Project Work – Malu

Project-based Learning for Teaching Language
Malu Sciamarelli

Malu Sciamarelli Introduction

Successful language learning can be achieved when students have the opportunity to receive instruction, and at the same time experience real-life situations in which they can acquire the language. In my opinion, there is no better way of doing so than by using projects in the classroom.

Project-based learning has been widely known and used in the teaching of subjects such as science, geography, history, and also in arts and languages for many years. But what is project-based learning, or simply PBL? PBL is a classroom approach in which students explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge. It is “not a replacement for other teaching methods, but an approach to learning which complements mainstream methods and which can be used with almost all levels, ages and abilities of students” (Haines, 1989).


PBL has been described by a number of language educators, who have approached PBL from different perspectives, but who have shared some common features:

  1. PBL focuses on content learning rather than on specific language targets. Real-world subject matter and topics of interest to students can become central to projects.
  2. PBL is student-centered, though the teacher plays a major role in offering support and guidance throughout the process.
  3. PBL is cooperative rather than competitive. Students can work on their own, in small groups, or as a class to complete a project, sharing resources, ideas, and expertise along the way.
  4. PBL leads to authentic integration of skills and processing of information from varied sources, mirroring real-life tasks.
  5. PBL culminates in an end product that can be shared with others, giving the project a real purpose. However, the value of the project lies not only in the final product, but also in the process of working toward the end point. So, PBL has both a process and product orientation, and provides students with opportunities to focus on fluency and accuracy at different project-work stages.
  6. PBL is potentially motivating, stimulating, empowering, and challenging. It usually results in building students’ confidence, self-esteem, and autonomy as well as improving students’ language skills, content learning, and cognitive abilities.

In addition to it all, from my point of view, a project must be meaningful. First, students must see the work as personally meaningful, as a task that matters and that they want to do well. Second, a meaningful project must fulfill an education aim.

Practical Ideas

This is an example of the project I did with my students, from young learners to adults, which follows all the features of PBL and it is meaningful in both ways.

Quick Recipe Challenge

In class, I gave them strips of paper with the following questions to be discussed:

  • What can you cook?
  • What do you like to eat when you are really hungry?
  • Do you take photos of food at restaurants and post on Facebook?
  • Do you have a lot of cookbooks at home?
  • What was your favourite food when you were a child?
  • Who does the most cooking in your family?
  • Can you cook fast under pressure?
  • What would be the best dessert for you?
  • What do you like to drink with a special dinner?

The time you allow for this discussion depends on the number of students you have in the group.

After discussing all the questions, the students received the instructions and a booklet with recipes that should be studied before going to the kitchen:

You have 15 minutes. Within this time, you and your friends will have to:

  • Follow the recipe and prepare the assigned dish.
  • Divide the dish into a specific number of smaller portions. They have to be appealing to the eyes as well. Place them in designated “presentation trays”.
  • Wash all used utensils. Clear the table and leave the space ready for the following team to use.

After preparing all the recipes, the groups that participated in the project were allowed to eat all the dishes that were prepared!

In the following class, more tasks were assigned:

  • for groups of young learners: the teacher mimed some actions that were done in the kitchen, and students had to guess;
  • for groups of teenagers / adults: they had to remember five verbs that were used when cooking; a greater challenge would be remember one complete recipe.

Other practical ideas of projects can be found here:

The Kindness Project:

Wishes on a Coffee Cup:

Mascot-inspired Projects:
This is a workshop to be presented at JALT Conference in November 2014 ( with Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto and Juan Alberto Uribe. In this workshop we will share mascot-inspired projects from English classes around the world and show how their inclusion increased motivation and engagement for students. We will document the workshop on a wiki to serve as a resource for participants and teachers who are unable to join.

Benefits of PBL

Research shows that compared with students receiving traditional instructions, those participating in PBL:

  • become more engaged, self-directed learners;
  • learn more deeply and transfer their learning to new situations;
  • improve problem-solving and collaboration skills; and
  • perform as well or better on high-stakes tests.

(Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008; Brush & Saye, 2008; Strobel & van Barneveld, 2009; Walker & Leary, 2009).


