Thursday, 23 June 2011

Project Work in EFL Classrooms - an #Eltchat Summary

This is a summary of the #eltchat which took place at 9pm BST on Wednesday 22nd June, 2011.  The full title of the chat was:

Project Work in EFL Classrooms (Themes, Strategies, Resources)

We welcomed some 'first-timers' to the chat as well as some contributors (including me) who had missed several weeks due to work and other committments.  The discussion was moderated superbly by @Marisa_C and @Shaunwilden and was, as usual, lively, informative and inspiring.....

Defining Terms - What is a Project?
  • A project is collaborative - most agreed on this point although @Shaunwilden suggested that a class can do individual projects according to their interests.
  • A project involves planning, collaboration, execution, constant evaluation, reflection, end product, and display (via @barbarabujtas).
  • It is a display of task outcome. 
  • It lasts for more than one or two lessons.  Indeed, it can continue throughout a whole course with, perhaps, the last 30 minutes of each lesson being devoted to project work.
  • It works best inside the classroom and should begin and end there, although research could be done for homework, making the borders of the classroom more porous - a two-way bridge (via @web2literacy). 
  • It doesn't necessarily have to be big as, as @CeciELT pointed out, students often don't have time to do big projects, so she has been experimenting with lots of mini-projects instead.
  • A project is a process by which the students can decide on the steps, critical elements and tasks (via @BethCagnol).
  • It should be varied and integrate a variety of language skills.
  • It should have differentiation built-in and be able to accommodate different ability levels.
  • A project can be ongoing - added to from year to year with different groups.  This idea was put forward by @BethCagnol and is something I can identify with as it is what we do with some of our projects at summer school.
  • A project can be done individually in a one-to-one setting, with the results being displayed in social media (via barbarabujtas).
  • A project involves not only using language to complete the task itself, but also reporting on the task - i.e. reflective learning (via @pjgallantry).
Why do Projects?
  • Projects can motivate students, especially teens. 
  • Students enjoy it when we show enthusiasm for doing project work and offer opportunities instead of just prescriptive work (via lu_bodeman).
  • Shy students can do great work in a group, as can students with otherwise lower grades.
  • Projects teach students, especially YLs, to work together, to be part of a group, to share, etc. (via Fuertesun).
  • Project work works well with CLIL.
  • Projects are more memorable than simple tasks, so might this mean that they are a more effective way of learning?
  • Projects link to the lives of learners; they are meaningful, not just prescriptive or pedagogic.
  • Projects offer an opportunity for acceleration work for students who are keen to move ahead (via @Marisa_C).
  • Students often take projects more seriously than everyday tasks.
  • Project work could involve the local community, parents, etc. (via @Yohimar)
The Teacher's Role in Project Work
  • To motivate the students. 
  • To guide the project in order to prevent copy/paste or laziness (via @evab2001).
  • To encourage creativity.
  • To plan scheduled short project meetings for updates & progress reports.
  • To have a very clear timetable of when each stage of the project should be completed.
  • To maintain their own enthusiasm for the project, even when they are 5 weeks in! (via @pjgallantry)

Motivating Students to do Project Work
  • Sometimes, particularly with adult students, some group members won't participate in project work. 
  • Most contributors to the chat agreed that the key to this was making sure that the students had some input in to choosing the topic of the project, perhaps choosing from a list supplied by the teacher or even coming up with the list themselves and then narrowing it down to their favourites.
  • Give each student in a project group a role, a particular objective to help avoid coasting and to add peer pressure (via @fionamau).
  • Have a prize for the best project, something worth fighting for (via @BethCagnol).
  • Students are generally motivated by teaching something they know to other students (via @CeciELT).  I agree - at last year's summer school, one Japanese student came in to his own when he taught his classmates all about darts as part of a sports project.  He even made a perfect dartboard just by folding paper - amazing!
  • The outcome of the project must be seen to be important - something which the students can be proud of and use as a measure of their development (via @lu_bodeman).
  • Students like the fact that projects can be displayed using different media - posters, ppt, audio, video, etc.

