Project-based learning is so effective and fun, but it can be daunting! How do I create a fun project? Will the kids like it? Will everyone do it? Won't it make more work for me? How do I even grade 100 projects when I don't have time?
I LOVE projects in my class, and I have to admit that these are all questions I have asked myself many times, but when I sit back and look at the effectiveness, I see just how great they are! Here are a few tips to help you bring projects into your class.
1. Plan your due dates carefully.
A lot of us foreign language teachers have 2, 3, or 4 levels. I've had as many as 5! If you are not already doing projects, start slowly and bring in a project for one level at a time. It is a huge time-saver for you when you are already planning for many classes and NEED your precious planning time. Try a project with your beginners that is easy to grade, or if you plan to do a project with more advanced classes, remember that there will be more writing, so it can take longer to grade.
Here is my favorite beginner project, and the grading is oh-so-easy! Click on the image to check it out!
2. Don't feel like the entire project must be done at home.
You can use class time to work on some of the elements, and if you have solid directions, this also can give you a few minutes where you can catch up on emails, grading, planning, or tidying up. At first, I felt like I needed to be in the mix and watching every move my students made. After many years in a project-based classroom, I have found that the students make great projects and meet the objectives if I walk around and check progress or if I benefit from a few minutes of quiet time each class to complete a few of my own tasks. It doesn't mean sit at your desk and work for the whole student work time! 10-15 minutes per class can give you the equivalent of an extra plan time, and the students will appreciate the trust you are showing them.
3. Don't make one huge due date!
If you are assigning the project as homework, you should have mini checkpoints along the way to ensure that students are working at home and also so that you can monitor progress and make sure students are correctly doing the project.
If you are allowing students classtime to work, be clear in your expectations at the beginning of the work time. If students do not complete the necessary tasks during the class period, I assign it as homework, and if not completed by the next day, my students must come to a make up session. How you manage this, of course, will depend on your school's structures for incomplete work.
Here is an advanced project that we love. It has 3 distinct sections (le passé, le présent, l'avenir), so I break up the due dates by section. You'll see the resource cover page and a student excerpt. You can click on either image to see a full description in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
4. Keep good examples!
We have done some of the same projects in my class for 10+ years. Not only is it great to have a good example, but it will serve as a nice reminder of your lovely students long after they are gone. I still have projects from my first-year teaching, and one of those students is all grown up and a teacher herself now. :)
5. Get others to donate supplies. Anything can make a fun project!
We love magazines! We cut them up and use them for EVERYTHING! Ask your school librarian to keep old magazines for you, email your co-workers for resources like old cereal boxes, bottle caps, beads, string, yarn, old clothes (great for a fashion show), drinking straws (makes a great Eiffel Tower), and even toilet paper rolls (we make silly-looking people and then write about them).
6. Hold a contest.
We love to do project contests where students check out all of the projects and vote on their favorites. I have a small prize (candy, homework ticket, silly toy, etc.) for the winners, and they make it onto my bulletin board of fame. This is a huge honor in my classroom, as I only have space for 6-7 projects and I usually have 150+ students! Check out the project here:
This project is super-fun for Halloween, but it is great for any time of year. If your classes are learning body parts, reflexive verbs in the passé composé, or expressions like: Il s'est fait mal....Il avait mal à la jambe, etc., this project is a fun and perfect way to assess your classes.
7. Use team contracts
You can create your own or brainstorm as a class. This is a great way to make sure all people in the group are accountable. Creating the contract as a class will also empower your students. :)
8. Group correctly.
We all know that some kids are going to be better at the writing portion, some are very creative, some are hard workers, and some are ... less hard-working. I usually pick groups, but if you want to randomly assign them, you can number off students, have them draw names, or give them playing cards and have them find the group members with the same card.
9. Allow for student choice.
While all of my projects clearly define the expectations, I always let students know that if they have another idea for the project, I'm open to suggestions. It is through their suggestions that I have found some great revisions to my projects, and I love to see my students happy and thriving. I'm a huge fan of student choice in the classroom, and what better time to try it than when doing a long-term project?
10. Ask for student feedback.
Just as I love student choice, I also want my students to tell me when something needs tweaking. I don't want them to be confused by my wording or too stressed with my expectations. I want to have high expectations that will set my students up to master the skills and to succeed in their work. If I have not set them up for success by creating a quality assessment, I want to know so that I can make it better for the years to come. Just beware: Students are honest and if you ask for feedback, be prepared to hear the truth, even if it hurts. Remember, this is how you grow and improve, and your audience should play a role in your growth.
Best of luck to you! If you have a great tip for project-based learning, I'd love to hear it! Leave a comment below. :)