Project (Fourth edition) (Levels 1–5)
Oxford University Press 2013
Once upon a time, in a distant country in the distant 90s, I was recommended the course Project English to use with my younger teenagers. It was good advice as Project English was a lot better than other material around at the time, combining a solid grammar syllabus with communicative tasks, including of course projects, which were all the rage at the time. It wasn’t just me who liked the book, and building on its success Project English has followed me in various reincarnations throughout my teaching career until we are here now with Project, the fourth edition, ‘inspiring the new generation’ as the blurb says.
A lot has changed since the 90s, technology especially. Project English came with some videos but that was it in terms of add-ons really. Fast forward twenty years, three editions, and a few grey hairs, and the first thing that strikes you about Project is the number of digital components. Aside from class CDs, there is a DVD with animated versions of the cartoons and stories in the Student’s Book, an iTools version of the Student’s Book, a CD-ROM with photocopiable activities and a test builder CD-ROM. For teachers lost in all this, the resources CD-ROM has workshops on how to use the technology in the package and beyond. Oh, and there’s an interleafed Teacher’s Book and Workbook too. Is that enough for you?
To be fair, all coursebooks, and even quite a few supplementary titles, come with multiple components these days and I wonder if teachers actually use everything available or, a deeper question, whether technology actually contributes to learning. However, whatever your personal attitude to technology, a former colleague, Lou McLaughlin, makes a very good point in a recent MET (2015: 48) that to some extent the younger generation expect a level of digital awareness and need to be accommodated to the medium.
The blurb cites continuity through the ‘proven Project methodology’. What exactly is ‘proven’? The syllabus has largely remained intact throughout the life of Project and I would say this is the strongest reason for the success of the series. There is a very transparent and logical grammar syllabus with vocabulary fed in through topics which are familiar and relevant to younger teenagers (10–14 or 15 years old). There is a gentle inductive approach to the grammar, presented through texts. Thus in Project 3 the students pick out sentences from the photostory with examples of the present continuous used for the future and then there are simple questions to get students to notice form and meaning. I suspect many teachers prefer traditional deductive presentations, and use them anyway, but the Project approach is done well.
Similarly, the vocabulary is appropriate and presented in a clear no-nonsense way. A classic example is the list of objects around the home in Project 1 – games console, mobile phone, etc. First, the list reflects teens’ changing interests – items like MP3 player didn’t exist back in the days of Project English – and the ‘Look at the pictures, listen and repeat presentation’ is foolproof. There is a lovely follow-up where students listen to people using the items and say what each one is. When students get on to Project 5, the threshold of the Intermediate level (Project does not reference itself to CEFR, curiously), the vocabulary is more challenging. Phrasal verbs come in but are provided for in a visual and concrete way. I love the photos of body art in the same book. The natural extension ‘Do you know anyone who has done these things?’ is simple but effective – two adjectives which come to mind a lot as you go through Project.
I feel there is a lot of reassuring continuity with previous editions but, technology aside, the new features are extra reading texts and a pronunciation section at the end of each book. The extra reading differs from that in the main material by being more authentic in genre (adaptations of stories, legends,etc.), longer and more challenging. Thus, even in Project 1 we have the classic tale of the town and country mouse and in Project 4 we have the Roman Horatius defending the bridge. The tasks accompanying the texts are mainly standard comprehension questions but the Teacher’s Book does point out communicative activities, such as making wall displays and dramatisations. Each text is on audio so they present excellent listening practice too. These texts are peripheral to the course proper but they definitely shouldn’t be ignored if you’ve got time. They could make for the best lessons.
I was particularly interested in the pronunciation, as this area is treated so scantily in pre-adult material, presumably on the assumption that young ones just pick it up. One rare example to buck the trend was Hotline, a book for older teenagers by the same author, which created some brilliant communicative pronunciation tasks, so I was curious whether Tom Hutchinson could recreate this for a slightly younger age group. In the main, he has, as there are some appealing task types throughout all the books: a stepping stone activity in Project 1, where you can only cross the river on stones with a schwa; building a tower with -ed sounds in Project 2; finding the odd vowel out in Project 4. Most of the tasks are the standard listen and repeat but there is a genuine attempt here to make pronunciation actually palatable. Well done, Tom!
Finally, what about the projects in Project? Some of these were a bit lame in previous editions and teachers tended to rush over or skip them. The projects are still central to the course and serve to pull all the language together in a way that allows students control over the process and product involved. I think that through successive editions the projects have improved in content, appeal and the degree of support given. To illustrate, after a unit on food in Project 2, there is a class project to present what learners eat in their country. Lots of examples of end products are provided, from a video clip to a good food guide for their area, and there is a song to give extra inspiration. This is not the most original project idea in the world but it is set up carefully to enable students with a still basic language resource to create something meaningful. The Teacher’s Book here and elsewhere is also methodical in preparing teachers unfamiliar with a project methodology.
Project is a fairly traditional course with the strong grammar syllabus and tasks which offer clear expectations of student performance. Teachers new to it can be advised that it will be a very safe option in the vast majority of classrooms.
McLaughlin L (2015) Technology in the classroom: what do young learners think?
Modern English Teacher 24 (1) 46–48.
Wayne Rimmer is author of Cambridge Active Grammar, a practice grammar for teenagers.