Project Ideas
  • A portfolio of questions asked during internship interviews - good for BE. 
  • A glog on your favourite popstar (this could be an individual project).
  • A guide to local restaurants, etc., which could be updated yearly.
  • A class newspaper, newsletter or news programme. (@cybraryman1 's news page)
  • A movie.
  • A magazine for the local area including reviews, opinions, letters, features, etc. (via @antoniaclare).  This is something we've done at summer school where the students write a guide for students coming the following year.
  • A science fair, for example with animal categories - insects, birds, fish, mammals, etc. (via @Dawg_Houston).
  • Plan a music festival.
  • Something to help the community - building a sense of citizenship (via @CeciELT).
  • A podcast relating to the topic of the unit they are studying (via @antoniaclare).
  • A show made up of songs & skits in English (via @Sarah_WG).
  • Healthy eating, including tasks like keeping a food diary, making a food pyramid, etc.
  • An American style yearbook which could be printed and given as gifts at the end of the course (via @harrisonmike).
  • A 'memory book' using Bubblr or Bookr, both available at
  • Links to YouTube videos that you like and explanations why.
  • Share music videos and embed them in a class blog (via @web2literacy).
  • A long story written over a period of time, with the best ones being made into ebooks (via @evab2001).
  • A comic, perhaps using a site like
  • A commercial, either as a video clip or as a roleplay (via @notyetlanguage).
  • For multi-lingual groups (e.g. at summer school), an international cookbook or guide to international festivals/traditions/dress etc. where the students and you as the teacher learn a lot about how others live.
How do we Grade Projects?
  • Some contributors felt that projects shouldn't be graded at all - it's the process that's important and the presentation of the project is a reward in itself.
  • With ongoing projects, students still need to have a tangible outcome so that they can feel that they have reached the end, even if only of 'their' part. 
  • It can be difficult to assess/grade collaborative projects when group members put in different amounts of effort, but this can be addressed by ensuring that all members have an area of responsibility.  @teacher_prix told us that she likes to split the grades with one for overall work and one for individual effort.
  • For project work, perhaps it's better to give feedback or peer evaluation rather than a formal grade.
  • Perhaps the fact that the project has been worked on and completed should be the grade (via @pjgallantry).
  • We need some kind of assessment in order to justify incorporating project work into courses (via @web2literacy).
  • Asian cultures in particular crave a grade, so probably wouldn't enjoy non-graded project work (via @eyespeakbrasil).
  • You could make project work a competition, rather than something which is graded.  The winner could be determined by a 'jury' made up of the DOS, teachers and students.  There could even be a global 'project based' competition with ESL schools from around the world competing with each other (via @eyespeakbrasil).

I think all contributors to last night's chat felt that project work has an valuable role to play in the EFL classroom.  For me, being just 3 weeks away from returning to summer school where all of our classes are project-based, the chat gave me some great ideas to pass on to my fellow teachers when I get there!


Notes on a project workshop by @kalinagoenglish
Deal with the Gantt diagram - an idea for a project suggested by @BethCagnol
A fab example of project work (via @harrisonmike)
Chuck Sandy's lipdubs project (via @antoniaclare)
Project based ESL learning (via @eyespeakbrasil)
A Dvolver story by @DinaDobrou Episode one and Episode two

Students presenting their 'rugby' project at Rugby Summer School, 2009

Monday, 20 June 2011

Quotation-Based Conversation Classes

As we come to the end of the academic year, I've been reflecting on what's worked well in the classroom this year and what hasn't been so successful.  One of my better ideas was a series of conversation classes, each of which was based on a famous quotation.

The classes were extra to the students' regular courses and were open to those at intermediate level and above.  They were held weekly and lasted for 90 minutes.  Each week, I posted the quotation, along with who said it, on the notice board in advance of the class, giving students the opportunity to collect their thoughts about the subject to be discussed.  Quite often, students came to class having also researched the speaker, which added an extra dimension to the discussion.

