Project-Based Language Learning

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Project-Based Language Learning (PBLL)

What is Project-Based Language Learning (PBLL)?

The NFLRC defines PBLL as a transformative learning experience designed to engage language learners with real-world issues and meaningful target language use through the construction of products that have an authentic purpose and that are shared with an audience that extends beyond the instructional setting. PBLL can be conceived as a series of language learning tasks that are articulated toward a common goal: the construction of a public product. 

NFLRC work on project design is informed by PBL Works guidelines and materials, such as Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements and High-­Quality Project­-Based Learning (HQPBL). The NFLRC made a conscious decision to base its work on these guidelines and materials because they are widely used across schools in the U.S. and provide a common referent for project design for teachers in all content areas. The use of a common pedagogical model also helps to create opportunities for language instructors to collaborate with instructors in other disciplines. The integration of world language pedagogy, standards, and research into project design and teaching practices is central to all NFLRC work on PBLL.


A curated collection of projects that have been developed and implemented by world language professionals.

Short Courses

The NFLRC will offer four short courses on special topics interconnected with PBLL.

Intersections between PBLL and High-Leverage Teaching Practices

This short course is designed for instructors interested in learning how HLTPs can enhance their PBLL practices.

More about Short Courses on Special Topics

The Short Courses on Special Topics are envisioned as pedagogical support for the implementation of PBLL in the form of microlearning. The core content of these courses will be aligned with the Teacher Effectiveness for Language Learning (TELL) Framework and will have broad appeal to language professionals, addressing topics such as high leverage teaching practices, intercultural communication, pragmatics, content­-based instruction, etc. The instructional design process for these short courses is as follows: 1) after selection of a topic, a podcast series or 5 to 10 short episodes is developed on the topic, with interviews with experts in the field; 2) a TED Ed lesson is then constructed around the content of each video by adding self­-assessment items, a hyperlinked text that expands the topic further, and one or two discussion prompts; 3) two 90-minute live webinars with guests presenters are offered to discuss connections between the special topic and PBLL; and 4) TED Ed lessons are compiled from these to create an online short course further exploring intersections between the topic in question and PBLL.  

2019: High-Leverage Teaching Practices (HLTPs) & PBLL



The main goal of the first MOOC (massive open online courses), titled Envisioning PBLL, is for participants to become familiar with the main concepts of high­-quality PBLL, and its outcome is an instructional design document called a Product Square. This document was conceptualized and adopted by NFLRC institute leaders with participants in several previous institutes and has proven useful in aiding conceptualization of a project using backward design. The Project Square prompts the project designer to consider how essential project elements are addressed and to identify what challenges may need to be overcome.

The main goal of the second MOOC, titled Designing PBLL, is to apply the main concepts of high-­quality PBLL to the design of a specific project, and its outcome is an instructional design document called a Project Blueprint. The Project Blueprint outlines the main design aspects of a high­-quality project intended to activate second language acquisition processes.

The two PBLL MOOCs will be offered in 2020, 2021, and 2022.

Open Courses in Project-Based Language Learning (PBLL): Envisioning PBLL

Envisioning PBLL is designed as an open-enrollment course for language educators beginning to learn about Project-based Language Learning (PBLL).


Summer Institutes on the Road

The NFLRC Summer Institutes (SI) are designed as blended professional learning experiences. The first three SIs proposed for this cycle have been scheduled in response to requests from school districts and universities. The selection of the SI locations was made taking into account the sites’ geographical distribution. The cost of travel to Hawai‘i makes it difficult for participants to take advantage of NFLRC in­-person experiences, so this new distribution plan provides an opportunity for interested participants in states in three geographic regions: Minnesota in Summer 2019, Utah in Summer 2020, and Virginia in Summer 2021. All three SIs focus on the design of high-­quality projects and are preceded by an online professional learning experience offered in the Spring of the same year in the form of a MOOC. The participant product expected from these SIs is a project design to be included in the existing NFLRC repository.

2020: Planning for Project-Based Language Learning (in collaboration with L2TreC)

During this onsite 5-day Institute, participants will flesh out their ideas for a project design from the PBLL MOOC

2019: Exploring Project-Based Language Learning (in collaboration with CARLA)


The fourth SI event takes place in Hawai‘i in early Spring 2022 and is conceived as an unconference with a focus on re­-envisioning language learning centers as primary support to enable collaborations that foster innovation in the teaching and learning of LCTLs. Organizing themes will include community college collaborations, mentoring programs, and blended and project-­based language learning experiences. NFLRC faculty have actively participated in conversations about the future of language centers with peer professionals. Recent scholarly examination of the status of language centers indicates that their value is not always understood and that their potential to drive innovation in language education is not always realized to its fullest. This event is meant to energize language center leadership to activate networks of support that take advantage of the enormous transformative power that language centers can have when they position themselves as centers for pedagogical innovation. The outcome of this event will be a collective plan for the design, implementation, and sharing of blended and project-­based learning experiences and a number of ideas for projects that drive innovation in the learning and teaching of LCTLs which can be proposed for the next funding cycle.


