Task-based learning (TBL) is an approach which concentrates more on carrying out tasks (solving puzzles, writing projects, investigating topics and so on) than on graded structures and vocabulary. Task-Based Learning (methodology plus) Contributed by Mark McKinnon and Nicky Rigby What is TBL? How often do we as teachers ask our students to do something in class which they would do in everyday life using their own language? Probably not often enough. If we can make language in the classroom meaningful therefore memorable, students can process language which is being learned or recycled more naturally.
Task-based learning offers the student an opportunity to do exactly this. The primary focus of classroom activity is the task and language is the instrument which the students use to complete it. The task is an activity in which students use language to achieve a specific outcome. The activity reflects real life and learners focus on meaning, they are free to use any language they want. Playing a game, solving a problem or sharing information or experiences, can all be considered as relevant and authentic tasks. In TBL an activity in which students are given a list of words to use cannot be considered as a genuine task.
Nor can a normal role play if it does not contain a problem-solving element or where students are not given a goal to reach. In many role plays students simply act out their restricted role. For instance, a role play where students have to act out roles as company directors but must come to an agreement or find the right solution within the given time limit can be considered a genuine task in TBL. In the task-based lessons included below our aim is to create a need to learn and use language. The tasks will generate their own language and create an opportunity for language acquisition (Krashen*).
If we can take the focus away from form and structures we can develop our students’ ability to do things in English. That is not to say that there will be no attention paid to accuracy, work on language is included in each task and feedback and language focus have their places in the lesson plans. We feel that teachers have a responsibility to enrich their students’ language when they see it is necessary but students should be given the opportunity to use English in the classroom as they use their own languages in everyday life. How can I use TBL in the classroom?
Most of the task-based lessons in this section are what Scrivener* classifies as authentic and follow the task structure proposed by Willis and Willis*. Each task will be organised in the following way: • Pre-task activity an introduction to topic and task • Task cycle: Task > Planning > Report • Language Focus and Feedback A balance should be kept between fluency, which is what the task provides, and accuracy, which is provided by task feedback. Tasks: Getting To Know Your Centre Worksheet 1 & 2 | Worksheet 3 & 4 The object of the following two tasks is for students to use English to: a.
Find out what resources are available to them and how they can use their resource room b. Meet and talk to each of the teachers in their centre. Task 1: Getting To Know Your Resources Level: Pre-intermediate and above It is assumed in this lesson that your school has the following student resources; books (graded readers), video, magazines and Internet. Don’t worry if it doesn’t, the lesson can be adjusted accordingly. Pre-task Preparation: One of the tasks is a video exercise which involves viewing a movie clip with the sound turned off.
This can be any movie depending on availability, but the clip has to involve a conversation between two people. Pre-task activity: In pairs students discuss the following questions: • Do you use English outside the classroom? • How? • What ways can you practise English outside the classroom? Stage One – Running dictation. Put the text from worksheet one on the wall either inside or outside the classroom. Organise your students into pairs. One student will then go to the text, read the text and then go back to her partner and relay the information to her. The partner who stays at the desk writes this information.
When teams have finished check for accuracy. You can make this competitive should you wish. Stage Two In pairs students then read the Getting To Know Your Resources task sheet (worksheet two). Check any problem vocabulary at this stage. This worksheet can be adapted according to the resource room at your school. Stage Three Depending on how the resources are organised in your centre, students then go, in pairs, to the resource room or wherever the resources are kept and complete the tasks on the task sheet. Stage Four Working with a different partner students now compare and share their experience. