple three-line synopsis of what you’ll be reading in class. Provide some questions for parents to discuss with their children.

For example, What do you know about symmetry? What symmetrical objects can you find at home? What’s the most beautiful example of symmetry you can think of?

5. Follow up on reading texts or topics that have captured the students’ imaginations by posting links to sites that contain further information

For example, in Oxford Discover, you’ll find a fiction reading about a whistling language. That language also really exists! There are schools on the island of La Gomera that have made this ancient language — silbo gomero — a compulsory school subject.

6. Post a picture that relates to your lesson to stimulate discussion

This is really fun! Provide some sample questions, too.

For example, What’s going on with these cars? Why can’t you see through their windows? Where do you think the picture was taken? Who invented wheels? What would life be like if we didn’t have cars?

Completely white cars

Photo © Kenna Bourke

7. Include links to free parent support sites

Oxford Parents gives parents simple, effective advice on supporting their children’s classroom language learning at home.

Would you like practical tips on developing a strong school-home link and developing 21st Century skills in your children? Visit our site on Teaching 21st Century skills with confidence for free video tips, activity ideas and teaching tools.


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How tablet devices can help with mixed ability classes

Indian woman a tablet PCShaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer for OUP, considers how tablets and apps can help you encourage the less confident students in your class.

As a teacher trainer, I’ve often been asked how to deal with mixed ability classes. The asking teacher is generally of the opinion that mixed ability is something unusual. To me, it’s always seemed the norm, perhaps best summed up by this near twenty-year old quote.

We do not teach a group but (up to) thirty separate people. Because of this the problem of mixed abilities in the same room seems absolutely natural, and the idea of teaching a unitary lesson – that seems odd.”
Rinvolucri 1986, quoted in Podromou: Mixed Ability Classes

Mixed ability classes bring with them a whole manner of challenges for teachers to overcome. Students who perceive themselves as weak are often the ones that go unnoticed, the ones that are too shy to ask, the ones that don’t ask for the listening exercise to be played again and the ones who feel the pace of the lesson is too fast for them. Of course, should a teacher try and slow it down then those who are more confident complain the pace is too slow. Teachers have always been creative in finding ways to overcome the mixed ability issue. Be it through adjustment of course materials by subtle adaptations and grading or imaginative regroupings during exercises.

If, like me, you spend a large amount of your time reading about and using tablets in education, you’re bound to have run across the idea that tablets are the saviour to all things mixed ability. This, of course, is not true. However, perhaps tablets do offer some genuine alternatives for a teacher and their class. While we’re still a long way from most schools having class sets of devices, over the last couple of years we have seen a slow move towards tablet-based course materials. While some view this negatively, there are immediate advantages for the mixed ability class. Take for example, a listening lesson. Typically, such a lesson is more akin to a listening test.

The teacher establishes context, does a variety of pre-listening exercises and then presses play. Playing a few times but generally working with the class as a whole. Here’s where the mixed ability student falls behind: not getting all the answers and not asking for it to be played again. A tablet-based coursebook and set of headphones are a step towards overcoming this. Since every student has a copy of the listening, control can be handed over to them and they can listen as much as they like (and no one will know how much they needed to listen).

In this example from English File Pre-Intermediate you can see how the student is able to control the listening themselves

In this example from English File Pre-Intermediate you can see how the student is able to control the listening themselves.

Staying on the topic of listening, adding audio to reading texts is another way to help some students. In a class you’ll have students who enjoy reading, some who enjoy listening and some who have difficulty with one or both. A tablet-based coursebook gives them the chance to do both, giving the students a choice they wouldn’t necessarily have. Having the choice makes such a task more amenable to a mixed ability class.

In this example from Solutions Pre-Intermediate, you can see how a student is able to listen and read.

In this example from Solutions Pre-Intermediate, you can see how a student is able to listen and read at the same time.

A tablet-based coursebook also gives every student a voice. Not literally, of course, but a voice when it comes to working with, for example, pronunciation. As a digital book can do more than simply have the printed word, the students at appropriate times can record themselves and listen to their own pronunciation when compared to a model. In a large class, it is difficult for a teacher to be able to hear and react to everyone. Recording also builds the student’s confidence as it acts as rehearsal time, so if they are then asked to say something in front of the class they feel more able to speak.

As you can see in this example, from English File pre-Intermediate, a student is able to record and play back their pronunciation.

As you can see in this example from English File Pre-Intermediate, a student is able to record and play back their pronunciation.

All these tools allow for self-pacing. The ability to work at one’s own pace is a key element of differentiated learning. However to be able to measure and then tailor learning, the teacher needs to be able to get feedback on how a student is doing. A tablet combined with cloud storage can add a digital equivalent to material adaptation; for example, a teacher can use a word processor to create individualised questions for a reading comprehension. Saving a copy of the questions for each student to access them, do the text and re-save via a cloud link on their tablet.

There are a number of apps that can be used on a tablet to achieve this. For example, Socrative, a student response system, is an app that allows a teacher to create exercises, quizzes and games that they can then get each student to do on their device. As they do it, Socrative gives feedback on each student and how they are doing. It provides the digital equivalent of ‘Do you understand?’. However, unlike when asking the question to the whole class, feedback is telling you exactly how each student is doing. Or to put it another way, the shy struggling student is not put on the spot in front of everyone. In a similar vein, an app such as Nearpod allows a teacher to create presentations that cater for a mixed ability classroom, creating lessons that include listening, video and presentations. The presentation is sent to the students’ device and while they are working the teacher can get instant feedback on how the student is doing.

Once a teacher has this feedback, they know who needs what help and where. They perhaps then can use a tablet’s screen recording ability to produce personalised instruction.

By this point you might be thinking that using the tablet in this way is turning the classroom from a place of communication into one where the students sit silently staring at tablet screens. However, that is assuming I am advocating these things are done for the whole lesson, which is not the case. In the listening, the individualised listening is a small portion of a larger lesson. With perhaps the pre- and post-listening tasks taking place as they usually would. Using the student response app is only done selectively, perhaps taking up only a few minutes of lesson time. Furthermore, such assumptions overlook a third way tablets can help address mixed ability: project work.

Project-based learning (PBL) is coming back into fashion as a result of what a tablet and its apps can do.

In most books on the subject of projects you’ll find reference to mixed ability:

…they allow learners with different levels of competence to co-operate on an equal basis in the completion of the tasks the project requires. This goes some way to solving the problems of mixed-ability classes.”
Projects with young learners: Phillips, Burwood and Dunford, p7.

Project work leads to personalisation – another factor known to help confidence in mixed ability classes. All tablets can record sound, take pictures, and record video, giving the students tools that were previously difficult to get either in or out of the classroom. Collaborative projects involving things such as podcasting, film making, and digital stories need more than language skills to be successful. They involve good direction, a steady hand with the camera and an eye for design, so those that lack confidence in language can gain it by bringing those skills to the project.

An article in the Times educational supplement lists three categories of differentiation to help deal with mixed ability:

  • differentiation by task, which involves setting different tasks for pupils of different abilities
  • differentiation by support, which means giving more help to certain pupils within the group
  • differentiation by outcome, which involves setting open-ended tasks and allowing pupil response at different levels.

While teachers have been finding ways to do these things in the language classroom for years, using tablets can perhaps do this to levels previously never considered. Used effectively, and at the right moments in a lesson, they can help overcome what many teachers see as the difficulty of teaching mixed ability students.