Penguins in the classroom: a process oriented product approach

Roger Hunt

The traditional discrete item approach usually results in the students going home with a few notes in their books, usually things that the teacher has written on the board. These might be well-organised notes with information on meaning, form and pronunciation accompanied by diagrams and examples, or they might be barely legible scribblings that were splashed up on the board haphazardly and copied even more haphazardly. Headings for such notes are usually the date on which they were taken or the teacher's name rather than something more readily accessible such as 'Using past tenses in narrative'. The notes students make usually reflect not just the content of the lesson, but also the approach taken by the teacher.

An alternative is to start planning a lesson by thinking about what the students will take home as a result of it. This could be a set of useful notes as described above or it could be something the student has produced such as a quiz, a tourist guide pamphlet to the local area or a video of a play written by the students (these last two will take longer than one lesson of course). This approach used to be called Project Based Learning; it is associated with Content Teaching or Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) as it tends to be called at this time.

The approach is quite simple:

  • Give a model eg: a quiz about penguins
  • Get the students to analyse it in some way
  • Get them to parallel the model eg: write their own quiz, integrating the language features they noticed during the analysis stage

Alternatively there might not be a model, and therefore no analysis stage; the students simply get started on their 'product' eg: the quiz, and the teacher helps out reactively via correction. This approach requires a sufficient level of ability in the foreign language for the student to make a reasonable attempt with his or her current interlanguage level.

Rationale

1. Motivation
Most people who work in the field of education would probably agree that a student's motivation is one key to their successful learning. One way to enhance motivation is to provide a sense of purpose, achievement and direction. Taking home a 'product' that the student has created can provide these and enhance motivation.

2. Natural language use
Language is used for doing things, for getting things done. A list of irregular past tense verbs, or a conjugation table of the verb to be, for example, are abstract and not representative of natural language use; it is not necessarily the case that the student will, as a result, use these in any meaningful, communicative way. Creating a product is a purpose in itself: it represents a thing done, using language to do it.

3. Autonomy
Students can select topics according to their interests. They can work at home as well as in the classroom.

4. Flexibility
Projects can be very short term and achievable in one class period, or they can be spread over a much longer time span perhaps devoting just a part of each class to the project.

Types of project/product

  • News articles about local or world events
  • Crosswords
  • Reviews of books, films or music
  • Biographies
  • Quizzes about history, geography, penguins, learning English, sports etc
  • Surveys and interviews with tourists, other teachers, other English speakers (these can all be put together as a magazine)
  • Write a sketch and perform/video it
  • Overdub a documentary or narrative on an existing video

 

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