PBL is an exciting way of teaching. It is a way to reach all students and get them engaged; give them ownership of their learning and make them lifelong learners; give them critical thinking and problem-solving skills that they need as soon as they walk out of the classroom into the real world.


Haines, S. (1989). Projects for the EFL classroom: Resource material for teachers. Walton-on-Thames Surrey, UK: Nelson.

Henry, J. (1994). Teaching through projects. London: Kogan Page Limited.

Legutke, M. & Thomas, H. (1991). Process and experience in the language classroom. New York: Longman.

Richards, J. & Stebbins, L. (2013). Current Research on Project Based Learning. In Research Supporting the Design of WIN Math and WIN ELA. Available online at:


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The Creative Writing Issue – Malu

Malu Sciamarelli

The Music of Words upon Words
– Malu Sciamarelli

My first contact with poems, stories and literature was when I was a small child. I remember my father reading and listening to music in a cozy living room in the evenings. I knew I could not read those books – “they are not for children”- he would tell me, but the inspiring music, and the words my father would keep his eyes on fascinated me so much, that I would secretly get those books and take them to my bedroom. I would put them together with my school-books, and read them in the school garden, when most children would only want to play. These books and the beautiful words they had, inspired me to find my own creativity and write my own stories and poems.

I still read books in the garden today. It is a perfect environment to read, listen to the music created by the sounds of nature and express my own creativity. It is also a place where I teach some Creative Writing classes. It is a free environment where my students are motivated to do things differently and feel confident to risk contributing fully. They can find their own creativity and express themselves through reading and writing.

Recently, I have been introducing not only reading to my Creative Writing classes, but also music. I have been trying to make a connection among writing, reading and hearing, in which the writer is not only a person who writes but becomes a person who hears. “Hearing” a written text means reading it in order to capture what passes between the lines, like the form and design of intonation. During silent reading, a world is awakened by the vibrations of the words’ sounds and images. But it also means the moment when the writer “hears” the words and writes them.

To introduce this experiment in my classes, and motivate my students to “hear” the text, I will share now the first set of activities I carried out with them.

I first brought a poem by Augusto de Campos, a Brazilian poet and writer. “O Pulsar” (“The Pulsar”) is a poem in the form of a telegram from the stars. The words of the poem appear in white on a black background with two letters transformed into patterns: the “o” is a small white solar circle, and the “e” is replaced by the image of a star, acting as “punti luminosi”. The poem asks the reader to open the window and see the near-mute pulsar.

We first read the original version in Portuguese, and then in English:

“Wherever you are
On Mars or in Eldorado
Open the window and see
The near-mute pulsar
A light-year embrace
That no sun warms
And that the dark echo forgets”

Immediately after reading the poem written on paper, we listen to it in the form of music, set by Caetano Veloso, a Brazilian musician and poet, accentuating the connection I have been trying to make.

After this first class, my students were asked to go home, and in the evening, open their windows, look at the stars and write a brief description of what they could hear and/or see. They all brought their texts to the next class, when they read them in turn. After each student read their text, we stopped and discussed what the others could see/hear in that text. All the perceptions were different – the images, the sounds, the meanings. Again, they were asked to take their texts home, open the window, look at the stars and read their texts. They could either keep them the way it was written, or change them.

In the next class, when they brought their second draft, and again we read them in turn, all the texts changed and so did their perceptions. After this experience, I could see “the fictional text as a closed music box that pulsates and reverberates what is experienced and what it thought in a written form that resounds anew with each rereading, recuperating what has been lost while also spreading new resonances into the future each time it is opened.” (Marilia Librandi-Rocha).

What do my experience of reading and writing in the garden, and these classes with my students show about creative writing? There are surely many points to explore, but I would highlight three main points:

1. Creative Writing is personal writing where the purpose is to express thoughts, feelings and emotions. It is expressed in an imaginative, unique and sometimes poetic way. If it is imaginative and unique, any attempt to reduce the teaching of creative writing to a system or set of formulas, with prescribed techniques and practices should be avoided.

