Working with Project Classes

12 Jul

This is an entry for everyone currently working at an ELT summer school somewhere in the world!  It’s not always easy and there’s a lot of hard work – hopefully this post will help out a bit!  I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy my summer school experiences immensely over the years and one of the things I’ve enjoyed doing most has been the project classes.  This post takes a look at what’s important to remember before the project class kicks off and gives some ideas for different projects and how to stage them.

There are a number of advantages to doing project work with learners – projects can be (if done right):

  • Collaborative – they encourage learners to work together to generate something personal and meaningful
  • Communicative – by their very nature they put learners in a situation where communication is necessary in order to achieve the goal.
  • Cross-Curricular – they don’t have to be based solely in the language classroom but can draw on learner knowledge from other areas
  • Cross-cultural – they can be used to develop learners intercultural awareness and intercultural communication skills, both towards the target language culture, but also across the classroom cultural spectrum.
  • Task-based – there will inevitably be a set of linguistic items that learners need to perform the task successfully.  Projects can provide a “real” need for language in order to successfully accomplish the goal.
For me, any project needs to follow five main stages:  OUTLINE – PLANNING – GATHERING – CREATION – OUTCOME.
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OUTLINE:  obviously in a summer school context where the projects might involve more than one class, the decision as to what type of project or what topic area to be investigated might be taken out of the learners’ hands.  The OUTLINE therefore needs to be discussed amongst colleagues or decided by the teacher in advance of the class.  If you’re only doing a project with one class, then you can involve the learners in this discussion stage, thus making it a bit more relevant to their lives, a bit more consensual and less imposed.  At this stage te.achers will also need to think about what the OUTCOME of the project might be, to make sure that they have the relevant materials or technologies available.  Sample OUTLINES for six different project ideas are given below.
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PLANNING:  Once the project outline has been decided, it can (if not already) be handed over to the learners for further development.  With younger learners, or in the summer school context, the main role of the teacher is one of restraint!  You need to make sure that what your learners are planning is achievable in the time frame or with the resources available!  In essence, you need to make sure someone thinks about the practicalities.  Keep asking those questions like:  “That’s a brilliant idea!  So where are you going to find the elephants for the parachute display?”
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GATHERING:  Most projects will involve a degree of information gathering – but not all.  So depending on the project, this can be an optional stage.  But you could also see this stage as a deeper exploration of the ideas generated in the planning stage.
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CREATION:  Where it all comes together.  Break out the scissors, glue and cardboard.  Book out the computer room, make friends with the art department.  Throw the relevant supplies at the class (making sure there’s not too much glitter) and stand back.  If you have identified learners in your class with tendencies towards perfectionism – make sure they’re working together so that you only have one unfinished group at the end of the class and so that everyone else is more likely to contribute!
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OUTCOME:  It’s worth remembering that not every project needs to involve glitter and glue – in fact the more memorable projects might not involve any.  Arts and Craft is great, but at a summer school the kids get arts and crafts lessons separately – they probably don’t need more of the same.  In other words – the primary outcome of the project should be linguistic.  One of my proudest TEFL memories is watching 150 students do a whole school survey mingle (details below).  A colleague recalls watching a student shine during a poetry recital (the student in question is now part of the administrative staff).  The most important thing about the OUTCOME is that somebody else should see it.  Not just the class that made it – but everyone else in the school!  Or the teachers’ room, or parents.  But somebody and that these people should have the chance to provide feedback in some way.  After all – what’s the point in spending three days making a poster on global warming if it just stays up in the classroom?  The students know what it looks like – they made it!
So the outcome should be primarily linguistic and highly visible.  If possible, some sort of competition or vote by and amongst the learners on the work performed by their peers?
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So finally – here are some of the ideas that I’ve worked with over the years:
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PROJECT:
LESSON 1:
LESSON 2:
LESSON 3:
OUTCOME:
Interclass Surveys
SS decide what they will survey and generate a questionnaire
Whole school mingle (somewhere!) and SS ask and answer each other’s questions
SS collate the data from their surveys and prepare their displays
SS poster displays are put up in the corridors etc.  Other SS view the displays.
PhotoStory
SS plot their stories and decide which scenes need pictures taking
SS take their pictures out and about.  (NB – need sufficient digital cameras?)  Teachers print pictures
SS organise their images and write text captions / plot synopses.
SS poster displays are put up in the corridors etc  Other SS view the displays.
Performance Poetry Festival
SS research some poems they like and choose one
SS dramatise the poem into a mini play?
SS gather to watch and perform
Performance based
Board GameBattle
SS plan and design a board game (on any topic / idea) and request materials
SS use the materials to create their board games.  T feeds in “game” language etc
The SS and the games gather somewhere and play each others games and vote for the best one?
Demonstrations and playing of different games
Class Newspapers / Magazines
SS research news stories, either from their own country or elsewhere
SS incorporate / edit their stories into a single “newpaper” / magazine.
SS gather somewhere, swap their efforts and read each others – vote for the best?
Written / typed newspaper
(copies to take home?)
Shopaholics
SS spend half the time finding out how much they can buy for 50 pounds and half their time planning and designing their own shops
SS actually create their own shops (online pictures of items / shop catalogues?)
T teach polite requests & Shopkeeper argot.
SS then go shopping. The idea is to buy the highest number of things for 50quid without buying more than one of the same item
Whole school roleplay / “controlled” language practice

If there’s any clarification needed of any of these ideas – let me know!

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