InterCom, a customizable weekly newsletter for language professionals, is provided by the Center for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS) at the University of Oregon. InterCom is sponsored through a Title VI Language Resource Center grant.

Topic of the Week: Project-Based Language Learning: The Basics

By the Staff of the National Foreign Language Resource Center (

Project-based language learning (PBLL) may strike you as a recent buzzword, but its history can be traced back to the early 1900s (see, for instance, Stevenson, 1921). Nowadays we know more about how people learn languages, and new technology enables us to put together highly engaging language learning experiences. So what exactly is PBLL now? We define PBLL as an articulated series of activities, motivated by real-world needs and driven by the learners' interest, whose common goal is to improve language learners’ communicative competence in the target language through the construction of products. PBLL should provide a high level of learner autonomy; invite critique and revision; promote the use of skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and intercultural communication (also described as 21st Century Skills, Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2014); and include the sharing of the constructed product with a target audience. The six tenets explained below constitute the backbone of PBLL.

Projects bring learners face-to-face with real-world situations that have a real audience and require the use of the target language. That is, learning is organized around real world activities. The starting point of a project is an engaging central question (Blumenfeld et al., 1991) which learners can relate to and feel motivated to address. In ideal cases, the central or driving question is crafted by the learners themselves. Related to this idea is the notion that thematic content should be significant, that is, of interest to the learners and guided by standards. Language learning is facilitated by giving learners just-in-time instruction addressing the language learners’ need to successfully complete the project task at hand.

Just-in-time instruction is related to the second tenet: PBLL instruction is learner-centered. Because content is student-driven and language is taught on a need-to-know basis, instruction becomes an activity that is centered on the needs of the learners. Specifically, language learning focuses on the language knowledge that the learners need to acquire in order to complete the project. This is related to the idea that PBLL content should be significant, that is, perceived as important for the learners to learn.

Collaboration is an integral part of learning. As human endeavor becomes more and more technically complex and knowledge-intensive, collaboration becomes ever more critical. This is why collaboration (along with critical thinking, communication, and creativity) is listed as one of the 21st century skills. When teachers incorporate collaboration in instructional design,  language learning becomes a more cooperative and social undertaking, and the instructor takes on a more facilitative role. Projects that incorporate structured international collaboration offer the potential to foster intercultural competence (Godwin-Jones, 2013). The concept of collaboration in PBLL not only implies engagement in the process but also in assessment.

Because PBLL is a process defined by a sequence of learning activities, assessment has a dual purpose: guide the process and measure progress. PBLL assessment is typically collaborative (participants and their audience are involved), formative (occurs periodically and informs learning) and multidimensional (encompasses the entire experience, including both the process that learners engage in as well as the resulting product).

In PBLL, the role of the instructor is that of a knowledgeable participant and facilitator. The instructor provides different types of scaffolding to ensure that learners can successfully complete the project. Typically, four types of scaffolding are needed in a project: project process scaffolds (for example, providing students an outline of the phases of the project; see Nekrasova & Becker, 2012), content scaffolds (for example, engaging learners in activities that activate prior knowledge of a topic), language scaffolds (for example, providing just-in-time instruction or glossaries of key words to understand authentic materials), and final product scaffolds (for example, providing a template for the final product). Keep in mind that the learners themselves can be given the role of the knowledgeable participant at different points in the process and be charged with providing scaffolding for other learners.

Modern technologies now make it possible to provide an unprecedented level of authenticity in PBLL as language learners can connect with peers around the globe and interact with worldwide communities in rich and engaging learning experiences. Authenticity in PBLL is propelled by two requirements: projects entail the creation of a real-world product and involve a real audience. Project authenticity can range from the political, such as addressing social or environmental injustice in a community, to the personal, such as examining spending habits or time management.

If you would like to learn more about PBLL, please consider participating in the University of Hawai‘i National Foreign Language Resource Center’s 2015 PBLL Online Institute ( and Intensive Summer Institute (


Blumenfeld, P. C., Soloway, E., Marx, R. W., Krajcik, J. S., Guzdial, M., & Palincsar, A. (1991). Motivating project-based learning: Sustaining the doing, supporting the learning. Educational Psychologist, 26, 369–398.

