A second/foreign language and content are best acquired when students use them in real-life situations. As such, how can we make the learning of a second/foreign language and content more project-oriented to make learning more meaningful?

Working with the project-based approach brings reality into the classroom. In the present learning and teaching context, there is still a slight misconception of the idea of a project. For instance: a presentation delivered by students that shows understanding of a topic would still be considered a project (e.g. a poster presentation about the functions of the organs of the digestive system), among others.

What is a project (or PBL, Project-based learning)?

A project has three main elements: an anchor, a driving question and an artefact. A project is based on a real-life situation (an anchor) which serves as the motivation behind the creation of a project, the setting of an objective (driving question), and the creation of an artefact (final product) that meets the needs of the anchor.

For example, students are presented with an anchor: Do you think everything has been invented? There are many problems in our school, neighbourhood, classroom, etc. Think about a problem in your school, neighbourhood, at home, etc. that needs a solution. Then, they are presented with a driving question: How can we create something to solve a real- world problem? For the elaboration of the artefact, students choose a real life day-to-day problem (an anchor) and create an invention to solve the problem. The latter represents how, by working through projects, “reality” is brought into the classroom, and therefore, the use of resources (linguistic and content-based) become more meaningful.

Apart from the main three elements that constitute a project, there are others that should be considered and that are as equally important.

Elements of PBL

  • Collaborative teamwork: Students practice negotiation skills, decision-making, turn-taking, among others; it helps to make learning more authentic, and develop social skills.
  • Process of investigation: Students generate additional questions focused more specifically on project tasks and find information in many sources to complete the creation of the artefact. These can be set as homework or can be part of a classroom activity.
  • Students’ voice and choice: Having brief discussions on the new topic with learners, and letting them vote/ decide on the theme of the project and the rest of the stages. Asking questions and using visuals to find out what the learners already know about the topic. E.g. creating a mind map eliciting ideas related to the new topic.
  • Scaffolding: It is everything that helps students towards building the final artefact (project), and can be within (e.g. teacher resources, instructions, games, web quests, textbook units, vocabulary exercises, etc.) or out with the classroom (e.g. family, community, etc.)
  • Assessment: Reflecting on the results/outcome (content and or language) and evaluating the experience.
How does second language acquisition relate to working with projects?


Attention is given to the function of structures as students must be able to use certain grammatical structures and the related lexis to be able to publish, and/or present their artefact to an audience. Another basic feature of project- based learning (PBL) is the fact that the students’ artefact goes beyond the classroom walls, which makes its creation even more real.

A PBL unit outline:

Working with communicative projects entails designing units that cater to all the students’ needs in the classroom, be it at a linguistic level as well as at a cognitive level (ability and capacity of the students to intake content and language). In the current teaching context, we have large sized classes (25 to 32 students per class), therefore, we as teachers feel like we should be able to find ways to manage the constraints of limited time, classroom management, syllabus design, the writing and adapting of materials, among others. Also, there is the misconception that working with projects would change all the techniques we employ in our day-to-day teaching. In fact, PBL, being a holistic approach, does not change our techniques, but unifies them and allows us teachers, and therefore students, to “see” the bigger picture of why we are learning specific language and/ or specific content.

The following is an outline of a PBL cross-curricular unit (Science and EFL) for which students create an invention to solve a real-world problem. The artefact is a Power Point screencast presentation of their invention.

Unit name: Inventions, Inventors, and you!

Time scale: 1 term/ approx. 24 hours – twice a week (2 hours a week of class

 

1. Anchor

 

 

 

Do you think everything has been invented?

There are many problems in our school, neighbourhood, classroom, etc. Think about a problem in your school, neighbourhood, at home, etc. that needs a solution. Don’t tell your classmates.

2. Driving question Learners create the question: How can we build/create/make an invention to solve a real-world problem in our _____________?
3. Scaffolding Audio-visual, written texts, and online input materials:

Functional language:

  •   Giving instructions: imperatives and ordinal numbers
  •   Structures used to describe products and materials: It’s used for…, it is made of …; and people (biography): he was born___, etc.
  •    Comparatives and superlatives (consolidation)

Vocabulary related to inventions and inventors:

  •   Adjectives to describe materials and products
  • Products and materials
  •    Verbs related to giving instructions. e.g. switch off, plug in, etc

.Games and other communicative activities: • Placemat

  •  Top trumps
  • Shouting dictations
  •  Snap dragon
  •  Back to back criss-cross guessing game
4. Artefact In groups, learners create an invention to solve a real-world problem.

They use graphic organizers to outline their ideas and create a power point presentation.
To present their project, learners record their voice and create a tutorial about their invention. Link to an example of one of the artefacts: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1nLOdQhT3m5otjdBtQou9XPE0tFPe-w5b

5.Feedback/assessment Learners play the video (screencast) to other classes, and answer questions.

  •    The audience votes for the project that was:
  •     The most environmentally friendly
  •      The easiest to build
  •    The cheapest to make
  •     The most useful

 

 

 

Eight Steps to Successful PBL
  1. Get learners involved and present an anchor to set the stage of the project.
  2. Involve learners in the creation of the driving question to set the objective of the project.
  3. Break down the topic (inventions) into specific tasks and use different ways to present related content E.g. videos, songs, graphic organizers, communicative games, stories, etc.
  4. Divide your class into project groups.
  5. Set roles and tasks for each of the members of the groups.
  6. Facilitate scaffolding and monitor the creation of the artefact.
  7. Help learners choose effective ways to present their artefact.
  8. Facilitate different ways in which learners can reflect on the project.

Project based learning is relevant to our students’ needs and therefore motivating. It not only helps students acquire a language more effectively and enables to consolidate specific content, but also encourages students to be aware of the way they learn (metacognitive awareness). It encourages an inclusive way of learning, in which social and cognitive skills are practiced. The benefits of PBL go beyond the classroom walls and puts the students on a path to lifelong learning.

(Check out the magazine where this article was originally published here.)