Projecting projects

A good language institute will consistently make an effort to keep its teaching staff up to date on modern teaching practices and new methodologies and Tom Carlson, DOS of Linguarama Stuttgart, certainly excels at this.

Although his training style can sometimes be teacher-centered, I can honestly say that over the last four years he's provided me with many new ideas and overall been a great influence. I've learned so much from him and look forward to much more!

Anyway, this latest workshop was entitled Projects in the Classroom and in this blog posting, I'll review some aspects of Tom's transparencies, go through the quotes he presented for us to reflect on and at the end of the posting provide one of my own tried&tested project concepts.
Great theme, isn't it, and so vital for long-running courses. Have you ever tried doing a project with one of your business English groups?

It's such a smashing way to engage students and encourage collaborative learning.If you've done any project work in your adult EFL/ESL classes, don't hesitate to add your tips and tricks in the comments - even if they weren't BE oriented. We discovered, after careful searching, that there's really little out there, in print or on-line and yet there's a strong market for this type of work and age group.

If you're a materials author or a wannabe.... this is a niche! Just quote me and Tom in your acknowledgements, ok!?

Why do a project?
  • to encourage speaking in a natural and realistic setting
  • to focus the course in a motivating group activity that requires English
  • to counteract some of the "same old, same old."
  • to work on a specific lexical set over and over again
  • to provide an opportunity for feedback based on a series of classes

What projects are not:
  • task-based-learning activities
Linguarama teachers
The Framework
The project should include the following:
  • clear language learning aims
  • relevance to the business students are in, the field or market
  • a defined final result

Notes when planning:
  • when doing and for how long
  • where
  • resources that will be necessary
  • process the teacher will use to monitor language
  • process the students will use to record language

Why bother?
  • collaboration leads to confidence, is highly motivational and provides continuity.
  • projects give students ownership; students buy into working together not just as a learning activity.
  • provides realism and is highly communicative.
Potential pitfalls, problems:
  • unexpected or extended absences
  • if students don't 'buy in' right from the outset
  • students lose interest or feel the work's beyond their level
  • marginal results
a project class

But as Tom said:

Planning ahead is the best weapon you have for avoiding these problems so you still need to be ready to think on your feet!

Tom then handed out a few quotes from Project Work, Diana L. Fried-Both, OUP 2002, to all of us teachers - we had to think about what the quotes meant, what effects would be desirable in a language course and how our students would be affected.

We also had to think about problems which could occur when planning or implementing projects.

Project work draws together students of mixed ability and creates opportunities for individuals to contribute in ways which reflect their different talents, creativity, language goals and styles.
As colleagues we agreed in general with the quote and thought about how projects encourage team cohesion, how it feels natural to the students (reflects their lives, simulates their professional work) and gives the students an opportunity to learn something about themselves.

Of course, one area to watch out for is the possibility of having team members who are really very dominant!

Your role is perhaps the most vital in trying to maintain an overview and inspiring confidence so that your students feel they are learning by working towards their objectives.
As long as aims are formed and clarified by the group of students, we agreed with this statement.

LinguramaWe felt that clear strategies should also fall within the process of planning and that the teacher's role should include regular feedback to ensure that they themselves can see that they're learning.

To get a copy of a good, simple speaking skills feedback sheet - from my website, go here.

The irony is, the more passive you appear to be, the more successful the project is in terms of learner autonomy and independent learning.
Funny concept, the idea of passivity. It's a scary theory and it's even scarier in practice - 'til you're practiced anyway. ;-)

However we all agreed, if you do less - the students do more.

Student-led activities require teachers to step back.

The line has to be carefully defined, the borders firmly in place because passiveness in the classroom can also be perceived as laziness on the teacher's part and some students, depending on their cultural backgrounds, will strongly object if they aren't actually being controlled!

TeachersTransparency is clearly important.

On the other hand as Jim mentioned, when doing projects there's actually more opportunity to feedback to the Training Officers/HR managers regarding the students' English levels and abilities to deal in a team within another language setting.

It was a very good session - ta, Tom!

a PROJECT idea

-tried, tested, true.

Where-oh-where's my business angel?
by Karenne Sylvester

Objective: find funding for a new project
Duration: minimum 10 lessons x 1.5ue (works best with 15)

Students have to create a company (or use their own/one in their field). They are required to define a product or service, establish the objectives and mission of this work - it does not need to be something serious, they work out the financial viability of their concept, create a presentation for venture capitalists, present the presentation and win funding (or not).

Best with a large group so that you can make at least two competing groups but not essential (have also done this activity with a class of 4). Best results occur when you can find another BE EFL class within the company or institute who will be prepared to act as the venture capitalists. Working with another teacher is lots of fun and their class can research millionaires and take on their personalities (see Forbes 500 for list of global millionaires). Failing this, in the final lesson you can also act as if you are one.

Language resources:
Supportive photocopiable sheets from Business Communications Games, Business Builder, Business English frameworks to discuss: mission statements, company structure, corporate culture, company history, company image/designing a logo, sales figures, trends and graphs, employee morale.

TwIT (Teaching with Technology) resources:
  • Youtube playlist (here)
  • Slideshare presentations

In the first lesson, present the idea to the students. Explain what materials you have which can support the activity. Get them to decide what they would like to do, how they will create both company and product and what supportive materials they think would be a good idea to use in order to learn the necessary lexical steps (I usually give them the books and let them choose but you can bring in photocopies of relevant sheets and let them do a scan of them and decide). Get them to do a full project plan and curriculum timetable, ask them if they would like to establish roles and decide who's doing what.

In my experience, each time that I have done this project with BE adults, I have been wowed by the results and out-of-class effort the students have put in. One group created a new bicycle and then found pictures of future bicycle concepts and photo-shopped them to carry "their" own logo.

One group presented the most complex and detailed sales projections I've ever seen, one group invented a cup which connects to a computer to stay warm with revolving photos.. part of which apparently now exists...

Perhaps I'm just lucky, but even at one company I worked at, our sister class who had become the millionaires took the project very seriously indeed, reviewing the presentations with the utmost of sincerity, eventually granting "5million" to one of the teams!

Have you got a great idea?
Go on ahead and share too - click on COMMENTS - a box will open up and you can write out your project there. Or, if it's something you typed up you can e-mail it to me and I'll stick it somewhere with a link to it. If it's already on your blog or website, simply write the link for us all below.


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