Some of the quotations which led to the liveliest, most interesting conversations this year were:

  • ‘The limits of my language are the limits of my world.’                        Ludwig Wittgenstein, Austrian philosopher  
  • ‘I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, & then going away & doing the exact opposite.’                  G.K. Chesterton

  • ‘A true friend is someone who is there for you when he/she would prefer to be somewhere else.’                        Len Wein, American comic book writer

  • ‘Happiness is when what you think, what you say, & what you do are all in harmony.’                                                                    Mahatma Gandhi

  • ‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.’      St. Augustine

  • ‘I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.’             Martin Luther King

  • ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’        Albert Einstein

  • ‘A room without books is like a body without a soul.’                          Cicero, Roman orator & philosopher

  • ‘A life without love is like a year without summer.’     Swedish proverb

  • ‘Dance like nobody's watching; love like you've never been hurt; sing like nobody's listening; live like it's heaven on earth.’               Mark Twain

Those of you who use 'New English File' may well recognise some of these quotes from the pages of the student workbooks - this is where the original idea for the classes came from!

The pictures in this post came from this site, which is a great resource and which provided the posters to advertise this series of classes.

Obviously, the topic potential for this kind of lesson is limitless, and it's certainly an idea I'll be returning to when I move to my new school in the autumn.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Grammar Doesn't Have to be Grey...... says Michael Swan, so it must be true!!

I was lucky enough to be able to attend a seminar Michael gave in Venice on Wednesday, 15th June, 2011 and have blogged about my meeting with the man himself -When Andrea Met Michael.  This post is a summary of his presentation, the title of which was 'Grammar Doesn't Have to be Grey' with the byline, 'Designing Effective Grammar Teaching & Practice Materials'.


When it comes to incorporating grammar into our EFL lessons, we need to strike the right balance.  Non-native teachers tend to do too much grammar as it puts them in control of the class, especially if their sudents know more vocabulary than they do or if they have better pronunciation.  On the other hand, native teachers tend to do insufficient grammar, often because they don't know it!

Grammar teaching should be made up of the 'three x's' - explanations, examples and exercises with the emphasis always being on the latter because students learn by what they do, not what they are told.


  • Keep them short - 3 lines maximum
  • Remember that you don't need to tell students the whole truth - students need to understand from the outset that there are always exceptions
  • Make them clear - an example of how not to do it found in an English grammar book published in France: 'Modality is the coloured filter of our subjectivity through which we perceive reality.'!!
  • Use L1 especially at lower levels
  • Give visual support - use colour to highlight and use diagrams and timelines
  • The discovery method has only limited use when explaining grammar (for example, when teaching the use of for/since with present perfect).  In most cases, students want to be told!

  • Make them realistic - we have all seen ridiculous examples in text books over the years - these classics found in books used in Italy and France, for example:
                                   Birds fly high.
                                   The oxen are stepping on my feet. (To illustrate irregular plurals!)
                                   Come down from that tree so that I may kiss you.
  •  Examples do not have to be illustrated in texts - you can just use simple sentences
  • Texts are useful for certain grammar points - for example, in contextualising present perfect versus past simple.
  • Texts don't have to have something done to them - you don't always need comprehension questions or other activities - often, a no-hassle listening or reading is enough to illustrate the point.
  • Use the outside world:
                                   Signs - for example, to illustrate determiners:
                                                           Good Food Served Here
                                                           All Day.  Every Day.

                                                           Look Both Ways

                                                           No Cycles

                                   Cartoons - e.g., for negative imperative:

                                                           Marriage Guidance

                                   Quotations - these are memorable for reinforcing grammar points. e.g.:

                                                          Power corrupts - absolute power corrupts absolutely.
                                                                                                                       (Lord Acton)



