Promoting Problem-Based Learning
for English as a Second Language
Monica Lee, Purdue University
Amy Carrington, Tuttle Middle School
Purpose & Background
What is Problem-Based Learning (PBL)?
The role of technology in PBL
Example: A PBL unit in the middle school
Advantages of PBL for ESL learners
Purpose of the Presentation
To present the potential and the possibilities of PBL
at ESL settings
through a practical example of PBL at a middle school ESL
To introduce a web site that will be developed after
the completion of the PBL unit
as a guiding model for other ESL teachers to design,
develop, and facilitate PBL in their classrooms
Tech-Know Build (TKB) project
Funded by the U.S. Department of Education's
Technology Innovation Challenge Grant (2000-2005)
Partnership: Crawfordsville School Corporation,
Indiana Public Schools, ISPUI, and Purdue University
To develop students’ critical-thinking and
problem-solving skills
To support teachers’ development of studentcentered belief and practices
What is Problem-Based Learning (PBL)?
A teaching/learning approach that relies on
ill-structured problem to provide opportunities
for student learning (Ertmer et al, 2004)
Two key features
An ill-structured problem that reflects real-world
Student-centered learning
• Teacher takes on a facilitator’s role.
• Learners take ownership of their own learning.
The role of Technology in PBL
PBL is a meaningful and effective way to
integrate technology into the classroom
through the ill-structured problems
Technology becomes a critical tool for
students’ information searching, decisionmaking, and presenting solutions
PBL lesson unit in the Middle School
Learning contexts
7 advanced middle school
ELL (English Language
Learning) students
Driving question/problem
How to overcome the barrier between the
immigrants and the community
What do we want to share/teach others about
Hispanics in Crawfordsville?
PBL unit: Overall process
Introduction of the problem (Nov.15 – 19)
Video on ‘immigration’ & sharing ideas
Brainstorming (Nov.22 – Dec.17)
Using Inspiration
Guest speaker
Attending other students’ presentation & meeting with the community members
Design & development (Jan.4 – Mar.25)
Writing articles using MS Word
Publishing a newspaper to introduce the project to others using MS Publisher
Writing a play script using MS Word
Film & edit using MS Movie Maker
Final presentation with community members (Mar.29 – 31)
Advantages of PBL for ESL learners
Increased amount of language input
Authentic and contextualized language use
Shift of students’ attention from using accurate
forms to meaning
Brainstorming Activity
Advantages of PBL for ESL learners
Increased opportunities to negotiate meaning
to deliver the message
Increased communicative competence
Discussion with a guest speaker
Brainstorming example (Inspiration)
Brainstorming example (Inspiration)
Project Journal
Project Journal
Advantages of PBL for ESL learners
Increased motivation
Increased ownership in learning
Increased self-confidence as a learner
These advantages may have a strong impact
especially for ESL students who could have
experienced more failure than success in
learning situations
A web site ( will be developed
to present the ESL teacher and students’
experiences with PBL, including
Guiding question, learning contexts, lesson plan,
resources, identified standards, assessment tools
Video footage of the process: brainstorming, designing,
developing, presentation
Examples of student work: project journals, articles, etc.
Teacher interview (Pre- and Post-lesson) & students
interviews (Post-lesson)
Please email me (, if you’d like to
receive more information

Promoting Problem-Based Learning for English as a …