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by Erica Fischer on May 27, 2011

PBL in world language class: tips, strategies, & tools

They CAN build accomplish PBL in the target language!

They CAN build something meaningful in the target language!

Thanks to all our dedicated #LangChat twitter participants who shared great ideas and resources on PBL (project-based learning) in the world language classroom. Thanks especially to the moderators, Don Doehla and Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@dr_dmd and @SECottrell). Below you’ll find an overview of the discussion we had Thursday night with all the main points that participants shared. You can read the entire archive here.

We had an insightful conversation on project-based learning, including:
  • participants’ ideas of what exactly this method is
  • examples of successful projects, and
  • how to implement it in the classroom (including how to win parents’ approval).

Participants also shared a TON of resources on project-based learning–be sure to check out their suggestions below!

The PBL Method

At its base, project-based learning is using projects in the classroom to further learning and the demonstration of learning, says @dr_dmd. It’s heavily connected to performance-based assessment as a way to demonstrate second language proficiency, but is also a great teaching method. There are seven essential elements to a project, according to the project-based learning model:
  1. A need to know
  2. A driving question
  3. Student voice and choice
  4. Twenty-first century skills
  5. Inquiry and innovation
  6. Feedback and revision
  7. A publicly presented product


How Often Should We Use Projects in the World Language Classroom?

Teachers use project-based learning in a variety of schedules.
  • “I typically teach a thematic unit that includes a project as part of the unit assessment.” @dr_dmd
  • “I like to include a project for each topic where the students combine all the new material they have learned.” @profesorM
  • “I model the projects in small pieces throughout the unit. This helps students to see the big picture more quickly.” @kaleestahr
  • “We dedicate all of spring to presentations so that students spend the entire semester just talking, with less emphasis on writing.” @cadamsf1

Should PBL Replace Tests as Assessment Tools?

Many teachers were excited at the idea of using project-based learning as formal assessments, without the use of other tests. Other participants said that there is still room for tests in the classroom, but to assess other elements of a student’s proficiency.
  • “I don’t use your typical tests. Instead, my students’ performance assessments for projects have a grade and are listed and considered as tests.” @SECottrell
  • “I use Realidades to create project-based learning assessments in lieu of the standard textbook tests.” @kaleestahr
  • “I still use written tests to assess accuracy of expression, but also like the idea of performance assessments having a formal grade and being considered as tests. It’s important to ask, ‘What can the students DO with the language?'” @dr_dmd


Presenting Project-based Learning to Parents

Several teachers mentioned that it’s sometimes difficult to effectively sell project-based learning as an assessment method to parents, especially for new teachers, and shared their thoughts on how to do so.
  • “I think, as a new teacher, when you can support your reasons for your approach, parents don’t question you. It’s all about support.” @kaleestahr
    • “This is even easier if you also have support from administrators (@mmebrady), and you can get administration support by showing them the results.” (@dr_dmd).
  • “Parents must see the seventh element of the project-based learning method in order to buy in: 7) A publicly presented product. Parents are convinced when they see the results! Students’ products are evidence of LEARNING–not test scores, which are abstract.” @dr_dmd
    • “I agree. My students’ Web sites at the end of the semester, instead of finals, were a big hit with parents.” @cadamsf1
  • “I think part of it has to be keeping students and parents both informed on proficiency standards and expectations.” @SECottrell
    • “We talk about students presenting their work publicly–maybe teachers can present rubrics, project-based learning descriptions, etc., publicly too.” @pamwesely
    • “We are going to have a seminar at the beginning of the semester in order to help parents understand how language learning happens.” @cadamsfl


Examples of Successful Projects to Use in the World Language Classroom:

@dr_dmd shared a Level 1 example of PBL: students make a menu for a restaurant, write a script for the scene and video the presentation.  As for finding the authentic audience, he mentioned using to share and create stories with other countries. Students can create comic strips, manga, poems, short stories and videos to share with epals in French-speaking countries. Students post stories, then their counterparts can read and comment in them. Don said, “Here we have examples of real communication, spontaneous and FUN!”

Several others shared examples:

  • “I like to give choices for projects to the students. This plays on their strengths and the results are usually much better than when I don’t.” @MmeNero
  • “My students make Google sites right now as their assessments.” @cadamsf1
  • “I’m loving Google Apps for sharing, editing and collaborating student work. Also, for an AP project students promoted a certain town to be a stage of the Tour de France. We learned about cycling and topography in France and loved it! Another suggestion is to have students do a review of a French movie for a French-speaking audience.” @madamebaker
  • “For a natural disaster unit, have students make a journal of the aftermath including news reports and movie trailers.” @kaleestahr
  • “Have students make a Vocaroo describing a sporting event on YouTube. Or let students make a Linoit to describe three sports, including pictures of athletes and videos.” @ProfesorM
  • “I had my students phone in their AP oral presentations–so great to review them on my iPod.” @SECottrell
  • Students benefit from “chunking” steps to projects. Some good tools are:
  • What’s not good? Many teachers expressed their dislike of scripts for use in presentations. As @dr_dmd summed up: No scripts for project-based learning presentations. Only a note card or PPT to guide a speech, for example.
Project-based Learning Resources:
Thanks again to all the participants, and be share to join us next week for another informative discussion! In the meantime, be sure to visit and contribute to @dr_dmd’s wiki on project-based learning at


Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.


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