Mentoring PBLL Teachers

The purpose of the Mentoring PBLL Teachers program is to leverage the experience and expertise of the skilled cadre of veteran PBLL practitioners who have participated in extended professional learning as resources supporting the professional learning of the rising generation of new PBLL practitioners. The mentors will be world language teachers who have completed the NFLRC PBLL Summer Institute or professional development offered by the Buck Institute for Education and implemented PBLL in their classes. The mentees are world language teachers who are interested in learning about PBLL and how to implement PBLL in their classrooms. One mentor will be paired with one mentee through a semester to provide support and consultation about PBLL. Mentors will also share their personal experiences and knowledge in adopting PBLL. Mentors and mentees will use open educational resources (OERs) on PBLL developed by NFLRC as supporting materials. The mentoring will be conducted virtually via email, phone, or videoconferences. After completing the mentoring program and submitting an evaluation survey, the mentor will be awarded with a digital badge as a PBLL Mentor. The official launch will take place in Fall 2020. 


Project Samples

Project Repository

The PBLL Repository is a collection of standards-based instructional blueprints for instructors with instructions to guide the implementation of a project. Sample projects in this collection contain descriptions of the core elements of the projects, including a) a project summary, b) expected outcomes, c) task descriptions, sequences, and timelines; d) necessary scaffolding for content and technology; e) detailed assessment information and rubrics; and f) materials needed for implementation (e.g., student handouts, audiovisual or print materials).


Featured Video - PBLL: Promoting Child Literacy in Brazil

In this video, you'll meet Rachel Mamiya Hernandez (University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa) who has applied principles of project-based learning (PBL) in a Portuguese language class. Key characteristics of her exciting project promoting child literacy in Brazil include real-world impact, student voice and choice, flexibility, and design thinking.



Vietnamese through Project-Based Language Learning

Here you will find activities and resources for real-world projects designed for first and second year Vietnamese.


NFLRC Conference Presentations on PBLL


Major PBLL Events & Resources Developed during the 2014-2018 Grant Cycle

Despite the natural match between project-based learning (PBL) and the needs of language learners, the application of PBL in world language curricula has lagged behind other subjects, leaving language instructors without working models that take advantage of the potential of PBL to significantly improve language teaching and learning. One reason is that the complexity of language learning contexts require complex designs to orchestrate successful projects. Such design considerations define Project-Based Language Learning (PBLL) as a distinct area of instructional design and inquiry, which constituted an integral part of several NFLRC projects during the recent 2014-2018 grant cycle, such as the development and delivery of an intensive online institute on PBLL, and the development and delivery of intensive summer institutes that address PBLL from various perspectives, the creation of a project repository to create, modify, and share foreign language projects, and the development of PBLL curriculum in Vietnamese. 

Online Symposium on Project-Based Language Learning (PBLL)

This symposia brought together experts, educational leaders, and world language teachers to foster the conversation on the potential for PBLL to transform and enhance language education, exploring PBLL's intersections with content-based instruction, task-based language learning, and performance assessment. The Symposium sites contain webinar recordings of all presentations, and they served as a good introduction to PBLL.


Fundamentals of Project-Based Language Learning (PBLL)

These online institutes took place annually. Their purpose was twofold: a) to ensure that participants in the Intensive Summer Institutes (ISI) acquire a basic understanding of PBLL in order to optimize the use of time during the ISIs; and b) to provide language professionals nationwide an opportunity to learn about PBLL. The content of these online institutes was developed by NFLRC staff in consultation with ISI facilitators and varied from year to year. These online institutes were required as part of the application for all PBLL ISIs in Hawai‘i (2015-18). A self-paced version and associated badges were developed based on the facilitated version and were made available to independent learners as an Open Educational Resource. Both online institute module materials and opportunities for digital badging were offered to facilitate implementation by other institutions.

2015: Project-Based Language Learning in Action


2016: Project-Based Language Learning & Interculturality


2017: Project-Based Language Learning: Pathways to PBLL


2018: Pragmatics in Project-Based Language Learning

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