2. It is important to establish a creative environment, be it a beautiful garden, a book or library corner, or a circle of chairs in the classroom, where ideas and thoughts are expressed freely and where students learn that collaboration is better than isolation. They will feel comfortable and motivated to explore their own writing, and so will discover their strengths and weaknesses.

3. As for teachers, an understanding of the characteristics of effective writing and the strategies used by successful writers is not enough. The creative writing teacher should be a constant investigator of the learners’ creativity, and also use their experience as writers, as a basis for creating new practices and activities and face the challenges that teaching creative writing involves.


Campos, Augusto de. (1994). Despoesia. São Paulo, Editora Perspectiva.

Dunn, Christopher. (2001) Brutality Garden: Tropicália and the Emergence of a Brazilian Counterculture. Chapel Hill, U of North Carolina.

Richards, Jack C. (1999). The Language Teaching Matrix. (7th ed.). Cambridge University Press.


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Professional Goals for 2013 – Malu

Malu Sciamarelli

Before I Have Goals, I Dream

–Malu Sciamarelli

As another year begins, our thoughts turn to making resolutions, establishing new or returning to our old goals — either personal  (this year I will get more sleep, exercise more, have a healthier diet) or professional (I will work fewer hours, participate more in workshops and conferences, take up another course.)

All worthy goals, but why do we permanently return to resolutions and goals that seem based on the idea of fixing all the things we were doing wrong? We have the feeling we want to right all the annoying wrongs of our lives, but are not fully aware of why. Is the objective of our resolutions and goals to be merely a corrective action or do we really know where we are going and where we want to be? If we do not know our true desires for our professional lives for the year ahead, then we cannot know the goals we must set and more importantly why we really need them.

In running, for example, you have a weekly training plan dependent on your target races – your desires. You have to know these desires so you can establish your training and goals.  If you want to participate in a 10-kilometer race, you will need to train three times a week for four months. However, if you then want to master the half marathon, you will need to extend your training time and the distance covered during the week and — instead of four months  — train for six months and follow a specific diet.


If you desire an advanced certificate in teaching so that you can be eligible to join a faculty, then build your training plan of classes, practice tests and study hard. If your desire is to present at an international conference this year, then submit your ideas to all the local conferences and workshops, gain exposure and experience as a presenter because this could be your training plan and diet to follow. Dream your desires then plan the training and diet that you need to follow to attain your goals.

So, instead of trying to correct all the wrongs or wanting to do everything you did not do last year, why not take some time to figure out what your professional goals really are? This is exactly the period when I take my time to dream! While goals are about should, dreams are about hope. It is only when we dream that we can hope to do something truly new, that will overtake old habits, old customs, old ways of thinking and just surviving. The plan that is made turned on its head then revised again can lead to greater success. Also by dreaming, we can have a vision of who we are and who we want to become.  The more we know who we are, the less likely we are to procrastinate, and the closer we will come to accomplishing our goals.

If you have already started the year establishing some goals, they may give you some clues as to what your deeper dreams are. And when we take a moment to look at the why of a goal, we may find the true desire that fuels it.

Ask me what I am doing at this moment and the answer will be simple: dreaming! Dreaming of:

· Reading books, journal articles, and blog posts

· Writing articles, blog posts and materials

· My lessons, planning, peer observation

· Attending conferences, seminars, workshops, webinars, and teacher

development sessions.

· Giving a conference talk or delivering a teacher development session;

· My PLN (personal learning network) and their role in my professional life

· Communities of teachers, – how I am contributing and what I am learning

· Collaborative professional development

· Professional development courses — in-person and online.

After some days or a few weeks, I will be reflecting on my dreams, selecting the true ones and then the goals required to make them come true will become evident. And rather than procrastinating, or worse, forgetting my goals this year I may actually see them through: by dreaming, reflecting, identifying my goals, establishing the plans and training to accomplish them and finally making them come true.

What better time is there to determine our deepest desires for dreams and plant the seeds in the upheaval and renewal of our lives than at the beginning of this year?

Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dreams. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. — Lao Tzu




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Music, Stories and Magic – Malu

Music, Stories and MagicMalu Sciamarelli  

by Malu Sciamarelli

“Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.”

(Ludwig van Beethoven)


A long time ago, my father taught me a powerful kind of magic: watch and listen to all the images and sounds of the world. This magic gave me the ability to make stories come to life and bring them to my classes, share with my students so that they too can come alive, blossom and create their own stories, express their own music and make their own magic their own way.

Why are stories and music so important in the classroom? I believe they are a nurturing way to remind students of all ages and levels that words are powerful, that listening is important and that communication between people is an art.

As a learning tool, music and stories can encourage students to explore their unique expressiveness and can intensify a student’s ability to communicate thoughts and feelings in a coherent and clear manner. They can encourage students to use their imagination. Developing imagination can empower students to consider new and inventive ideas; contribute to self-confidence and personal motivation as students envision themselves competent and able to accomplish their hopes and dreams. These benefits transcend the art experience to support daily life skills.

The use of stories and music in the classroom can also set the scene and create a learning atmosphere to enhance our teaching and learning activities. Besides, they make the process more fun and interesting! They also affect our feelings and energy levels – to create moods that we desire, to make us happy, to energize, to bring back powerful memories, to help us relax, focus, express our creativity – sometimes in the form of a drawing or painting – and to share it with the world around us.

Singer-songwriter Yuna made of thousands of musical notes, by Red/Hong Yi
Singer-songwriter Yuna made of thousands of musical notes, by Red/Hong Yi

I have been using music and stories with very young, teen and adult students, and I can clearly see an increase in lesson effectiveness and in my students’ joy of learning. I integrate music and stories in my classes in different ways and with different purposes:

  • To learn information

Music increases interest and activates the information mentally, physically or emotionally, helping create learning states which enhance understanding. I play music with an association to the topic of a specific lesson, before starting it or sometimes during parts of that lesson or while reading a story and it has helped my students remember information. Playing music during parts of the lesson also helps students stay more alert while reading or working on projects.

Teaching through songs, chants, poems and stories improves memory of content facts and details. My students learn vocabulary and construct personal values, for example, by using music and stories that are presented to them, and many times they are encouraged to write their own music and stories.

  • To create a welcoming atmosphere and develop a sense of community and cooperation

Music and stories have a great effect upon students’ attitude and motivation to learn. By creating a positive learning atmosphere they welcome students to participate in the learning experience. I usually play background music, or read a story as my students enter the classroom or as they leave and it totally changes the atmosphere: lagging attention levels are energized or students are soothed and calmed when necessary, depending on the music and story that is used. Music and stories also help to develop a sense of community and cooperation. I use music and stories to create group activities or to develop classroom rituals and it help us experience ways to build lasting and memorable community experiences within my groups.

  • To enhance creativity and reflection

I love using background music in my classes and I can see that it stimulates creativity and encourages personal reflection. I once tried an activity with two groups of the same level where at the end of the process, students had to write a story. The group in which I used background music related to the theme of the writing was much more creative and wrote much more than the group in which music was not used. I could also see that with music, I could hold students’ attention for longer periods of time.

Having shared all the reasons I believe music and stories should be used in the classroom and having given some practical uses of them, where can the magic be found in all these processes?

Music and stories are the doorways to inner realms in which we can express ourselves in writing, art and all kinds of projects. The magic happens when students believe they can do it, when they believe in themselves. By believing, they can make anything happen…yes, even by magic!

If you want to know where my stories come to life, you can read it here:

and if you want to read the first of the series “Stories from the Garden”, here’s the link:

More about the artist Red/Yong Yi can be found here: and singer/songwriter Yuna:


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Connections and Influences – Malu

Learning is Made of Beliefs, not Barriers  – 

By Malu SciamarelliMalu Sciamarelli

December 2007, Sunday 4:30am: Slowly crawling out from the warmth of my bed, I saw my running kit and race bib patiently waiting. Smiling, I got up, dressed and went on to cross the finish line of my first 10k race in 67 minutes.  Not bad for a beginner!

