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February 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 1

ISSN 1755-9715

ELT Today: Action, Motivation, Effectiveness

Mariya Neykova, PhD, is a chief assistant professor at New Bulgarian University. She teaches various courses in the area of foreign language teaching methodology and English for specific purposes. Her current research interest is focused on implementing an action-oriented approach in the context of blended learning. E-mail:



Modern language instructors can choose from a myriad of ELT methods and approaches to adapt their teaching to the students’ needs. Among the most widely used forms of work, Case Studies, Problem-based Learning and Project Work stand out as productive, exciting and motivating. They are action-oriented and function as an alternative or a supplement to the classroom teaching procedures traditionally implemented in an English language class.



Teaching methods in ELT develop in accord with the social changes and the social expectations for good quality education in the context of intensive globalization. Case Studies, Problem-based Learning and Project Work involve activities in which the underlying principles of the action-oriented approach are put into practice. Originally, they were developed for the needs of education in law, medicine and architecture respectively but gradually they gained popularity and were adapted for use in many other branches of education as well, including ELT.

The action-oriented approach functions as both an alternative and a supplement to the traditional lock-step education model of language teaching. It involves deeper understanding and engagement with the language content that is to be mastered. This is by no means an easy task: it is time consuming, it requires careful selection of procedures and changes in the course design. Still, the implementation of the action-oriented approach has proven its potential to dramatically increase the duration of knowledge and the ability to transfer skills and strategies from one context into another.


Case Studies

Case-based teaching can be defined as an effective form of learning by doing. It involves the application of theoretical knowledge to solve concrete problems. It presupposes active learning which enhances profound understanding of the issue at hand and improves the professional competence of the learner.

When designing case studies, their underlying characteristics should be taken into consideration. Georgiev (2011) defines case studies as follows:

  1. Case studies tell real stories;
  2. These stories are told differently by different teachers and by the same teachers at different times;
  3. The type and the subject of the case study determine the final decision;
  4. For some case studies the decision is definitely one, and for others there may be multiple decisions;
  5. The decision may be predictable or there might be an arbitrary decision/decisions;
  6. In some cases importance is attributed to the final result and the conclusions that follow, while in others importance is attributed to the effect of the discussion itself;
  7. In addition to providing knowledge on the subject, the case study method is designed to create teamwork habits with all the ensuing consequences for the learner’s education, future practice and social life.

(cf. Georgiev 2011)

Case studies can be used as an assignment within the framework of a methodology course for English language teachers. The problematic situations a foreign language teacher has to deal with are usually divided in two groups: (1) related to the cases of disruptive behavior in class or to deficiencies; (2) related to language learning. The boundary between the two groups is quite fuzzy, the division is by no means hard and fast, since practice makes it evident that very often there is a strong interrelation between the issues that fall in the different groups, i.e. the solution of a discipline problem generally goes hand in hand with the improvement of the student’s overall performance in the process of study.


Problem-based Learning

Problem-based Learning creates the necessary conditions for the students to become active, autonomous learners. Barrows (1996) presents a model of Problem-based Learning in which he formulates the essential characteristic features of this approach in medical education:

  1. Learning is student centered.
  2. Learning occurs in small student groups.
  3. Teachers are facilitators or guides.
  4. Problems form the organizing focus and stimulus for learning.
  5. Problems are a vehicle for the development of clinical problem-solving skills.
  6. New information is acquired through self-directed learning.

(Barrows 1996)

Тhe model is developed for the purposes of medical education but it can be applied in other  spheres of study as well, including ELT. The difference lies in the nature of the problems which should correspond to the concrete sphere of study.


Project Work

Project Work is a powerful tool for boosting students’ motivation to bridge the gap between learning a foreign language in the language classroom and using this language for authentic purposes. It helps learners to use their imagination and creativity, to develop their intellectual and team working skills and to form their own learning style.

Hutchinson (1992) theorizes that all projects share some common characteristics. Projects are:

  • the result of hard work – the authors of the project are involved in the project activities from the search for information to the final presentation.
  • creative – each project is a unique piece of communication and its creativity refers to both content and language.
  • personal – in the projects students present aspects of their own lives.
  • adaptable - project work can be used at every level and with all ages.

