Are you teaching in a summer school this year? Lindsay Clandfield answers a question about the challenges of setting up effective project work and getting young learners interested in it.

I'm teaching young learners over the summer. I've taught YL before and the challenge of getting them interested and enthusiastic is great.

I think that task-based learning is the way to go with a large, multi-lingual class of teenagers who are in the UK to learn English. But it is good to remember that they are also on holiday and it would be nice to have some fun. I would really like some advice on how to set up project work. I have a few ideas but I'd really appreciate more. What project work have you done and where can I find out more about ideas for projects?

Liz Allen

Hi Liz

I agree with you about your choice of TBL for the group you will be working with this summer, I think it’s potentially a more motivating way for them to spend their classroom time. You also mention project work (which, for some people, is the 'old' way of referring to TBL, but anyway…). Here are some tips and advice, based on my reading around project work and my experience setting up projects in summer schools in the UK and abroad.

Setting up a project

The following steps are adapted from Diana Fried-Booth in her book Project Work (OUP 1986). Even though they’re 20 years old there are things still worth considering. It’s one model you could think of following.

1. Stimulus
Doing some kind of speaking activity, or reading and speaking, to stimulate interest in the project.

2. Definition of the project objective
Discussing and negotiating what the students will achieve exactly with this project.

3. Skills work
If the project involves data collection or writing up, then this stage could be to prepare them with the language they need for that.

4. Design of materials
Questionnaires, maps, grids for data collection. These can be made together in class.

5. Group activities
This is actually when they go and do the project.

6. Collating information
Reading and discussing what was found out.

7. Organization of materials
Designing the end product, again perhaps in class.

8. Final presentation
Student deliver their final presentations.

Ideas for projects and other fun summer stuff

The scheme outlined above obviously lends itself well to a project involving a survey or series of interviews. One idea could be interviews about daily life, culture, or the news. For example:

  • What is 'English food'?
  • A typical day, a perfect day out.
  • People’s opinions on a certain ‘hot’ topic (look in the news for something topical that may interest your students).

I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit wary of sending out my EFL students into the streets of London (or Cambridge, or York) to interview people about any old thing. It’s harder than you think! One piece of advice therefore would be to suggest people survey those closer to them and the school (e.g. host families, teachers, school staff) and not people on the high street. Still, up to you...

Scavenger hunt
At a school I worked at in Cambridge, we had a scavenger hunt project which students did in pairs. They had to go and find the answers to several questions about the city. We had divided the hunt into two separate stages: stage one was historical and cultural information they had to discover (e.g. what is King’s College Choir and when does it play) and stage two was daily life/survival skills in Cambridge (e.g. how much does a phone call home cost from a phone booth, where are the nearest pharmacies etc.).

Make a questionnaire and give tips on where to go. The students should be allowed to venture out on their own of course, and should have a map of the town.

Useful phrase book
I once had my students work on creating a class phrasebook – full of useful phrases that they needed during their stay. We subdivided into sections: asking directions, dealing with my host family, talking about food, thanking etc. It depends on the level. You could have a master copy and students have their own copies in which they write the translations.

Poster project
A poster project is a great idea to wrap up a course. Ask students, in groups, to choose an area which interests them and is related in some way to their course/stay in the UK. During the course they prepare material, get photos, samples etc. - whatever they need to link to their topic. They then prepare their poster, with information and visuals about their project. It could be supplemented with realia (each 'poster' could have a small table in front of it). At the end, you have an 'open day' where students can walk around looking at each other’s projects.

My father, a professor of French and anthropological studies at the university of Toronto, does something like this on his course on French sensuality (sounds good, doesn’t it?). The final project has presentations on champagne, brie, perfume, Parisian cafés… It’s a big hit at the college as you can imagine.

Guest speaker
I was lucky enough to befriend some of the local actors in the Shakespeare summer festival during a summer course. I invited them to come and talk to my class of teens. They came and spoke a bit, but then we did some drama activities and role-plays from the book with them participating. It was a lot of fun and really brought the activities to life.

That was an actor, but you could perhaps find someone else locally who would be willing to come and talk to your class or participate in a class itself.

Guide for future students
Another useful project could be for a class to create a guide to the town and school where they are studying. This could then be given to a future group going to study there. Things to include in the guide could be:

  • Places to visit
  • Eating and drinking in…
  • The best shopping
  • Your host family
  • Knowing the school
  • Things to avoid

Students could add things to the guide little by little over the course.

Fun ideas on onestopenglish

Finally, you can find some more good activity ideas for summer courses here on onestopenglish. Try the ideas for speaking classes outdoors:

Or check out the special Live from London videos and podcasts on onestopenglish. They will have ideas for discussions in class and could potentially lead on to project work.