Godwin-Jones, R. (2013). Integrating intercultural competence into language learning through technology. Language Learning & Technology, 17(2), 1–11. Retrieved from

Nekrasova, T., & Becker, A. (2012). Integrating STEM topics in the foreign language classroom promising practices for foreign language instruction 1. National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition. Retrieved from

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2014). Framework for 21st century learning. Retrieved from

Stevenson, J. A. (1921). The project method of teaching. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company.

Weinstein, G. (2006). “Learners’ lives as curriculum:” An integrative project-based model for language learning. In G. H. Beckett & P.C. Miller (Eds.), Project-based second and foreign language education. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Activity of the Week

  • Cuentos Infantiles (Children's Stories)

    By the Staff of the National Foreign Language Resource Center (

    A project for intermediate/advanced level language learners

    Adapted from


    The backbone of a project consists of a series of articulated activities leading to the creation of authentic products that are presented to a real audience (see this week's Topic of the Week article). After the project is launched, the role of the teacher is to guide learners through the project by helping them identify and learn what they need to know in order to successfully complete the project. With the end in mind, the teacher also facilitates the process by adapting activities or designing new ones and by scaffolding several aspects of the project, including the project process, content, language and the final product. Language learning activities suggested in previous CASLS InterCom issues are a valuable resource to help you structure a project such as the one we describe here.

    Project Description

    “As beginning learners, how can we create stories that will impress and engage Spanish-speaking children?” That is the driving question in the Cuentos Infantiles (Children's Stories) project. US children learning Spanish write and publish a book of children’s stories (authentic product) in Spanish and share it with Spanish-speaking students (real audience) at a partner school in Mexico. Learners from the partner school read the book (stories) and create videos based on those stories, which are then shared with the learners of Spanish.

    Sample InterCom Activity Sequence

    CASLS InterCom has a rich catalogue of existing activities. Click here for examples of how a teacher might compile InterCom activities and sequence them to support a project such as the one we described above.

CASLS Spotlight: New Additions to the CASLS Team

CASLS is excited to welcome three additions to the team!

Renee Marshall is working with CASLS part time as a Curriculum Consultant. Renee completed her MA in Romance Languages at the University of Oregon in 2014 and has taught Spanish and French at the high school level and will be working on many of CASLS' curriculum development and support projects. Renee's favorite thing about working at CASLS is "being part of the community and knowing that I am contributing to the field of language teaching and learning."

Patricia Roldán Marcos comes to CASLS as an MA student in the Language Teaching Specialization program in the UO Department of Linguistics. She will be focusing on curriculum design, classroom implementation support, and professional development. Patricia says of CASLS, "Working at CASLS means a lot to me. It's a great opportunity to grow professionally and gain experience in the language teaching world in the US. It's fascinating to have a non-teaching position for a change and I'm looking forward to contributing to, and learning from, everyone here!"

Jeff Whitaker is an MA student in Psychology working with CASLS on research and design for curricular projects involving measuring social engagement. He will be working on Human Subjects protocols, assisting in research design, and collecting and analyzing data about teaching and learning. Jeff says, "I am excited to be using psychological research findings in an applied setting to aid students in second language acquisition."

We are excited to have Renee, Patricia and Jeff at CASLS and look forward to working with them!

Language Corner

Integrating ELL Students in General Education Classes

Source: Edutopia
Language: ESL/Bilingual Back to Quick Links


Integrating ELL Students in General Education Classes
by Dorit Sasson
December 1, 2014

"Most general education teachers of ELLs (English-language learners) will tell you they are usually doing one of two things to support their readers. They are figuring out either the best way to teach them within a full-class inclusion, or what kind of activities can suit their abilities within a full-class framework. That's the only way to ensure engaging them in a situation where it's often very easy to lose them.

"...Conducting ongoing formal and informal pre-tests is crucial for customizing lessons and ultimately making learning fun. These assessments should give an overview of who can read, speak, and write, and to what degree. When teachers can identify key areas of need, they can use that knowledge to plan engaging lessons consisting of language-based tasks."

Read the full article, which includes a sample reading lesson, here:

Student Video Contest about Population Growth Issues

Source: World of 7 Billion
Language: ESL/Bilingual Back to Quick Links


Here is another idea for Project-Based Language Learning: a video contest for high school students addressing one of the following population-related global challenges:

  • The world is in the midst of the sixth mass extinction.
  • Most of the world's suitable farmland is already under cultivation.
  • Worldwide, 1 in 10 primary school age children and 1 in 3 secondary age children are not enrolled in school.

The deadline for video submissions is February 19, 2015.

