Project Work to promote English Language Learning

  Project Work to promote English Language Learning
Ramanujam  Meganathan
Assistant Professor
Department of Languages
National Council of Educational Research and Training
New Delhi 110 016
Language learning is aimed at making learners use the language for real life purposes. This is not limited to using of language(s) for communicative purpose only; learners need to use language to function in professional, academic and social settings. This demands higher order language and thinking skills. Nature and characteristics of the classroom has to change to meet this demand and teachers have to explore ways and means of enabling learners ‘engage’ with language(s) in and out of the classroom. Tasks, activities and assignments are to be conceived of not in the conventional teacher dominated sense; they need to help learners in noticing the form and meaning of language(s) by using it in real life activities / task. Project work of this nature would help in promoting language learning. This paper, based on my  experience as a teacher,  of attempts to make a case for projects for language learning and discusses the possible ways and means of designing and carrying out projects as language learning tasks where learners work with language for a period of time. At the end, it also provides a list of projects, which could be carried out at different stage of schooling.  
1.     Why projects for language learning?
Language learning involves learners getting engaged with the language. We know that exposure to language through visual / print and oral medium is essential.  This is what the textbook, other print and audio materials, and the teacher’s language attempt to do. This exposure is alone not sufficient. We need to give opportunities to children to work with language. Children should read, think about the ideas of the text, understand the meaning of the words, associate them with ideas and other words, notice the form of the structures, etc while being exposed to the language and working with language on their own. This engagement with language makes them internalise meaning of words and structures. In addition to textbook activities, project work could be used as an effective strategy to promote collaborative ways of language learning where learners in groups work together to do an activity or a task for some period. When learners work together on a particular idea / topic, they collect information, ideas, observe language being used, use language in real life situations, exchange views and debate on ideas, write the ideas into a report, edit their writing and produce the report in a suitable form.  National Curriculum Framework (NCF) – 2005 and the Position Papers on Teaching of English and Indian Languages lay stress on learner-learner interaction and moving beyond the textbook to connect the classroom with the life outside the classroom to maximise learning. Projects can be an instrument in realising this aim. Projects can be designed to be carried out by a group of learners on topics/ themes. This helps in achieving learners constructing ideas and make critical judgments to arrive at a decision / conclusion. More importantly learners use language in contexts.  This chapter presents how project in languages, particularly English as a second language could be designed and carried out by students in school.
2.     Designing and Managing Projects
There are many ways learners can be initiated to carry out projects. The major aim of the activities / tasks learners do should enable them read books, newspapers, listen to radio, watch TV, consult websites, talk to people, observe events and proceedings, interpret and report. This clearly indicates that the learners work with language i.e. use language for meaningful real life purposes. If the meaning of learning is ‘meaning making’ the purpose is achieved in full while doing projects. This only gives clues that learners should do the project in groups on their own independently, not ask their parents do or buy readymade products available in the market. They may seek information or some help from parents or elders as they do with their teachers. Also projects should not over burden them. 
It would be of much benefit to learners, if projects are planned of interdisciplinary nature. Since all learning is language learning, project work of interdisciplinary nature will promote better understanding of the subject (say social science, science, etc) as well as promote language learning. This also promotes language across curriculum (LAC) perspective for meaningful language learning.  Teachers of various subjects will have to come together to plan projects of interdisciplinary nature.  The textbooks developed by NCERT as a follow up to NCF- 2005 include short and long term projects which are directly linked to the themes of the texts / lessons. A project can be carried out in many ways. Following steps could be followed
