This article explains why project work can benefit young learners, and offers ideas for turning coursebook topics into projects.
Why do project-work at all?
Independent projects done in class, whether in pairs or in groups, can help students to make their own choices about what they learn, involving different skills and promoting creativity. There are many advantages to doing projects in the classroom, which include:
- Projects encourage cooperation and sharing.
- They promote learner independence.
- Project work is topic-based.
- It involves research / questionnaires.
- They lead to a presentation.
- They involve different skills.
- They may be very creative and include artwork.
- They cater for different learning styles and personalities.
- They require use of all language skills.
What format can projects take?
- Wall displays
- Radio broadcasts / podcasts
- TV programmes / films / documentaries
- Websites / blogs
- ... and more!
While older students can design and carry out projects with less input from their teacher, younger students (primary, 5–10 years old) may find it hard to make decisions about what they do in class and often need more guidance. The teacher may take a more prominent role as guide and facilitator.
An example project: Wall displays
Here is an example of a project that can be done with primary children. You can introduce the concepts of project work gradually.
Animals are a topic often found in coursebooks and children generally are interested in the animal world. The following wall display project is on the topic of 'the zoo':
- Tell your class they are going to create a zoo. The zoo will be a display on the classroom wall. Children can either work on their own or with a partner (even younger children sometimes prefer working alone and some are distressed if they cannot work with their friend).
- Each child or pair of children can choose an animal, and they have a few days to research this animal – they have to find out at least five interesting facts. They can find out the information by reading books either in English or mother tongue, they could look at the internet (if this available) or they can ask other people like their family.
- You can do the presentation preparation in two stages. In one lesson the children can prepare the writing part – a short paragraph about their animal. It’s a good idea to allow for redrafting so that the final result is as well-written as possible. I believe that children should see work that they can be proud of, if it’s their own, or impressed by, if it’s someone else’s.
- In the next lesson (or for homework), they can draw a picture of their animal or find a picture or pictures in magazines and cut them out.
- The final stage will be to mount the text and picture – this can be done on pieces of coloured card to denote different areas of the zoo and as a class decide where all the different animals should go. The children can be encouraged to say which animals would like to live near each other. And finally, the class can decide on a name for the zoo and write this up at the top of the display. Other students and parents can be invited in to see the zoo.
Alternative topics that can have similar project-work done by the class are:
- A street of shops (with each child choosing a shop designing it and labeling the contents). Later they can act out role-plays of people visiting their shops.
- Sports, pop or film stars
- Famous people
Project ideas: Monsters
Any topic you are studying can lend itself to project work. For example if you are doing monsters, you could get the children to do any of these mini-projects:
- Research famous monsters like the Yeti or Loch Ness monster.
- Design and make a monster mask and then create a little sketch.
- Design a monster poster.
- Interview with a monster.
- Write a monster story as a class.
Project ideas: Food
- Design a pizza.
- Cooking competition – make a dish and get the class to taste it and award points.
- Research food around the world.
- Design a menu of the students’ favourite foods or an alien planet menu.
- Restaurant role-plays.
- A display or presentation on healthy eating.
- Children keep a food diary and make a poster on what they have eaten all week.
- Surveys or questionnaires of the likes/dislikes of the class presented as graphs or reports.
- Write a song about food.