For full details go to

Two Free Posters from the British Council

Source: British Council
Language: ANY Back to Quick Links

Here are two free posters you can download, one with rooms in a house and the other with foods:

Substitute Day and Filler Activities

Source: Subdays
Language: ANY Back to Quick Links

Janelle Afrasiab's Subdays website has activities that she has created that can be used with no preparation, on nearly any day - great for days when you'll be gone or when you have some extra time at the end of class.

Explore the resources at

Solutions for Less Commonly Taught Languages

Source: lingholic
Language: ANY Back to Quick Links


Meredith, a linguist who did her M.Sc. in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition at the University of Oxford, discusses the challenge of finding the right materials for LCTL and cites a few new free and for pay digital tools like, GLOSS and Declan that can help.

Access this resource:

Use Scenes from a Film or Story for Go Fish! and Other Games

Source: The Comprehensible Classroom
Language: ANY Back to Quick Links


Spanish teacher Martina Bex laminates scenes from movies and other stories to make a deck of cards. She describes not only how students can play Go Fish! with these cards, but also where they fit within her teaching and some other ideas for using the deck once it's been made:

Steps to Proficiency-oriented Classrooms

Source: MultiBriefs
Language: ESL/Bilingual Back to Quick Links


Steps to proficiency-oriented classrooms
by Douglas Magrath
December 10, 2014

"When making steps toward proficiency-oriented classrooms, authentic material is used as much as possible, and students are encouraged to interact with each other and express their own ideas beyond the book lesson. In addition, students need to transfer their ESL skills to their academic subjects or careers.

"...The goal of the proficiency movement is to have the learners create with language rather than learn and repeat materials. Learners do more than just know about the language or recite lists. They are trained to use their skills outside of the classroom in a variety of situations and contexts. The movement is changing materials goals and approaches to teaching."

Read the full article at chttp://From Steps to proficiency-oriented classrooms by Douglas Magrath December 10, 2014 "When making steps toward proficiency-oriented classrooms, authentic material is used as much as possible, and students are encouraged to interact with each other and express their own ideas beyond the book lesson. In addition, students need to transfer their ESL skills to their academic subjects or careers. "...The goal of the proficiency movement is to have the learners create with language rather than learn and repeat materials. Learners do more than just know about the language or recite lists. They are trained to use their skills outside of the classroom in a variety of situations and contexts. The movement is changing materials goals and approaches to teaching." Read the full article at

Quick Facts about Language Immersion Education

Source: CARLA
Language: ANY Back to Quick Links


Learn more about language immersion (including dual language immersion and heritage language immersion) in this one page "Did you know?" collection of highlights, shared by Dr. Tara Williams Fortune of the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition:

Generation One: Series of Articles about Immigrants in Texas

Source: Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Language: ESL/Bilingual Back to Quick Links


In Texas, one in three children has a parent who's an immigrant -- or they're immigrants themselves. They have to learn a new language, adapt to a different culture and try to fit into a community that may not embrace newcomers. Follow these first-generation Texans and the educators weaving them into the American tapestry in this series of articles from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting:

Getting Started with Project-Based Language Learning

Source: NFLRC
Language: ANY Back to Quick Links

If you decide to use PBLL, this is a great time to start thinking about language learning projects for your students for next semester. In addition to this sample project, here are a few ideas that may help inspire you:

  • Existing projects are always a good place to start. The Buck Institute for Education, for example, maintains a database of projects, some of which are language-learning specific. Projects such as Story Corps, One in 8 Million, and the TED Open Translation Project are also good models to create mini-projects that replicate their features. Existing media repositories, such as the MIT Open Documentary Lab are also a good place for inspiration.

  • Websites with general project ideas often offer concepts that can be scaled to an international audience and multilingual purpose, for example this page from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, or this one from Global Youth Service Day. Ideas such as “Make cards or write letters - for kids in hospitals, troops and veterans, or senior citizens in local nursing homes” can be easily turned into a language project. Making contact with a hospital in a foreign country can result in a very authentic and meaningful language project.

  • Look for opportunities in your local community. A project such as “Help prepare your family for a disaster – and make sure your neighbors are ready too!” (from: can target TL speakers in the local community by creating a product that is relevant and useful. Or a documentary such as this one may be replicated based on local immigrants’ stories.

  • Explore connnections with sister cities ( They offer an authentic audience and projects may receive support from local governments or communities, which makes them more tangible and exciting to learners.