·        Selecting and briefing: Projects can be initiated when learners and teachers decide on a topic. It is better to encourage students to bring their own ideas and have a whole class discussion to allot topics to each group or teacher may offer a list of possible topics. Sometime whole class projects can also be thought of.
·        Planning and language generation: Having chosen a topic for the project, learners now work together to decide upon how to proceed and what kind of language needs to be used. Teacher has to direct this very carefully and here is where the learners need guidance and support. Some of the initial discussions may take place in the classroom paving way for activities in and outside the school. The work can also be divided among learners.
·        Collection of date /information / details: Learners gather required data / information from a number of sources. They can consult encyclopaedia, read books, interview people, collect pictures and illustrations, record audio / video, visit internet, watch TV, etc. They can write their field notes to remember and organise the data collected.
·        Planning, writing the draft and editing: Having collected the required data / information and ideas, it is time now to plan and organise the data and interpret them to write the draft. Since most of the projects in language(s) will be of written report or written creative work like play, songs, essays, chapterisation could also be planned. It is also possible to have projects in which learners work together to script and enact a play or direct and enact a play. Editing is important part of writing the report. Learners should be made aware of process approach involved in writing a good piece of work, which involves various stages.
·        The result and presentation: The goal of the whole project has been aiming is reached when the learners working together produce a report or do an activity as intended. The final product may be written report, a play, collection of songs or enacting a play or a big role play, writing posters, etc. Learners are now asked to submit to the teacher and present it to the whole class or to the whole school during assembly or special occasions (in case of play, songs, etc.)
·        Follow Up: Teacher with the group carried out the project can think of possible follow up activities that would enable students to use language in contexts. For example, a project given in the list at the end is about class newspaper. This could be explored as a continuous feature and some other group could try the next issue of the newspaper / magazine. Teacher should take care as the project should not hamper the other learning activities of students.
3.     Teacher’s role
Teacher is the facilitator throughout the life time of the project. S/he is a catalyst and makes him /herself available whenever the learners need-helping, prompting, clarifying and delimiting.  Consultations with the teacher concerned or other subject teachers (if needed) are of immense support for learners to accomplish the task.  Teacher along with students in the initial classroom discussions develop a schedule of activities for each group and number of meeting / consultation that they can have with the teacher while doing the project. It is not difficult for the teacher (to some extent) to know about each student and his / her area of interest and how s/he could do things.  Teachers should be able to suggest activities (i.e. projects) that would suit to the interest of particular group of learners.
4.     Assessing / Evaluating Project Work
 Projects are part of the assessment process of Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE). We need to ensure that each learner in the group takes active part in the work and contributes for the successful completion of the task. It is also very important that each learner is engaged with language (use the language in various ways) while doing the project. Teacher may keep a check list or a chart to record what has been happening (who does what and how) during the project. Asking each learner in the group  to  maintain a diary of their work plan, how the information / data was collected and interpreted, the problems faced  and the way the report / the final product was brought out, etc. could be of use for the teacher in assessing individual contribution in the group. This is one part of the assessment. Teacher has to observe and record how each student in the group and each group as a whole make progress in carrying out the project.  A checklist or portfolio may be developed to record the progress made by each student and each group. Descriptors to indicate the work done by each learner could be created by students and by the teacher. We may also have specific guidelines (developed by teachers themselves) for assessing the project work as part of the Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE).
Descriptors in the Portfolio / record may look like this

