Teachers and students are living through trying times. With the constant change in regulations resulting in students going online, then back into class, then into a hybrid class and back online, it’s no wonder teachers and students alike don’t know if they’re coming or going and motivation can wane. All I know is we teachers are doing the best we can.
One thing I have found to be a huge help has been the use of projects in class. Using projects is is a great way to help students make real-life connections with the material, as well as increase motivation, participation and collaboration – all while working on all four skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking), having fun and learning at the same time. There are clear learning outcomes. The students have a tangible end product which they can be proud of. And can we keep using projects if our lessons are moved online? You bet we can!
In this blog post we’ll look at how to get the most out of projects with our teens.
I’ve always been a huge fan of using projects in class to help build self confidence, especially when it comes to presenting. This year, I’ve tried to make the projects as group-focussed as possible in an aim to build connections between students at a time when we are being distanced from each other.
Where to Find Projects
Coming up with new projects every few weeks can be a really tough task. For my Pearson and BBC Live Classes project I developed one from the international Wider World series and groups use this on a one-off basis. In other classes time is of the essence. Check your course books for projects and try, where possible to have something digital, as many classes are now online and, most importantly, a presentation element.
My go-to course at the moment here in Spain is Real World. For my online teens class we’re using Real World level two and the projects have gone down very well with my classes. The instructions for both students and teachers are easy to follow. Their focus is always on 21st century skills and my students have found them highly motivating.
Just before Christmas we worked on the project below.
The wonderful thing about this project is it gives students a huge variety to choose from. If you google unusual building you’ll immediately find hundreds of options. If you feel there are too many, you can simply assign each group abuilding from the this list. I would always allow my students time to decide of their own accord.
One group wrote about these eco-friendly, Hobbit syle houses in Switzerland. Each of the three students took one slide and presented it, using screenshare on Zoom, to the others in the class.
Benefits to Digital Projects
There are many advantages to using a digital format for projects, whether the class is face-to-face or online. Some of those are:
- Increased motivation -Teenage students are excited to present if there is a digital element involved.
- Autonomous learning –They spend a great deal of time and effort on the content.
- Flexibility – It is easily adaptable to various teaching environments.
- There is an end product
- A break from routine – As with all projects a digital project will take students away from more traditional and sometimes repetitive exercises.
In creating a project, students are working on skills that will serve them greatly in the future. Research skills, learning how to put together a digital presentation, how to collaborate in the digital sphere, how to engage an audience and indeed public speaking in general: all these competences are useful both for the hear and now and for our students’ futures.
Preparing for a project and presentation
When I’m preparing a class the first place I look is always the teachers’ book. Whether you follow it to the letter or not is your choice, but it’s always a great place to get ideas.
I always follow this process when I’m preparing a class for a presentation. As a class we discuss:
Discuss with the class how long you are going to work on the project and how long the final presentation is going to be. Perhaps you want to allow 2 hours of class time to prepare for a 5-10 minute presentation. Students can obviously also work on their presentation away from the class. My biggest tip here is don’t rush the process. If you need to miss an extra grammar class to help students prepare properly for their projects then do it!
Give students an opportunity to see the space where they are going to present. If it’s going to be an online presentation make sure your students are fully familiar with the platform.
If you’ve done the project with previous classes it’s a good idea to show students what has come before. If not make a model yourself.
After explaining the idea behind the project I ask learners to propose a scheme of work:
- What they want to include in the project
- How it will look (powerpoint/keynote)
- Division of tasks. Who will do what
- An idea of the time it will take to produce each part of the project
- Any material or resources they might need
- Materials and resources
- Simply giving the learners time on the computers can lead to them aimlessly surfing the net. Give pointers. If you’re working digitally, join groups in their breakout rooms and guide them from simply copy and pasting wikipedia articles. Suggest a few websites, or talk about what they could put in the search box.
Give students basic tips on presentation aesthetics, eg. don’t read, don’t fill your slides with words, maintain eye contact (even on the computer).
Adding this stage to the project process has brought incredible results in my own personal experience. It’s often a real shame that after students spend hours preparing their presentation they’re left to practice with their partner/group and then fed to the lions.
I always make sure there is time for students to do a dry run of their presentation to the class. It’s a great chance for students to give peer feedback, not about the content of the project but about its style. You can also add some tips in to show students how to get the most out of their presentation. This will leave students more relaxed about their final project and better prepared to get the best grade and make the most of the experience. Giving this presentation feedback will also ensure students take it on board rather than feeding back at the end when they’ve finished and telling them what they could’ve done better. That will be long forgotten by their next presentation.
Give students their time slot and let them fly. Depending on your students’ level and confidence, be a bit flexible with the time limit. For a 5 minute presentation I usually allow for between 4 and 8 minutes then an extra 5 for a question and answer session
Before you start the project process it’s vitally important you let students know what they are going to be evaluated on. I always find it useful to evaluate every step of the process, rather than only the end product, because I want to focus on ALL the skills that doing project work can develop.
. My marking criteria tend to be:
- Time management
With all of these areas covered students know their final grade isn’t only riding on the final presentation and it encourages them to work on the other skills I want them to develop.
Some other project ideas
If you’re using Real World you’ll see that two out of every three units have a project based on the BBC culture section, each one with clear guidelines for students and teachers.
Some projects I’ve done away from the book recently both in my own classes and as a part of the fantastic Pearson and BBC Live Classes are:
My lockdown vlog
How to….(make a tik tok)
Our dream holiday
When this is all over…
My Unusual School
I always include “What Can I do?” a project section in my climate change awareness course Renewable English. These include:
What can I do to……
Reduce my carbon footprint?
Waste less water?
I hope that some of these Ideas can help bring some spark back into the class room.
Stay safe and keep up the amazing work teachers!
All materials taken from: