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Projects with purpose: writing for children boosts language learning and wellbeing.

The experience of authorship in a book project boosts wellbeing, self-efficacy, and motivation of language learners, according to a study by Riccardo Amorati and John Hajek at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

The project at the heart of this study follows the principles of the Deep Approach to World Language Education, as well as the EMPATHICS model of wellbeing. The Deep Approach to World Language learning proposes that students’ learning experience should be personally meaningful and socially engaging, while the EMPATHICS model highlights the role of emotions, empathy and autonomy.

The students in this study were 21 native English-speaking Australian undergraduates taking upper-intermediate/advanced Italian during 2019-2020.

The ‘I am an author’ project sought to combine these approaches and test their effect on student outcomes, such as wellbeing. Students were instructed to write and illustrate a short story in Italian. These books were to be self-published and some would be selected to be given to Italian children, thus addressing a real social need; resources for Italian-speaking children in Australia are scarce.

As well as reflective commentary on their experience of the project, students also answered a 21-item Likert scale questionnaire based on the EMPATHICS model to assess emotion and empathy (‘the project improved/enhanced my mood’) motivation (‘the project made me more optimistic about the value of language learning’), perseverance (‘the project increased my motivation to persevere in language leaning’), meaningfulness (‘I liked that I could show what I know by producing something meaningful for others’), and wellbeing (‘the project made me reflect on my capacity to rise to a challenge’).

The phrasing of these questions does not leave much scope for expressing more neutral, negative experiences, and could have been reworded to be less leading. Fortunately, data was also collected from answers to open questions, which were more neutrally phrased to elicit a fuller range of responses, such as: ‘Did you experience any positive or negative emotions while working on the project/please explain.’

While the questionnaire scores indicated overwhelmingly positive experiences, it is the responses to the open questions that really illustrate the student experience of this project. For example, ‘It gave me a glimpse into the potential practical outputs that could be achieved through learning a language, beyond merely being able to engage within the classroom’ and ‘To see a published piece of work in my own name that was created entirely by me was extremely fulfilling.’

The satisfaction and positive emotions experienced by students undertaking this project had several components which could tap into different sources of personal motivation and well-being. On the one hand, this kind of project offers a great deal of autonomy and creativity and questionnaire responses indicated improvements in students’ self-image associated with seeing themselves as ‘authors’.

On the other hand, the additional context of writing for a real-world audience, that can benefit from the books, adds a dimension of connectedness, community and meaningful purpose that is seldom associated with educational tasks.

The key elements in designing projects of this kind to support both wellbeing and language-learning appear to be autonomy (freedom of choice with regard to some, if not all, aspects, such as topic choice), challenge (but in the Goldilocks zone; not too much, not too little), and community engagement (the very effective extra ingredient that this particular project incorporated).

In this study, students were young adults at upper-intermediate or advanced level, but projects like this are highly adaptable to all levels. ‘First books’ for very young children could be prepared by elementary students. These simple books can be printed and stapled together as a form of ‘self-publishing’. For students that might struggle more with aspects such as autonomy and creativity, there could be an option to work in pairs or groups.

Although there is a great deal of satisfaction to be had from holding a physical book in hand with your name on the cover, other digital outputs could also be considered, as well as a range of other creative outputs such as comics, podcasts, short films, drama and games. In all cases, the extra key ingredient is an audience outside the classroom that can genuinely benefit in some way making language learning a more meaningful experience.


Amorati, R. and Hajek, J. (2023) Fostering well-being in the university L2 classroom: the “I am an author’’ project. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching. doi/10.1515/iral-2023-0051

Image courtesy of Library
Gill Ragsdale
Gill Ragsdale
Gill has a PhD in Evolutionary Psychology from Cambridge, and teaches Psychology with the Open University, but also holds an RSA-Cert TEFL. Gill has taught EFL in the UK, Turkey, Egypt and to the refugees in the Calais 'Jungle' in France. She currently teaches English to refugees in the UK.
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