Young Learners - Project Work and Young Learners

by Kylie Malinowska

At the 2014 IH DOS Conference I shared some ideas for using project work to tackle common problems in YL classrooms and the feedback I got from participants was overwhelmingly positive. And why wouldn’t it be? Nothing quite beats project work for developing the whole child and practicing experiential learning. Project work encourages learner independence, caters for mixed-ability, fosters the development of key social skills, focuses on language, provides a tangible result learners can be proud of….the list goes on. What can I say? I’m a big fan! Just in case you haven’t yet discovered the joys of project work, for this edition’s five in a flash I give you…..

Five tips for making the most of project work

Integrate the project into the curriculum

Make projects work for you (as opposed to creating extra work and stress), Look carefully over your syllabus or course book at the beginning of the year/semester. What grammar and vocabulary needs to be covered? Rather than doing every activity, select, omit, supplement, both from the course book and the project tasks to focus on introducing and practicing the items required e.g. a year-long comic book project could be used for revising and or practicing language with each chapter coinciding with units from a course book.

Plan, plan, Plan

A spider gram is a nice way to do this. Write your project idea in the middle of the page inside a circle. Brainstorm activity ideas and language and skills that should be practiced. Ask yourself what the students will need to do for each aspect of the project, how you’ll set it up, what the expected outcome is, how you’ll evaluate the project’s success. What will you do with the end product? Think about how you can exploit every aspect of the project. And don’t forget to make sure the students know why they are doing the project. Determine what skills and language students need for each step of the way and how they will be introduced or tasks adapted. Keep your instructions clear and goals transparent.

Involve the parents

Let the parents know what’s going on: not only the expected end result, but how you will get there, and the benefits for their child along the way. Consider a final presentation involving the parents such as using the end of semester performances or certificate presentations as a vehicle for student to proudly show off their work e.g. a film premier, an exhibition of posters etc. Learners don’t have to get up and sing a song to make Mummy proud.

Pass on the ownership

The students will be far more interested and get far more language from a project if they are given choices, are able to make the project their own, and are given opportunities for autonomy. Empower your students and foster inclusion and participation by offering a range or different roles and responsibilities within the class/group/ project that students may choose from which best suit their skills and interests e.g. one student is the ‘secretary’, one is the ‘manager’, one is the creative director, one is in charge of ‘public relations’ i.e. letting the teaching know how the project is progressing.

Keep it continuous

Don’t wait until the end of the project to assess the students or ask them for their feedback. Plan and allocate time for evaluation every step of the way. Talk to students about their progress, ask them to reflect, keep a project diary or log. Probe them continuously throughout the project. Encourage self assessment and make progress explicit so that the learners are proud of how much they have achieved, not only language wise, but also things like task completion and time management.

Read more about the projects I talked about at the IH DOS conference and my session on project work at the 2014 IH YL Conference in Bristol here

Author’s Bio: Kylie Malinowska started with IH many moons ago at IH Newcastle, and is now a Teacher, YL ADOS, Pre-School Coordinator & IH CYLT tutor at IH Prague. She also works part-time at the YL Advisor for IHWO, as well as one of their IH CYLT online tutors & IH CYLT (TiT) Mentor. She is currently working towards an MA TESOL (Applied Linguistics) and tries to find time to post on her TEYL blog when she can.