I first was inspired to do this when I attended a teaching conference a few years ago at which Don Snow was the main speaker. He encouraged us to have students watch documentaries and report on them. This would provide good, sensible, authentic input while at the same time giving students a change to improve their learner autonomy skills. Snow suggested having students journal about the documentary, but I realized that with more than 100 students, I would never have time to read journals from each student throughout the semester. Plus, I'm teaching these students oral English, so I'd really like to have them writing less and speaking more. (Chinese students are already quite good at writing and reading compared to speaking.)
So I started musing about how to tweak this idea to fit my context.
Eventually, the idea turned into what I call "LIGs" or Language Improvement Groups. At the beginning of the term, I have students choose a small group of 3 to 5 students. Outside of class, students watch an episode of an English TV show and then meet together to discuss the episode for at least 15 minutes. Students make a video recording of their discussion using a camcorder or mobile phone.
Then the following week in class, students bring the video and watch it in their groups during the first half of class. As they watch, they take notes and discuss with each other about their strong and weak points in using oral English in a conversational setting. As the students watch and discuss, I come around to each group and check to make sure they have a video and that the quality is sufficient. After discussing, students choose one specific goal to try to improve for the following recorded discussion. Then they raise their hands, and I come check the goal to make sure it's specific and realistic enough.
It takes a lot of time, but it really puts language learning into the students' own hands. For many of my students, it's the first time they've ever really watched and listened to themselves speak English. It's mortifying at first, but I think in the long run, it helps them overcome a lot of fears and realize that they can help themselves get better, even without the direct guidance of and practice with a native English speaker.
The second project I've developed over the past year is related specifically to pronunciation. In this project, students record themselves reading the Stella passage on George Mason University's Speech Accent Archive and transcribe their own speech. Then they compare their transcription with that of at least 3 native English speakers and develop a semester-long plan for pronunciation improvement.
This year was the first year I tried this project, so it wasn't quite as successful as I think the LIG project has been. (I'm now on the 3rd time of revamping the LIG project based on students' feedback and suggestions, so it's had a lot of time to evolve and improve.) After I have some free time to think about it and after I hear students' feedback from this term, I will likely revamp the pronunciation project as well to make it more effective.