The Comprehensible Classroom

SOMOS does not include projects. 

We know that communicative ability develops through acts of communication, and in the beginning stages, learners benefit the most from interpretive communication. If you feel like you want to explore projects, we encourage teachers to ask themselves: can I make this [project]  a COMMUNICATIVE activity, from start to finish? Or, will it end up being mostly project-y/forced output-y with a little bit of true communication sprinkled in here and there? 

Even if you determine that you can't find a way to make it communicative, period, or comprehension-based especially, you may determine that the class culture value is enough to include it anyway. While we don't believe that class has to be all-acquisition, all-the-time, but we do think we need to be very strategic about the choices that we make to spend time on activities that have little value for language acquisition.  

Some other reasons why we generally avoid projects:

  • Projects are usually not level appropriate.  Most teachers overestimate what their students can and “should be able to” do and most projects involve specific, contextualized vocabulary that will require time to look up and memorize, as well as discourse beyond their level. A good rule of thumb is “if they struggle with the activity, it is too hard of a task for them.” 
  • If the students have to produce something to share with others, either it is generally low quality (because they don’t have the language yet) or it requires a great deal of time consuming editing and correction on the part of the teacher.
  • Research in second language acquisition (SLA) tells us that practice is unnecessary for language acquisition. Students do not need to speak or practice to acquire. For more reading on this, Dr. Bill VanPatten’s book,  While We’re on the Topic (ACTFL 2017) is a quick, easy read. 
  • Dr. Bill VanPatten also talks a bit about project based tasks in chapter 6 of While We're on the Topic, and points out that project based tasks are not intended to practice language, nor are they appropriate for beginners. He gives some solid examples of tasks that might work in upper levels. He also speaks very specifically about Project Based Learning (PBL) in Target Language. 
"Most PBL is beyond what students of language can do at the lower levels. Imported from educational contexts, PBL assumes ability with language. This is why it is a popular approach for learning science, history, and other subjects; speakers work in their first language to complete PBL projects, but beginning students don't have skills in the second language equivalent to their first language skills. So PBL in languages might be better for more advanced language proficiency levels." 

VanPatten, Bill. While We're on the Topic. American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 2017, p. 90

For more information about Projects and Project Based Learning, including SOMOS teachers' experiences working with projects, please see this article from our "You want to know about.." series on Projects and PBL.   

Did you find it helpful? Yes No

Send feedback
Sorry we couldn't be helpful. Help us improve this article with your feedback.