the power of projects

The Power of Projects

I remember the first project I ever did very clearly. It was with a class of intermediate level young teenage learners, and I was a little nervous about how it might go, as with anything you’re trying for the first time. There were lots of questions in my mind – are the students going to get into it? How am I going to manage the classroom? Will the students understand the learning benefits? What are the learning benefits of projects?

In any case, the project I had chosen was a ‘create your own island’ project which had been recommended to me by a colleague. As well as having to design their islands, the students had to add geographical features (vocabulary revision), design a flag (with reasons behind it), make a list of rules/laws for the island (modal verbs or obligation), create a national motto and national anthem. They also had to think about different attractions of the island and write an accompanying tourist brochure, enticing people to visit the island. At the end of the week, all the groups stood up and presented their islands, before voting on which one they’d most like to visit.

That was the result, but thing that struck me the most was just how much the students threw themselves into the task. The most common question I was asked throughout the process was: “Can we do X?”, to which I replied, “It’s your island, you can do whatever you like.” Their creativity really shone through, with the limits of this particular project seemingly endless, and the students really ran with that. They loved it. And with that, I was sold on using projects in my classes.

So why are projects so great to include in classes, especially short courses? Here are 10 reasons why.


  1. … can be used for all ages and for all levels – from young learners and teens to adults, projects are versatile enough to cater for everyone. By the same token they are perfect for mixed ability classes with students able to work at their own pace.
  2. … offer a change in focus and variety to the classroom – they can be posters, presentations, blogs, reports, performances, models, magazines, surveys, podcasts, videos or brochures.
  3. … effectively recycle language and develop themes – for example a unit on travel might end with a project requiring students to create a tour itinerary; or a unit on animals might be followed up with students researching and doing a poster presentation on endangered animals.
  4. … are learner centred – projects are naturally all about the students, with the teacher taking on a facilitating and advisory role, with the students taking the lead.
  5. … help develop 21st century learner skills – they give students the opportunity to be creative, to communicate and collaborate with each other and to think critically about the themes and what they’re producing.
  6. … can help develop information and media literacy skills – many projects require students to utilise the internet for research and to utilise different media for presenting them.
  7. … can be authentic with real world outcomes – for example a unit on the environment can be followed up by getting students to create an advert for promoting clean fun or planning a campaign to reduce the environmental footprint of your school.
  8. … are fun and motivating for students – because students are working together, being creative and are in control, they are naturally enjoyable.
  9. … integrate the four skills – generally speaking reading, writing, listening and speaking skills are utilised with projects, thus developing the learner as a whole.
  10. … develops learner autonomy – they give students the choice of how to complete a project, giving them the responsibility.

Considering all of that, the question shouldn’t be why should I use projects in class, but why shouldn’t you use projects in class?

Create Your Own Island Project Rubric

  1. Divide the class into groups of 3-4 and tell them that they are explorers who have discovered an island which they have claimed as their own.
  2. Explain that their first job is to give the island a name and then to map it, noting down the main geographical features (rivers, forests, beaches, mountains, lakes etc.) and giving them appropriate names, as well as any existing villages marking them on the map.
  3. Once they have done that, tell that they like the island so much, they’ve decided to stay and colonise it. For this they must create several things:
  • a flag
  • a national motto
  • a national anthem
  • rules/laws of the island to displayed on a poster

Other optional aspects (depending on the age/level/competency of the class and individual groups) which you can include are: religion, folklore, constitution, national dance.

  1. Tell them that they must now create a tourist brochure, encouraging people to visit their island. This could include information about the weather (best time of year to visit), the flora and fauna, sights, activities that can be done there, as well as any attractions you decide to build. Bring in examples of travel brochures to help them with ideas and which they can cut up for images.
  2. The groups present their islands to the class. When all the islands have been presented, the class vote for the one that they’d most like to visit. Alternatively, you can get students to display their islands etc. on the walls, with the students walking around and reading about them. They then decide which one they like the most (but they can’t choose their own), by marking it with star.

Do you use projects in class? Do your students enjoy them?

For more materials featuring projects for students, take a look at our course Impact, a 5-level series available in British and American English. Impact is a new five-level series in American and British English that helps teenage learners to better understand themselves, each other, and the world they live in.

By encouraging self-expression, global citizenship, and active participation, Impact motivates students to explore who they are and who they want to be, all while learning English! Impact is also available in split editions! You can also visit our website for more title information.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the NGL InFocus blog to not miss out on any of our series of posts on short courses coming up over the next 4 weeks! If you’d like accompanying material – why not also subscribe to our NGL Webinars – delivering at least one a month on engaging and relevant topics for teachers. Why not watch some of previous webinars exclusively designed for teachers of teenagers!

Author: Alex Warren

Alex Warren is a DELTA trained teacher trainer with over 14 years’ experience of working in ELT as a teacher, academic director and teacher trainer. Working for National Geographic Learning, Alex is driven by his passion for developing teachers on a global scale and helping them to reach their true potential. A firm believer in a communicative approach to language learning and student centred learning, Alex enjoys working with innovative, thought-provoking materials and presenting on a wide range of ELT-related topics.

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