“An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, goes the saying and I would add that a project a month keeps inertia away.  If no projects got materialized in the past year one needs to probe deeper. Nobody doubts the enthusiasm and creativity which projects infuse the class routine with. Project work offers a dynamic and multifaceted approach to learning and fosters a range of competencies which are valuable in students' academic and personal development.

Text by: Zafi Mandali

“I have a dream that has not yet been realized; I would like students, not to learn what their teachers teach them, but to be people who solve problems in the outside world that their teachers bring to them. The job of school principals should be to go out into the real world and find tasks. I dream of schools working with real tasks, rather than learning about things in class. I want students to be citizens of the world”. Dorothy Heathcote, British drama teacher and academic, who devised the Mantle of the Expert, and the Commission model approaches to teaching across the curriculum, saw learning as a cycle spent in doing. Doing is always within a context. If the doing is to ever mean anything, there has to be some sense, some purpose. There is always a motive when you look below doing. There is an investment in motive”. Source: Rolling Role and the National Curriculum video, Tape 6 (University of Newcastle, 1993).

Now a few decades later and despite the research roaring over the benefits of “learning by doing”, we still have "chalk and talk" methods. We are away from what Dorothy Heathcote preached.  Learning is approached through lecturing and not through getting down to real work, to solving real problems of social, mathematical, physical, geographical, financial, health or environmental nature to name but a few.

Undeniably, teachers are deterred by long-term projects requiring detailed planning and monitoring. They are uncertain about negotiating, constantly supporting and monitoring students. Yet, the essence of project work is that students be given initiative and almost independently, with little support, find their own way about it.


Project work makes learning REAL when language is applied in contexts and topics students relate, care and want to learn about. 

Project work makes learning MEANINGFUL when students work on issues which intrigue them and add to their needs and learning experiences.

Project work makes learning CREATIVE when students unearth their divergent thinking, artistic expression and organizational skills in the process of planning their presentations, reports, videos and material.

Project work makes learning PERSONALISED when it accommodates diverse learning styles. As they research, analyze, evaluate and shift through the material they collect, students take responsibility for their own learning and through their self-directed learning they experience growth.

Project work makes learning COLLABORATIVE when students exchange information, delegate duties, negotiate content and evaluate their product. Through cooperation students problem-solve and develop interpersonal skills.

Project work makes learning SOCIAL when students overcome embarrassment, and openly express their own opinions. They experience what Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University called “growth mindset” and value the effort they put in their learning.

Project work makes learning MULTI MODAL when students incorporate various types of media and technology- written, oral, visual, digital-  for their final product. 

Project work makes assessment HOLISTIC as students’ performance is judged not only on grammar & vocabulary but also fluency, presentation, pronunciation and effort.


Compiling a list of project ideas is self-defeating due to the multiple variables involved. Projects directly relate to the language and age level of students, current events, coursebook material, interests, skills and preferences of teachers and students, the culture of the school on matters of project work and the means at the students’ disposal.  

Projects, individual or in groups, can be short or long term, simple or elaborate. They can be reading or writing, problem solving or decision-making, cross-curricular or project-based ones. The subject matter could be environmental, social, cultural, scientific, technological, story or literature book related. In fact, the sky is the limit for project work. The project ideas suggested here, barely scratch the surface, but can be adapted to language and age levels.

“I can’t imagine life without…” is a writing project to describe a particular person, thing or situation one is closely attached to and explain why.

“If I had a magic pencil, I would use it to …” invites students to allow wishful thinking to show how bonus power could be used.

“This is the country I want to explore …” is on researching a place and presenting it through PowerPoint or a travel brochure highlighting its popular attractions, local cuisine, cultural traditions and customs.  

“A day in the life of a ...” could be a fictional interview of a historical figure, scientist, author or book character whose story is intriguing. Students prepare questions and answers based on their research.

“This product is looking for you” could be part of an advertising campaign designed by students in flexible grouping.

“This is my scenario” is a project on role-playing skits on everyday situations devised by students. It can be turned into an illustrated story book featuring the students in role and does need work on editing.

 “Speak Truth to power” projects revolve around human or animal rights.

“Waste not” projects awaken environmental awareness, ecological empathy and caring for Mother Earth. It is based on the motto “whatever you look at, you look into and waste not”.    

Debating projects require perseverance, team spirit, training on persuasive speaking and listening skills and rigorous rehearsing of the required procedures.

Mock trial projects need painstaking effort but reward students who script a court case scenario and commission roles (lawyer, prosecutor, witness, etc.) and simulate the court environment and procedure. 

eTwinning projects extend beyond the school boundaries and open doors to the wider world.


The bottom line is that we should dare beyond a lecture-style class which gets students down with too much information and too many facts to absorb.  Experiment with the Socratic approach and use probing questions to invite student response. Give power to pupils and encourage autonomy. It is our duty to inspire meaningful, relevant and realistic projects which make students curious and waken their intrinsic motivation. We want to steer clear of passive learning which is at the absolute bottom of retention rates. We want to get students involved, focused, immersed. The end product will be worthwhile and rewarding. Further to this, unintentional learning will come into play. We will see incidental vocabulary acquisition coming from the context students bump into while researching for the project. 


  • Project-based Learning: A Pathway to Language Literacy and Employability with Patsy Egan.  YouTube Cambridge University Press
  • Elt Today Series #3: Task-based and Project-based Learning in ELT with Professor Rod Ellis, Curtin University, Australia, from  British Council Indonesia
  • Making Project-Based Learning more accessible for Multilingual students by Tan Huynh Eutopia articles, August 15, 2023
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