Projects are unique and creative but generally they all follow the same steps. Fried-Booth (1990) outlines the stages of development that each project passes through:

  1. Stimulus – this stage involves initial discussion of the data.
  2. Definition of the project objective – this stage involves discussion, negotiation, suggestion and argument.
  3. Practice of language skills – the students use the language that they feel is needed for the initial stage of the project.
  4. Design of written materials – the students design the materials required for data collection.
  5. Group activities – these activities are designed for gathering information.
  6. Collating information – it is usually done in groups and involves reading of notes, explanations, but the emphasis is placed on discussion.
  7. Organization of materials – this stage involves developing the end product of the project by means of discussion, negotiation, reading for cross-reference and verification.
  8. Final presentation – the manner of presentation depends on the form of the end-product and on the manner of demonstration.

The implementation of project work in ELT makes language study effective and rewarding. Projects help language learners in their efforts to become independent and self-confident users of the target language.


Discussion and sample tasks

The course procedures designed in accord with the action-oriented perspective generally follow similar stages, although variations are possible. According to Stoycheva (2007), action-oriented learning usually involves three phases:

  1. Introductory phase (planning) – the learners have to deal with a problem, topic, case study, etc. The instructor helps them to activate their background knowledge and skills and to identify the additional information, knowledge and skills they need to solve the problem. The students make a plan and formulate a goal. The necessary language material is processed.
  2. Working phase (implementation) – the learners search for, sort out and arrange the necessary information, they work on the solution to the problem, they create the product and prepare the presentation.
  3. Presentation and assessment phase (presentation/performance, control, assessment) – the students present the result/the product/the solution to the problem, they discuss, justify, argue, defend and compare the final product with the preset goal.

(cf. Stoycheva 2007)

The following sample tasks (a case study, a problem and a project), or rather task outlines, are meant to illustrate the forms of work presented above. They are quite flexible and can be adapted to the concrete learning contexts in order to meet the specific learner needs.


Sample tasks

A case study

1 Task

A group of teacher trainees has to evaluate the reaction of the teacher in the following situation and to offer an alternative course of action if necessary. They can draw on their theoretical knowledge in ELT methodology and even on their own experience as students or teachers.

2 Description

Mr Theocharis is 76. He is Greek and he studies English in a class for senior citizens. He is a very diligent student and makes a lot of effort to learn the language but he has poor eyesight. The teacher does not feel that she should accommodate her teaching style so as to help Mr Theocharis see the written texts clearly and do the reading exercises effectively.

3 Comment

Senior citizens take up language courses not only because they want to enrich their knowledge but as a social activity as well. The atmosphere in such a class is positive and supportive, and the students’ motivation is very strong. Some of the learners, though, might have age-related health issues, e.g. poor eyesight or memory, which should be addressed with care and consideration.

There is a variety of techniques that a teacher can apply to support foreign language students with bad eyesight. Donaghy (2016) suggests efficient ways of minimizing the negative effects of vision deficiency, e.g. by writing clearly on the board, using larger print type, inviting the students to sit at the front desks, etc.

A Problem

1 Task

“My School” – a class of teenagers is asked to suggest improvements for their school. The problem is designed to stimulate their creative thinking and critical reasoning skills.

2 Description

A class of tenth graders is asked to come up with suggestions for changes in their school environment. They can formulate ideas about the furniture in the classrooms, the equipment of the laboratories and the gym, the outdoor sports facilities and the school garden.

3 Comment

Teenagers are usually very critical and honest in their criticism. They are eager to change the world around them for the better. When given the chance to express themselves, they can provide fresh, unconventional ideas and present their point of view in a constructive way. Thinking out of the box is in their nature and if any of their innovative solutions to problem areas in their school life is put into practice, their self-confidence, self-esteem and motivation to defend their rights and beliefs will become way stronger.

The role of the teacher is to facilitate the whole process and if necessary to assist the students to submit their suggestions to the school authorities. Problem-based learning in ELT aims at achieving language purposes but it is also directed at developing skills and competences that are essential for the 21st century like teamwork skills, tolerance towards the opinion of others, courage to defend one’s own views and a strong will to initiate positive changes in society.

