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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Project Work – Dina

Dina Dobrou

Jazzing Up Project Work With Technology 
Dina Dobrou


 “Tell me and I will forget

Show me and I may remember, 

Involve me and I will learn”

(Attributed to Confucius)


“I never teach my students.

I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn”

(Attributed to Albert Einstein)

The key concepts deriving from these two quotes regarding education are ‘involvement’ and ‘autonomy’ and Project Based Learning (PBL) can provide these in more ways than one.

Over the years I have worked on projects in my classes, sometimes reluctantly, as I only had 3-4 hours of contact per week with my students, on average. I felt that working on projects was a luxury I couldn’t afford but all that changed four years ago when I started working in summer school with multicultural students.

In summer school project work is an integral part of the curriculum, as is emphasis on oral communication. However, I soon realized (since I could spend more time per week with my students) that there is a profound difference between PBL and simply designing a poster, for instance, as part of the so-called ‘project work’ hour.

The whole point of PBL is to put learners into ‘make believe’ situations and let them explore, and in so doing ‘provide them with the conditions in which they can learn’ autonomously, as Einstein suggested. Projects can revolve around a theme and can run over a period of time, a whole term even, which allows learners to collaborate and interact, picking up useful academic and life skills along the way such as negotiating and presenting, to name but a few.

One of the challenges I’ve had to consider was keeping a balance between the learners’ contact with ‘the 3D world’ and the use of technology (firstly because I am a proponent of educational technologies and secondly because learners themselves can be highly ‘techy’ and often resort to their smartphones when looking for information or inspiration or out of sheer addiction AKA ‘the smartphone trance’). Having said that, I have had learners in the past who protested when I suggested opting for a digital poster as opposed to a paper one and that has taught me a lot about the significance of that balance.

An opportunity to combine the two soon presented itself: June 2013, London. Summer school at Brunel University begins.  We have the usual mix of YLs, Teens and Young Adults (rare but still there).  All classes are a great mix of nationalities. Students make new friends from other cultures and practice the language both in class and during activities such as sports, casino nights, disco nights even! A closed group of 10 teenage Turkish girls however, is not allowed to take part in any activities other than afternoon excursions and some sports because their parents have specifically requested they have intensive lessons (on top of the 3 hour lessons a day they were having already)!

Imagine everyone out having fun and playing games while they had to be in class! Morning classes were not an issue because they were among different people, but during afternoon classes they were very uncooperative and negative. Indeed when I first met them at the end of week 1, they were lethargic and disinterested. What I noticed, though, on that first meeting was that they were all really into fashion, dressed in designer clothes head to toe and all of them had smartphones!

So, I suggested the option of project work to their Group Leader – project work that would somehow be fun but also able to provide proof of progress so that the parents would remain satisfied. And a fashion magazine project was born! But this was a project by the end of which you would be able to see the students’ progress as they had been working on it.

As soon as we entered the class, learners were presented with fashion magazines they could flip through in order to get ideas of what might go into such a magazine and then ideas were brainstormed about what should be included. A company was set up, the various jobs/positions were defined and discussed and roles were delegated accordingly (we had 10 students, so 10 Directors in our magazine).

Over the next two weeks, the Directors worked in groups in different working stations, collaborating and building up the magazine. Selecting images, writing up interviews, creating podcasts and videos, summarizing articles found in paper magazines, preparing for presentations, running meetings to discuss what had been covered and what we should be focusing on the following day as well as who should collaborate with whom was all in a day’s work.

All of the videos and podcasts created were turned into QR codes which were printed out, cut out and placed on the pages of the magazine. Since we relied quite a lot on technology for the curation/creation of the magazine, Internet safety was also discussed and I was pleased to see that the learners had picked up some digital literacy skills along the way.

When the magazine was finalized, the Directors prepared a poster to advertise a networking event, during which their work would formally be presented to the summer school’s Centre Management Team and their Group Leader. They had to collaborate for the event as well in order to decide how to organize it, where to host it and how to set up the room as well as what to offer guests, which meant a field trip to the supermarket to buy food and drinks. Once each of the Directors had presented their work, the visitors were invited to walk around, scan the QR codes and explore the contents of the magazine.

The feedback from ‘the audience’ was nothing less than extremely positive, the look of pure accomplishment and self-confidence in the learners’ faces is something I will never forget and the experience of running such a project is something I hope will act as my guide for future ones.

And since a picture is worth a thousand words please watch this  …


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Project Work – Vicky

Mission: Projects – Possible and Incredible!
Vicky Loras

“Okay, so this month’s project is going to be about insects. You can choose whichever insect you like and find out as much as you can about it – and get ready to teach us about it!” said the young teacher.

A class full of eager 7-year-olds started chattering about it. One of the girls immediately thought about her grandfather in Greece, who was a beekeeper – bees, yes – that’s what I’ll do!

And she did research about them in the school library.

And she wrote a letter to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to get more information, after calling Billy Bee, the honey company, who directed her there.

She made posters, cut and pasted, wrote. And learned. And all the kids learned.

Why? Because they searched – mainly on their own…and discovered…and learned by exploring books and pictures and anything they had on hand at that time, in the mid-80s.

Today, we have such a multitude of resources, online and offline, that doing project work with our students can be even more exploratory, accessible, creative, and above all a superb learning experience.

At the school my sister and I own we do Wednesday events around a specific topic and do various projects with our students. Teachers can choose weekly, monthly projects or at whichever frequency they prefer and feel the kids will respond to and enjoy.

Project-based learning is the most effective through research. It can be online or offline: I first take my kids to the library in school or the public one, to have that good feel, to turn the pages of a book, and search and learn even more that way. Online search engines are great and encouraged of course to be used, but I think they should be used alongside offline resources, as sometimes the web can just be the fast and easy solution. It is true that it can save precious time, but it can sometimes be misused or overused – so kids need our guidance on that so that the true meaning of research is not lost and they can be safe and able to filter the multitude of information they get online.

Types of projects:

  • Visual projects. Posters with photos and some written prompts, hung around the classroom or school – I love the notion of Visible Learning and making learning visible. The kids can go around and look and read – they can learn a great deal both by creating the projects and exploring the work of their peers.
  • Written projects. Handwritten or typed, I allow the students to use their own thoughts in combination with the information they discover and fill their text with pictures and drawings, if they wish.
  • Electronic projects. They can create a whole blog or blog post on the topic they have chosen, or even a small website in order to share everything they had learned.

There are so many possibilities out there for students to explore – and so many projects to be created!


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Project Work

What’s Project Work and how can it enhance our language classes? In this issue Malu Sciamarelli, Dina Dobrou, and Vicky Loras share perspectives, projects, and ideas.

Malu Sciamarelli
Malu Sciamarelli
Dina Dobrou
Dina Dobrou
Vicky Loras
Vicky Loras


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