Techniques

Beyond exam success – using projects to supplement exam classes

Daniel Vincent

Daniel has taught English for over fifteen years in the UK, Japan and Spain and has experience in materials and course development. He currently works as a teacher and coordinator for the British Council in Madrid and is authoring a new teens course for Cambridge University Press.

As teachers, one of the fundamentals of our job is to impart subject knowledge. English language teachers have a lot to cover, not only grammar and vocabulary, but also pronunciation, functional language, discourse and register. However, for those us who teach young learners and teenagers, it’s no longer enough simply to teach what we know of our subject. Our students are coming of age in a rapidly changing world, a world where key life competencies are as crucial for success as subject knowledge itself.

In both higher education and the world of work, we’re seeing an ever-growing need for people to work together and find creative solutions to shared problems, to respect the views of others and to resolve conflicts in a fair and peaceful manner. In order to help our students prepare for this world, indeed to thrive in it, we therefore need to give them opportunities to develop such skills as collaboration, creative and critical thinking and learning to learn.

Incorporating projects into learning

One of the best ways to do this is through collaborative project work. As an English language teacher, you’re probably no stranger to having your students work together; pair work and group work having long been part of our professional repertoire. Truly collaborative projects, however, actively develop a range of sub skills, including brainstorming, decision-making, negotiation, assigning roles, time-keeping and giving feedback.

Although most strongly associated with general English courses and course books, project work is increasingly included in exam prep courses and course books. After all, the importance of developing the key competencies applies equally to students preparing for exams as it does to general English students and teachers increasingly want to be able to include project work in these courses as well. Not only are more and more regional and national curricula requiring teachers of all subjects to build life skills into their lessons, but teachers themselves are becoming ever more aware of the need to take a more holistic and less teacher-centred approach to education.

Downloadable class projects

With this in mind, Cambridge has begun developing a series of class projects to accompany the Compact Key and Compact Preliminary Second Edition exam preparation books. These projects not only tie in with the language and topics covered in the respective units of each book, but are also matched to the Cambridge Life Competencies Framework which gives teachers guidance on how the skills outlined above relate to English language teaching, making it clear both for the teacher and the students exactly which skills they are working on. They also include teacher’s notes and student self-reflection. Examples of these projects, which you can download, are:

Level A2

  • An interview with a fictional school student about his/her life
  • A class survey about free-time activities
  • A recipe for a typical meal from another country

 

Level B1

 

Supplementary work, especially in the form of collaborative projects, actually reinforces the language and skills students need for the exam. Teachers can therefore be confident that time spent doing class projects not only adds variety to the course and helps develop the life competencies outlined above, but also helps get students ready for exam success as well.

Whether you are preparing a group for an exam or are simply eager to help your students prepare for the world beyond the classroom, I encourage you to try out some of our new class projects. Let us know in the comments how they go and check back for more as we continue to create extra projects!

You can find several examples of collaborative projects, from building towers to recording pilot episodes of new dramas, in Daniel’s series of blog posts here.


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