A Project

1 Task

“Zoo” –  a vocabulary related project for young learners. The students are provided with the necessary materials (poster cardboard sheets, pencils, sticky paper sheets, adhesive tape). They are allowed to make use of their wearable devices if they like.

2 Description

The students are divided in groups of 5 or 6. Each group is responsible for a zone in the zoo.

Group 1: Animals/fish/birds from Africa

Group 2: Animals/fish/birds from South America

Group 3: Animals/fish/birds from Australia

3 Activities

  1. The pupils choose the animals that are going to live in their part of the zoo.
  2. Each child is responsible for one animal/fish/bird.
  3. Each child draws a small picture of their animal/fish/bird (and the cage/aquarium/tree where they live in the zoo) on a poster cardboard sheet for the whole group.
  4. Each child writes a short description of their animal/fish/bird (where it lives, what kind of food it likes, what it looks like, whether it is dangerous, etc.) on a small sticky paper sheet and attaches it to the poster cardboard sheet (sample: ………………. (animal/fish/bird) lives in ………………. (place). It likes ………………. (food). It is ……………… (very dangerous/nice/beautiful/…)).
  5. The three cardboard sheets are positioned on the whiteboard in the classroom.

4 Comment

The objectives of the project are to enrich students’ vocabulary, to personalise language learning (the children choose their favourite animal) and to create the necessary conditions for practicing collaborative learning in small groups.

The task presupposes verbal and nonverbal activities. The selected topic is interesting for young learners and the learning context is more informal than the one in the lock-step model of teaching. Although the project is designed for young learners, it can be adapted for other age groups and cover different vocabulary areas, e.g. “My Sports Centre”, “My Company/Office”, etc.



The characteristic features of action-oriented learning can be observed in a number of approaches and forms of work applied in modern ELT, including Case Studies, Problem-based Learning and Project Work. Apart from increasing the language competence of the students, they exert a positive impact on the development of the learners’ personal qualities like creative thinking, critical reasoning, initiative, autonomy, collaborative learning skills, tolerance of differing views and opinions. The manifold benefits from Case Studies, Problem-based Learning and Project Work make them an indispensable part of modern English language teaching.



Barrows, H. S. (1996). Problem-based learning in medicine and beyond: A brief overview. In: New Directions for Teaching and Learning. Volume 1996, Issue 68

Donaghy, K. (2016). How to maximise the language learning of senior learners. TeachingEnglish. Retrieved 2019 from

Fried-Booth, D. L. (1990). Project Work. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Georgiev, L. (2011). Prepodavane chrez kazusi. Sofiya, Izdatelstvo na NBU. [Георгиев, Л. (2011). Преподаване чрез казуси. София, Издателство на НБУ]

Hutchinson, T. (1992). Introduction to Project Work. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Stoycheva, D. (2007). Deynostno-orientirano obuchenie po chuzhd ezik. In: Kiryakova, I. (sast.) „Slovoto – klasichesko i novo”. Yubileyna konferentsiya na FKNF, 2005 g. Tom 2. Sofiya, Universitetsko izdatelstvo „Sv. Kliment Ohridski”. [Стойчева, Д. (2007). Дейностно-ориентирано обучение по чужд език. В: Кирякова, И. (съст.) „Словото – класическо и ново”. Юбилейна конференция на ФКНФ, 2005 г. Том 2. София, Университетско издателство „Св. Климент Охридски”]


Please check the CLIL for Primary course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the CLIL for Secondary course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the How to Motivate Your Students course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the How to be a Teacher Trainer course at Pilgrims website.

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    Maria Heron, UK; Alan Maley, UK;Rod Bolitho, UK

  • ELT Today: Action, Motivation, Effectiveness
    Mariya Neykova, Bulgaria

  • Empowering the Language Learner Through Language Coaching in a Workplace Environment
    Gabriella Kovács, Hungary

  • Organic Learning And Its Place In The ESL Classroom
    Mark J Stoneburgh, Canada;Anthony Page, UK

  • Fears and Worries of Future CLIL Teachers: Methodology Course Design
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