Criteria for assessing the performance





Collaboration in the group


Suggested the idea or provides an alternative idea


Ideas elaborated coherently
with clarity


The group worked together well. There was cooperation


Supported the idea and provides  more evidence






Shown interest in carrying forward the idea generated.






Remained passive or non receptive to ideas.




Following section presents two project titles (one short term and one long term) and the processes involved in carrying out them, and a list of projects with a short description.
Short Term

  1. Designing a brochure for tourist about your town / village.

Level: Elementary & Secondary                                                        Age: 12 – 16 years
Time: One / Two week(s)
General Aims:    To produce a brochure for tourist and visitors to our town / village
Language Aims:
i.                     To develop four language skills and strategic competences by using interviewing techniques, collection data / information about people, places and economic indicators;
ii.                   To learn to use appropriate vocabulary and structures specific to idea (a brochure);
iii.                To learn to write in a poster from the collected information.
The Process: Teacher has a brain storming discussion with the group about the idea / theme and asks learners to chalk out a plan of action for the project.  Learners plan and allocate work to each member of the group and collect required information. They work together to design the brochure based on the collected data. The collected information from various sources-interviews, photos of monuments, facts and figures about the village, etc. will now be scrutinised and shaped into a poster / brochure to present it to a visitor attractively. The brochure is made by the group using colourful ink, crayons, etc and the same is presented to the class.
Long term
2.      Class Newspaper
Level: Elementary and Secondary                          Age: 12-16 years
Time:   Three month (Flexible)
Aims:  To produce a class / school newspaper for the village / town.
Language learning:  To develop all fours skills by using various techniques, methods like interviews, writing news, etc.
The Process: Students are briefed about the aim of the project and the possible outcome. They discuss the plan and decide on the various activities and contents of a news paper by analysing available news papers.  Students allocate work among themselves and decide who takes interviews, who reports events like festivals, accidents, etc. who writes the draft news items, who editing and final writing by hand or printing (using computer), etc. They work on for some time to collect data and develop the newspaper with in the given time frame. Then the newspaper is published with illustration, pictures, etc. Possible follow up activities can also be thought of.
Following are some topics / themes for project work for various stages
3.      Biographical profile of a person / personality in your area
Students in group meet a person in their village / town and interview him / her to develop a profile of the person and write into a report.
4.       Writing autobiographies
Each one in the group writes his / her autobiography and compile them to present to the class.
5.      Quotable quotes
Students consult books, magazines and newspapers to collect quotes of great people and proverbs and compile them to theme / alphabetical order
6.      Writing review of movies
Students watch some movies over a period of time and write review of them. They can also compare the reviews with the ones published in newspapers.
7.       Book review
Students read books of their choice and write reviews of them. They can consult with the newspaper, magazine or journals to know how to write a review.
8.      Varied ways of reporting an event in newspapers.
Students are asked to read three or four newspaper and follow a particular or some stories. They analyse the news stories and comment on them.
9.      Collecting views and opinions of people on a particular issue or problem
Students take current issue or problem and ask for the opinion of people about the issue and report it with graphical representations.
10.  Writing article to newspapers / magazines
Students write articles to newspapers / magazine on a current problem or issue. This could be done as individual as well as group activity. Teacher has to guide them well from thinking about the idea to getting the article published.
11.  Writing letters to the editor on a particular issue.
A group of students are encouraged to write letters to the editor in response to some of the articles / issues published in the newspaper.
12.  Develop and conduct quiz competition
Students in groups develop questions for quiz content in the school / class. They decide how to conduct the quiz, collect information/ ideas for quiz questions, design question and answer card for all questions, and then conduct the quiz competition. The process from the beginning to the end is to be written as a report.
13.  Collection of folk songs
Students in groups collect folk songs from their locale / village, categorise them into various themes like children, nature, romance and love, devotional, poverty, etc., then they attempt to write the summary of each folk song they collected. They can also find connections between the folk songs and the history / events of the village. The same is to be presented in a report form. 
14.  Translating folk song from Indian language to English or vice versa
Students in groups will collect songs from their mother tongue and translate into English. This requires a lot from students and teachers. It may be twenty or so poems / songs from an Indian language or from many languages. They may do it in many stages and can also compare the songs with available translations. The same is presented to the school library.
15.  Watching a serial in the mother tongue and report the same in English or vice versa
This is to exploit what is considered not so good a habit. Students in groups watch a serial for a week or month and write episode wise summary of the same. They can report it with an introduction and a conclusion, commenting on the theme, acting, characterisation and other of the serial.
16.  Designing greeting cards for an occasion
This may be done as group or individual activity. Students design greeting cards for an occasion, Diwali, Pongal, New year’s eve, Christmas or such an occasion using the locally available resources and display for sale in school.
17.  Conducting surveys and reporting them
a.      Eating habits survey
b.      Pocket money survery
c.       Sleeping and play routine survey
d.      Study habits survey
e.      Person of the year survey
f.        Use of tobacco
           Students develop a questionnaire and contact people to collect information about the      habits they indent to survey. They write a report based on the data collected. The whole       process from developing questionnaire is reported
18.  Language and art of advertisements
Students collected advertisement from various sources like billboards, wall notices, pamphlets, newspapers, etc. and analyse how the use of language in them. Advertisements from many languages can also used.
19.  Planning a tour / trip
Students in group plan a tour or trip a tourist spot located nearby place. They collected the money required from each student, book the vehicle for travel, or book train ticket, book hotel / guest houses for stay, etc. and decide the places to visit. After the tour / trip they write a report.
20.  Developing a blog on the web and coordinate the same with friends
Students in groups develop a blog on web, design and develop materials-print, visuals, songs, etc. and ask other students to comment on each one’s posting on the web.
21.  Developing the school website
Students with the help of the computer science teacher design and develop a website for the school. They collect required information from the principal, teachers, and alumni of the school and post the same on the web.
22.  Holidays and Festivals of the locale
Students in group do project about the festivals of the locale and report how people celebrate, the food eaten during the festival, dresses, rituals, purpose and reason for the festivals, etc.
23.  Developing a radio / audio programme
Students in groups develop an audio / radio programme consisting of songs, speeches, talk shows, interviews of people from the locale. This can be done multilingual or bilingual. Students plan, write scripts, develop questionnaires and audio record the same after many trials. The final product will be recorded and the same is produced to the class  / school assembly. 
NCERT. (2005). National Curriculum Framework. New Delhi: NCERT.
NCERT.(2006). Position Paper: Teaching of English. New Delhi: NCERT.
Jermey Harmer. (Year not mentioned). The Practice of English Language Teaching (Fourth Edition). London: Pearson Longman. 

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