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Project work with Young Learners

To celebrate the launch of Project fourth edition, author of Projects with Young Learners, Diane Phillips considers the benefits of using projects in the upper primary classroom.

What don’t children like?

If I asked you to list some of the thing that children don’t like you might say: – learning stuff of no immediate or obvious relevance e.g. grammar rules or lists of vocabulary; having to read about topics they have no interest in; being told to ‘be quiet’, to stop talking to their friends; being passive; never being asked for their view or about topics they know about; never seeing an end or a point to the work they have to do; always being told what to do!

Yet, this is exactly the way many classrooms work.

What do children like doing?

One way to get children doing what they like while still learning is through projects.  Children enjoy using their imagination – making up characters, stories; being creative – making things, drawing, colouring, cutting and gluing, using multimedia; finding out about interesting stuff; sharing, chatting, working together; talking about themselves, their friends and family, their interests; making choices, deciding for themselves, trying new things out; showing off!

What are Projects?

Experiential learning or ‘learning through projects’ is a tried and tested way of motivating children – by doing what they naturally like doing and avoiding what they don’t like.

It’s an approach founded on sound pedagogic principles. It addresses the needs of the ‘whole child’ to develop a number of different skills

  • the intellectual skills
  • physical/motor and ICT skills
  • social skills
  • learner independence skills

Children are given an opportunity to produce work which is personal and individual, which reflects their own ideas and interests, and their opinions are asked for and valued.

It gives the children an opportunity to bring their knowledge of the world into the classroom and can be cross-curricular – linked to other subjects the children are studying in school. Continue reading


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Projects should be creative, collaborative, challenging and fun!

Teacher and students at computerOlha Madylus, a teacher and teacher trainer specialising in both primary and secondary education, shares her thoughts on what makes a great class project.

I visit a lot of classrooms around the world and teachers proudly point out posters on the walls and say “look at my students’ projects.”

Although the work looks very nice, I would argue that it isn’t a project. This work is usually a piece of writing with a picture. What worries me is that the text often seems to be directly copied, or merely cut and pasted, from the internet.

Such work may have some merits (encouraging students to look things up on the internet and designing the final product) but I have two main worries about it. One is that students should be discouraged from what is, in fact, plagiarism and, for me most importantly, that students aren’t getting involved in the challenges and satisfaction of what a full-blown project consists of – it’s not very interesting for them!

The important characteristics of a project are:

They are collaborative – a group of students work together to produce a final product.

By working together students share ideas, divide up responsibilities (depending on what they like to do or are good at), and learn crucial lessons about respecting each others’ opinions and finding a good compromise. They also discover talents in themselves and in their friends.

The final product is important and can be extremely varied, ranging from interviews, to songs, to magazines, to drama.

Choosing how they will present their ideas in the final product is a major part of the project. If it is a PowerPoint presentation or a video drama, these need different types of organisation, materials, and perhaps help from their teacher.

Because the final product can be so varied, the language skills involved are not limited.

Ideally students will have lots of opportunities to use the English language in different ways that are meaningful to them. At lower levels they may not use English to discuss the projects, but they will still be discussing what English they need to get the job done.

Other skills like design, acting, directing, negotiation are involved

And this is where a lot of the challenge (and fun) lies – in putting it all together.

Take a look at this example of a project a class in Serbia created, with the help of their teacher. Notice, although the project is based on one piece of grammar – the conditional – how:

  • it obviously needed lots of planning and collaboration
  • all the students are involved
  • language is used to make meaning in a fun way
  • all the students are enjoying themselves
  • the final product – the video – can be shared and enjoyed by the class and others

Take part in our Engage 2nd edition Project Competition using these tips and you could win a video camera for your school. Competition closes 11th November 2011.

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Interview with Marija Jović, a Project Competition finalist

This interview with Marija Jović, a teacher in Serbia and a runner-up in the recent Project Competition, was originally conducted by Anica Đokić of the Elementary School “Sonja Marinkovic” Novi Sad and posted on the “Sveti Sava” school’s English blog, Svetisavabadnjevac.

Marija's project

Over 700 hundred projects were submitted to the International Project Competition organised by Oxford University Press. The topic was “Communication” and the participating teachers and their students had to create a paper project about this phenomenon. We will hear more about the competition from our colleague, Marija Jović, whose work was chosen among the six best of all 700!

Q: How did you learn about the competition and how did you decide to participate?

The magic word is surfing. I often use the Internet, Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. I also google because I am curious and always willing to learn. I don’t even remember how I came across this competition but I do remember I was determined to give it a try. Except being curious, I am also very competitive. However, I am often not motivated by the prizes, but by the process of reaching the goal, by participating with other colleagues from all over the world and most important by including my students into something new and challenging.

Q: What was your students’ opinion about it and how motivated were all of you to create and submit a project?

I am very proud of my students, especially of those who are willing to participate in different projects. They write, draw, act and even dance if that is necessary for our English lessons. So when I asked them to pose for this project, they were more than interested – they were flattered. Of course, they liked the prizes too and I promised to grant some extra marks for their effort only, regardless of the competition result.

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Addressing concerns about project work

Nervous woman biting nailsHaving introduced us to, and examined the benefits of, project work in the classroom, Project author, Tom Hutchinson, now considers the primary concerns held by teachers about its use and offers his suggestions for overcoming such concerns.

In previous blog posts, we looked at the benefits of project work, including motivation, relevance and educational values. You are probably wondering by now: what’s the catch? For every benefit there is a price to be paid, and in this section I’ll take a look at some of the main worries that teachers have about project work.

Noise

Teachers are often afraid that the project classroom will be noisier than the traditional classroom and that this will disturb other classes in the school. But project work does not have to be noisy. Students should be spending a lot of the time working quietly on their projects: reading, drawing, writing, and cutting and pasting. In these tasks, students will be working on their own or in groups, but this is not an excuse to make a lot of noise.

The problem is not really one of noise, it is a concern about control. In project work students are working independently – they must, therefore, take on some of the responsibility for managing their learning environment. Part of this responsibility is learning what kind of, and what level of, noise is acceptable. When you introduce project work you also need to encourage and guide the learners towards working quietly and sensibly. Remember that they will enjoy project work and will not want to stop doing it on the basis of it causing too much noise. So it should not be too difficult to get your students to behave sensibly.

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Q: Why do projects? – A: Relevance & educational values

Group of children gathered around a globeProject author, Tom Hutchinson, continues a series of posts on the benefits of project work in the classroom, this time exploring how projects can help bring relevance to students’ learning and promote cross-curricular learning.

In looking at the question of motivation in my last post, I have been most concerned with how students feel about the process of learning, that is, the kinds of activities they do in the language classroom. An equally important and related question is how the learners feel about what they are learning.

A foreign language can often seem a remote and unreal thing. This inevitably has a negative effect on motivation, because the students don’t see the language as relevant to their own lives. If learners are going to become real language users, they must learn that English is not only used for talking about things British or American, but can be used to talk about their own world. Project work helps to bridge this relevance gap.

Real needs of language learners

Firstly, project work helps to make the language more relevant to learners’ actual needs. When students from Athens or Barcelona or Milan use English to communicate with other English speakers, what will they want to talk about? Will it be London, New York, Janet and John’s family, Mr Smith’s house? Surely not! They will want, and be expected, to talk about aspects of their own lives – their house, their family, their town, and so on. Project work thus enables students to rehearse the language and factual knowledge that will be of most value to them as language users.

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