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November 2018
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Quick Tip: 4 Steps for Designing and Implementing Project-Based Learning
by Erin Knoche Laverick

Project-based learning (PBL) is gaining popularity in English language classrooms as a means for students to refine and hone their language and critical thinking skills. It requires teachers to create a classroom culture of creativity and engagement in which students share their work and reflect on the processes they use to complete their projects.

Here are four easy steps for designing a project and implementing it into an English language classroom.

1. Think Long-Term

Before assigning a project, consider the goal(s) of the project and what course objectives will be assessed through the completion of the project. From there, it’s best to use a backward design to pace out the lessons and scaffold students to the completion of the project. A backward design calls for an instructor to identify the outcomes of the project first and then design activities and assessments that will lead to the creation or completion of the project.

2. Consider Summative and Formative Assessments

Present students with an assignment sheet and rubric before they begin working on the project, so they fully understand what is expected of them and how their projects will be assessed. In addition to a summative assessment, make use of formative assessments as students complete their projects. Formative assessments help you ascertain where students are in regard to not only completion of the project but what language skills need to be further developed.

3. Design Mini-Lessons

Based on the information gathered through the formative assessments, design mini-lessons to use during a workshop day to reinforce skills or content or to address specific concepts that multiple students are struggling with. For example, you might assign students to read a novel and then create a diorama to demonstrate their understanding of the novel’s plot structure. If you notice students struggling to identify the main characters, you could design a mini-lesson to review this concept. In the mini-lesson, you would first review the definitions of main and minor characters, and then you would put students in groups and ask them to list the main and minor characters from the novel. Then have students return to working on their dioramas, using the lists and adding the main characters into the design of the diorama. These mini-lessons are usually short (15–20 minutes) and are an excellent way to ensure students better hone their language skills and to scaffold students to the completion of the final project.

4. Have the Students Reflect

Because PBL requires students to work toward a final product over an extended period of time, it is important they reflect throughout the process. As they create their projects, at each step they should consider what they have accomplished and how well they have accomplished the tasks, and they should set goals for the next time they work on their projects. At the end of the project, they should put forward a plan for continued improvement. 

Depending on the project, reflection may take place in groups or individually. Charts or other graphic organizers can help students remain on task and set goals for workshop periods. Journaling is also a good means for reflecting. During the process of completing a project, you may assign prompts for students to reflect on in journals. You can then respond to the students’ journal entries to ensure students are on task and stayed motivated.

PBL requires an instructor to think long term and constantly engage with students throughout the process of completing their projects. Though it can be a great deal of work, instructors and students will find PBL to be rewarding and fun.

For more information about PBL, see Project-Based Learning, coming soon to the TESOL Bookstore.

Erin Knoche Laverick is the former director of an intensive English program. She is the current campus dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.

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Hands-On Reading Comprehension Strategies for All Learners
Addressing Student Anxiety About High-Stakes Writing Tests
Easy Strategies for Teaching Listening
Quick Tip: 4 Steps for Designing and Implementing PBL
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