  • There is a place for non-communicative exercises to concept check, particularly when you first present a point of grammar.
  • Exercises should be personalised - for example, when practising reported speech, ask the students, 'What did you think when you were small?'
  • Use bits of real text for gap fill exercises.
  • Use arrows and pictures to make students think
  • Get students to use their imagination - 'Imagine a situation............... what is being done/what is not being done.'
  • Ask student to write captions for cartoons.
  • Use the internet - both to practise a grammar point (e.g. Find some information about a person and write sentences in simple present to describe his or her daily routine) and to check what the teacher has said (e.g. Use a search engine to check which is the more normal form, 'beautifuller' or 'more beautiful').
  • Use humour up to a point - for instance, to practise will for future prediction, read some horoscopes and then get students to write their own for each other - the funnier, the better.  If students can make each other laugh in L2, it's very motivating.
  • If you are forced to use a boring textbook, hi-jack it! - for example, get students to re-write boring dialogues.
  • Use drawings - for example, to illustrate 'supposed to', get students to draw something (it doesn't matter how bad it is) and their classmates have to decide what it's supposed to be!
  • Exercises need to be a platform for more personalised and creative work by students.
Grammar and.........

Don't think of grammar in isolation.  Think of it in conjunction with other things:
  • Grammar and Culture - use poetry in the classroom.
  • Grammar and Thinking - do interesting, challenging exercises which make the students use their brains logically.
  • Grammar and Imagination - allow students to be creative.
  • Grammar and Vocabulary - how can we help students by teaching lexical chunks?
  • Grammar and Writing - for example, give students a text which uses a mixture of active and passive and get them to re-write it twice, firstly using only active and then using only passive.
  • Grammar and Reading - give sentence restructuring exercises.
  • Grammar and Informality - remember that informal and formal grammar is different and, if appropriate, teach both.
  • Grammar and Speech - highlight the differences between spoken and written English.
  • Grammar and Pronunciation - grammar consists of a lot of unstressed words - auxialiaries, prepositions, to of infinitive, etc. - which are difficult to hear, so don't forget to do lots of grammar listenings.

Grammar teaching should consist of:
  • 25% input (explanations & examples)
  • 75% output (exercises)
So, I hope I have done justice to Michael Swan's presentation.  I wanted to write up my notes for my own reference and hope that others will find them useful, too.

When Andrea met Michael

First, I must give credit to @sandymillin from whom I nicked the idea for the title of this post!   See here for her recent, memorable interview with @LizziePinard, 'When Sandy met Lizzie'.   Wait, perhaps I should also be giving credit to a much earlier movie which may well have inspired Sandy??!!  But no, let's keep this in the 'ELT' family!

So, back to 'When Andrea met Michael'..... If there is such a thing as an EFL groupie, then I'm not ashamed to say that I was one the other day.  Michael Swan, whose book, 'Practical English Usage', has been my constant companion throughout many years of teaching, came to Venice to give a seminar.   As soon as I heard about it, several months ago, I made up my mind to be there.   So it was that I was up at the crack of dawn and less than 40 minutes later, I was at the station berating my colleague for being five minutes late to meet me.   After a half-hour train journey and a 35 minute power walk across the city (allowing my colleague precisely 2 minutes to stop for a coffee and brioche en route!), we arrived at the venue.

We were greeted at the door by a smiling Robert McLarty, who was to be the second speaker on the programme. I'm ashamed to say that I was somewhat curt in my haste to get upstairs and into the seminar room so as not to miss the start of Michael's presentation!

It is often said that you should never meet your heroes as they can disappoint. So, was that the case for me today? No, on the contrary, as I am sure many of the readers of this blog who have met him before would confirm, Michael Swan is an unassuming, knowledgeable, personable, accommodating, thoroughly pleasant man! His presentation was entertaining and informative and the subject of a separate post, Grammar Doesn't Have to be Grey.

When his talk was over, all seminar attendees were given a copy of Michael's latest book, 'Oxford English Grammar Course - Intermediate', which he agreed to sign.   In the queue waiting for my moment with Michael, I heard several people musing on the incongruity of waiting to get a grammar book signed, but no-one walked away!   My (male) colleague chose not to have his copy signed, but he did kindly agree to be my photographer to record my moment for posterity!

After the whole seminar had ended (and Robert's part was equally valuable, as I have written about here), we again had the opportunity to speak with Michael and he wished me luck in my new job in Shanghai (more about that later!) and I left smiling, despite the 35 degree heat and the numerous bridges I had to cross to get back to the station.