  • Look into international organizations that might have existing projects and community connections (e.g., there may be a charter in your own community). For example, a project such as this one could include language materials such as a letter from L2 learners explaining the importance of vitamins to the recipients of the donations.

  • Participate in the University of Hawai‘i National Foreign Language Resource Center’s 2015 PBLL Online Institute and Intensive Summer Institute to connect with colleagues interested in PBLL.

Professional Development

TESOL’s Electronic Village Online

Source: TESOL
Content Area: ANY Back to Quick Links


For five weeks in January and February, TESOL experts and participants from around the world engage in collaborative online discussions or hands-on virtual workshops of professional and scholarly benefit. These sessions bring together participants for a longer period of time than is permitted by land-based professional development conventions and allow a fuller development of ideas than is otherwise possible.

Sessions are free and open to anyone around the globe. It is not necessary to attend the TESOL Convention in order to participate. All you need is access to the Internet. Choose a session from this year's offerings, listed at

Of special note is a five-week online workshop about flipped learning, hosted on the University of Oregon’s ANVILL 2 platform ( Learn more about this workshop at

Registration is from January 5 to January 11, 2015.

Southwest Conference on Language Teaching 2015 Conference

Source: SWCOLT
Content Area: ANY Back to Quick Links


The Colorado Congress of Foreign Language Teachers is hosting the SWCOLT conference at the beautiful Denver Omni Interlocken in Broomfield, Colorado, on February 27-28, 2015. (Pre-conference workshops are Thursday, February 26.)

Conference Theme: Effective Teaching: Soaring a Mile Higher

Visit the conference website to learn more and to register at!conference/c1o4a


Book: Teaching Languages Through the Lens of Social Justice

Source: ACTFL Back to Quick Links


Words and Actions: Teaching Languages Through the Lens of Social Justice
By Cassandra Glynn, Pamela Wesely, and Beth Wassell
Published by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages

According to the authors, a social justice curriculum positively influences all students. Social justice, critical pedagogy, and culturally relevant teaching are becoming essential as more and more language educators teach in increasingly diverse world language classrooms. This new publication supports in-service and pre-service teachers in recognizing their students' diverse backgrounds while also supporting students' ability to think critically about the world around them. Questioning mainstream approaches to language and culture learning is vital. An emphasis on social justice is, in part, a way to expand the definition and scope of language education, leading to further innovation in the profession.

Visit the publisher's website at

Book: Language and Linguistic Diversity in the US

Source: Routledge Back to Quick Links


Language and Linguistic Diversity in the US: An Introduction
By Susan Tamasi and Lamont Antieau
Published by Routledge Taylor & Francis Group

This textbook presents a linguistic view of the history, society, and culture of the United States. It discusses the many languages and forms of language that have been used in the US – including standard and nonstandard forms of English, creoles, Native American languages, and immigrant languages from across the globe – and shows how this distribution and diversity of languages has helped shape and define America as well as an American identity. The volume introduces the basic concepts of sociolinguistics and the politics of language through cohesive, up-to-date and accessible coverage of such key topics as dialectal development and the role of English as the majority language, controversies concerning language use in society, languages other than English used in the US, and the policies that have directly or indirectly influenced language use.

Visit the publisher's website at

What Will it Take To Double Study Abroad?

Source: IIE Back to Quick Links


Here is a green paper from the Institute of International Education that summarizes the "Big 11 Ideas" from IIE's Generation Study Abroad think tank in March this last year:

Book: Cultural Memory of Language

Source: Bloomsbury Publishing Back to Quick Links


Cultural Memory of Language
By Susan Samata
Published by Bloosbury Publishing

The Cultural Memory of Language looks at unintended monolingualism - a lack of language fluency in a migratory cultural situation where two or more languages exist at 'home'. It explores family history and childhood language acquisition and attrition. What is the present everyday experience of language use and life between two cultures? Examining interview data, Samata uncovers a sense of inauthenticity felt by people who do not fully share a parent's first language. Alongside this features a sense of concurrent anger, and a need to assign blame. Participation in the language, even to the extent of phatic or formulaic phraseology, occasions feelings of authentic linguistic and cultural inclusion. The book thus uncovers appreciable (and measurable) benefits in positive self-image and a sense of well-being. Looking at how people view language is essential - how they view the language they call their own is even more important and this book does just that in a qualified applied linguistic environment.

Visit the publisher's website at

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