Project Based Learning: How to Create Engaging and Meaningful Learning Experiences Online

You can use activities and materials focused on Project-Based Learning to inspire your online English classroom.

What is PBL, exactly?

In a project-based learning (PBL) lessons, students engage in a real-world, authentic task and create a final product. In a remote ESL lesson, they do project based learning online.

In this type of lesson, students work together to identify a question and then work together again to answer it. Through this process, they set and prioritize goals and gain knowledge by addressing essential questions or lines of inquiry. At the end, the students create a product that demonstrates their skills and content knowledge (e.g., report, presentation, video, etc.). The approach can be used with a traditional ESL PPP lesson plan, too.

Teach Project Based Learning Online: How can we unleashing the Potential of PBL?

Successfully using Project-Based Learning activities and materials will create more peer-to-peer learning, as well as more active engagement from your students. The approach can be used for adults or children, and works particularly well in small group classes. The main steps are as follows:

  • Break into Groups: Have students form groups uing Zoom Break Out Rooms
  • Use Collaboration Tools: Prepare Jamboards, Google Slide, shared Whiteboards or shared drawing tools for your student groups. Be sure to tailor the lesson tools depending on your student’s tech requirements. If they are working from their phones, you can still use Jamboards and Slide presentations, but don’t overwhelm the students with too many resources. If they are on a desktop, you can expect them to have more tabs open simultaneously.,
  • Break into Groups: Have students form groups uing Zoom Break Out Rooms

Example of a Project-Based Learning Lesson

This is how I modified a portion of a lesson I taught as part of a Health and Well-being unit to be more project-based.

Standard Lesson:

As part of this lesson, I asked students to complete The BBC Well-being scale. This questionnaire attempts to measure how happy you generally feel in most parts of your life. Students selected the responses that best described their experience. For example, the questionnaire asked, “Are you happy with your physical health?” Or “Are you happy with the quality of your sleep?” and students chose from answers such as “not at all,” “a little,” “moderately,” or “very much.” 

Project-Based Learning Lesson:

Next time I lead this lesson, I will use a Project-based approach and ask students to brainstorm potential well-being questions themselves. Then, in groups, I will instruct them to create a questionnaire of their own. This final product would demonstrate their skills and content knowledge. 

If you are wondering how to make a project-based learning lesson, you can follow the template bellow while scaffolding your lesson as needed. The steps to make a lesson that is project-based are simple.

1. Find a question. Instructor and/or learners identify an essential question or line of inquiry. This is an opportunity for encouraging brainstorming, or warm up activities, or pre-reading activities.

2. Make a plan. The teacher explains the project plan to the students

3. Students work together. The students complete the tasks of the project while collaborating, possible in small break-out rooms on Zoom if you are teaching online, or any other way you want to group students to foster peer-to-peer learning and authentic conversations. This is a great time to introduce brainstorming techniques to your students, too.

4. The teacher helps. You, as the teacher, facilitate and monitor the students as they progress through the project’s tasks.

5. Students Present. The ESL students complete the project and present their work to each other. This can be in the form of a Google Slide Presentation or a Jamboard or Designing a questionnaire, etc. Presenting online to a group can be tricky, so you have to aide your students here.

As always, create lots of assessment opportunities throughout the lesson. You should have some formative assessments throughout the lesson to be sure the lesson makes sense for your students and to change it if needed. For example, you can ask them CCQ Comprehension Checking Questions when you monitor them in groups and oversee their progress while working toward their task. After the lesson, you should also have a summative assessment. This can be in the form of peer feedback on their own projects. For example, you can have students write responses and feedback to other teams of students, or you can have them complete a rubric and self-assess their own project.

This gives you, the Instructor, as well as the students a chance to reflect on the project.

The Benefits of Project-Based Learning

There are many benefits of project based learning in the online classroom. This kind of lesson is great for an online classroom because it challenges your students to use a variety of soft skills, such as communication and collaboration and higher thinking skills, as well. This lesson strategy is rigorous and engaging and it

In addition, you can design the project so it relates the students needs. I suggest giving your students a Needs Assessment before you teach a unit, and then design a Project Based Learning activity after you know the students needs in order to maximize the impact of the lesson. Lessons can relate to a student’s career goals, their community needs, or even various academic subjects.

Finally, this approach prepares your students for postsecondary and career transitions, where they will be expected to be self-motivated and self-lead.

If you are interested in learning more, you may want to check out the posts below.

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Ingrid Maria Pimsner, MA, BA, TEFL
Ingrid Maria Pimsner, MA, BA, TEFL

Ingrid Maria Pimsner has been teaching for over a decade in various universities, nonprofits, and private academies. She has taught English as a Second Language for Lutheran Children & Family Service, Nationalities Service Center, Lernstudio Barbarossa Berlin-Tegel, and more. In addition to her Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certification, she holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and a MA from Maryland Institute College of Art.