Thursday, 23 June 2011

Project Work in EFL Classrooms - an #Eltchat Summary

This is a summary of the #eltchat which took place at 9pm BST on Wednesday 22nd June, 2011.  The full title of the chat was:

Project Work in EFL Classrooms (Themes, Strategies, Resources)

We welcomed some 'first-timers' to the chat as well as some contributors (including me) who had missed several weeks due to work and other committments.  The discussion was moderated superbly by @Marisa_C and @Shaunwilden and was, as usual, lively, informative and inspiring.....

Defining Terms - What is a Project?
  • A project is collaborative - most agreed on this point although @Shaunwilden suggested that a class can do individual projects according to their interests.
  • A project involves planning, collaboration, execution, constant evaluation, reflection, end product, and display (via @barbarabujtas).
  • It is a display of task outcome. 
  • It lasts for more than one or two lessons.  Indeed, it can continue throughout a whole course with, perhaps, the last 30 minutes of each lesson being devoted to project work.
  • It works best inside the classroom and should begin and end there, although research could be done for homework, making the borders of the classroom more porous - a two-way bridge (via @web2literacy). 
  • It doesn't necessarily have to be big as, as @CeciELT pointed out, students often don't have time to do big projects, so she has been experimenting with lots of mini-projects instead.
  • A project is a process by which the students can decide on the steps, critical elements and tasks (via @BethCagnol).
  • It should be varied and integrate a variety of language skills.
  • It should have differentiation built-in and be able to accommodate different ability levels.
  • A project can be ongoing - added to from year to year with different groups.  This idea was put forward by @BethCagnol and is something I can identify with as it is what we do with some of our projects at summer school.
  • A project can be done individually in a one-to-one setting, with the results being displayed in social media (via barbarabujtas).
  • A project involves not only using language to complete the task itself, but also reporting on the task - i.e. reflective learning (via @pjgallantry).
Why do Projects?
  • Projects can motivate students, especially teens. 
  • Students enjoy it when we show enthusiasm for doing project work and offer opportunities instead of just prescriptive work (via lu_bodeman).
  • Shy students can do great work in a group, as can students with otherwise lower grades.
  • Projects teach students, especially YLs, to work together, to be part of a group, to share, etc. (via Fuertesun).
  • Project work works well with CLIL.
  • Projects are more memorable than simple tasks, so might this mean that they are a more effective way of learning?
  • Projects link to the lives of learners; they are meaningful, not just prescriptive or pedagogic.
  • Projects offer an opportunity for acceleration work for students who are keen to move ahead (via @Marisa_C).
  • Students often take projects more seriously than everyday tasks.
  • Project work could involve the local community, parents, etc. (via @Yohimar)
The Teacher's Role in Project Work
  • To motivate the students. 
  • To guide the project in order to prevent copy/paste or laziness (via @evab2001).
  • To encourage creativity.
  • To plan scheduled short project meetings for updates & progress reports.
  • To have a very clear timetable of when each stage of the project should be completed.
  • To maintain their own enthusiasm for the project, even when they are 5 weeks in! (via @pjgallantry)

Motivating Students to do Project Work
  • Sometimes, particularly with adult students, some group members won't participate in project work. 
  • Most contributors to the chat agreed that the key to this was making sure that the students had some input in to choosing the topic of the project, perhaps choosing from a list supplied by the teacher or even coming up with the list themselves and then narrowing it down to their favourites.
  • Give each student in a project group a role, a particular objective to help avoid coasting and to add peer pressure (via @fionamau).
  • Have a prize for the best project, something worth fighting for (via @BethCagnol).
  • Students are generally motivated by teaching something they know to other students (via @CeciELT).  I agree - at last year's summer school, one Japanese student came in to his own when he taught his classmates all about darts as part of a sports project.  He even made a perfect dartboard just by folding paper - amazing!
  • The outcome of the project must be seen to be important - something which the students can be proud of and use as a measure of their development (via @lu_bodeman).
  • Students like the fact that projects can be displayed using different media - posters, ppt, audio, video, etc.

Project Ideas
  • A portfolio of questions asked during internship interviews - good for BE. 
  • A glog on your favourite popstar (this could be an individual project).
  • A guide to local restaurants, etc., which could be updated yearly.
  • A class newspaper, newsletter or news programme. (@cybraryman1 's news page)
  • A movie.
  • A magazine for the local area including reviews, opinions, letters, features, etc. (via @antoniaclare).  This is something we've done at summer school where the students write a guide for students coming the following year.
  • A science fair, for example with animal categories - insects, birds, fish, mammals, etc. (via @Dawg_Houston).
  • Plan a music festival.
  • Something to help the community - building a sense of citizenship (via @CeciELT).
  • A podcast relating to the topic of the unit they are studying (via @antoniaclare).
  • A show made up of songs & skits in English (via @Sarah_WG).
  • Healthy eating, including tasks like keeping a food diary, making a food pyramid, etc.
  • An American style yearbook which could be printed and given as gifts at the end of the course (via @harrisonmike).
  • A 'memory book' using Bubblr or Bookr, both available at
  • Links to YouTube videos that you like and explanations why.
  • Share music videos and embed them in a class blog (via @web2literacy).
  • A long story written over a period of time, with the best ones being made into ebooks (via @evab2001).
  • A comic, perhaps using a site like
  • A commercial, either as a video clip or as a roleplay (via @notyetlanguage).
  • For multi-lingual groups (e.g. at summer school), an international cookbook or guide to international festivals/traditions/dress etc. where the students and you as the teacher learn a lot about how others live.
How do we Grade Projects?
  • Some contributors felt that projects shouldn't be graded at all - it's the process that's important and the presentation of the project is a reward in itself.
  • With ongoing projects, students still need to have a tangible outcome so that they can feel that they have reached the end, even if only of 'their' part. 
  • It can be difficult to assess/grade collaborative projects when group members put in different amounts of effort, but this can be addressed by ensuring that all members have an area of responsibility.  @teacher_prix told us that she likes to split the grades with one for overall work and one for individual effort.
  • For project work, perhaps it's better to give feedback or peer evaluation rather than a formal grade.
  • Perhaps the fact that the project has been worked on and completed should be the grade (via @pjgallantry).
  • We need some kind of assessment in order to justify incorporating project work into courses (via @web2literacy).
  • Asian cultures in particular crave a grade, so probably wouldn't enjoy non-graded project work (via @eyespeakbrasil).
  • You could make project work a competition, rather than something which is graded.  The winner could be determined by a 'jury' made up of the DOS, teachers and students.  There could even be a global 'project based' competition with ESL schools from around the world competing with each other (via @eyespeakbrasil).

I think all contributors to last night's chat felt that project work has an valuable role to play in the EFL classroom.  For me, being just 3 weeks away from returning to summer school where all of our classes are project-based, the chat gave me some great ideas to pass on to my fellow teachers when I get there!


Notes on a project workshop by @kalinagoenglish
Deal with the Gantt diagram - an idea for a project suggested by @BethCagnol
A fab example of project work (via @harrisonmike)
Chuck Sandy's lipdubs project (via @antoniaclare)
Project based ESL learning (via @eyespeakbrasil)
A Dvolver story by @DinaDobrou Episode one and Episode two

Students presenting their 'rugby' project at Rugby Summer School, 2009


  1. Hi Andrea,
    Great summary, and impressively quick :) Looks like I missed out on a good one.
    Two great books: Imaginative Projects and Timesaver Projects...could be added to the list.
    One of my favourite projects is 'Imaginary Island' - students create their own version of an island, deciding on things like the flag, the infrastructure, the history and more...

  2. Hi Sandy,

    Thanks for the comment. I meant to add a link to the Timesaver Project book as that's the one I use a lot at summer school. Afraid I forgot in my haste to get the summary finished this morning!

    I like the 'Imaginary Island' idea - I've done something very similar with the new South American nation of 'Amazonas'.