Looking back, I saw how it all started: jogging around the block without coughing up a lung, doing research, hiring a personal trainer and eating healthy food. My sights were set high despite warnings from doctors after my previous serious illness: I wanted to run street races! The feeling of accomplishment from that first race has motivated me to run 20 more.

Malu Image 1 After every training or race, I was so motivated, and   I tried to pass this on to my students, sometimes with mixed success.    Motivation is essential for learning, but it has different meanings for different people and should be developed not forced.

I thought about my first run and my motivation. Three questions popped up:

–     Why people decide to do something,

–     How hard they are going to pursue it and

–     How long they are willing to sustain that activity.

I thought about the Motivational Running techniques that broke my barriers – I can’t run – and which limited my real ability, and thought about a common student barrier – I can’t learn English. Would the same strategy work?  In the classroom, I converted running techniques to learning techniques, as follows:

1.  Set goals

In running, you set goals to monitor your progress and with each success your enthusiasm for running soars. Remember:

–     Have specific deadlines;

–     set realistic but challenging goals;

–     write and review your goals.

With my groups, we create a contract with specific learning goals to be followed during the course, and post it on the classroom wall.

2. Utilize a log

A log helps to keep you on track and allows progress monitoring. Runners regularly review their training logs and gain motivation.

In my classroom, we have a learning diary, in which students are responsible for recording their progress individually and as a group.

3. Implement the buddy system

The Buddy system is a procedure in which two people operate together to monitor and help each other. Running with others provides accountability, builds friendships and provides mutual motivation on tough days.

My students have buddies and they operate by encouraging each other.

4. Surround yourself with reminders

Race photos and messages can sustain motivation.

In my classroom, sometimes students arrive and find post-its in different places with specific messages; occasionally the class starts with a video or simply with online posts.

5. Be creative with the process

Doing the same thing leads to boredom and burnout. In running, you can vary your workout routine.

Whenever possible, I try to start my classes in different places in school, such as the garden and move to the classroom.  We do a variety of practical projects and enjoy background music.

6. Do more to boost your motivation

In my trainings or races, when I wanted to quit, I remembered a quote and that inevitably helped me.

Each student in my groups is responsible for finding a motivational quote that can be referred to in moments of difficulty. They are also encouraged to share experiences of using English outside the classroom.

7. Occasionally enter a competition

In running, if you want to increase your motivation and feel competitive adrenaline, you must enter the occasional race. The spillover excitement motivates you afterwards to try more races.

Within my groups, we create events, such as workshops, project presentations, theatre role-plays and student judges give “peer feedback”.

8. Reward your successes

In running, rewards can be a powerful motivator. When you succeed, you do something nice for yourself, such as a meal at a nice restaurant – any idea is great, as long as you follow the bottom line “be good to yourself”.

In learning, although intrinsic motivation is hindered by tangible rewards that control, I believe motivation is related to enjoyment, vitality and self-esteem. So, by rewarding success in unexpected ways, it need not be seen as controlling.

Malu image 3

By following these steps, my students are able to create motivational conditions, where they have a pleasant and supportive atmosphere in the classroom; they can help each other generate initial motivation, increasing their expectancy of success; they can maintain motivation by making learning stimulating and increase their self-confidence to breakdown self-imposed barriers.Malu Image 2At the end of each class, I and the students always reflect using the Reflective Learning Cycle (Thornbury S. and Watkins P.), in which they can see their learning in a motivational, personal and meaningful way.

How about us, teachers? What do you believe motivates us? We may have different answers, but for me, it’s when my passion to teach is caught by my students.  – Malu Sciamarelli


Malu has been working in Brazil for 20 years as an English teacher, materials designer, translator and consultant for publishers. She has taught in schools, language institutes and in companies, where she has developed a new concept of ELT in the workplace.  She’s passionate about teaching. She believes teachers can affect how students perceive the world around them; they can ignite a spark of curiosity and help them develop their own creativity; they can help them overcome fears, express themselves, initiate ideas, plans, actions and a desire for lifelong learning. She’s also an enthusiastic runner and she loves dogs. Website:

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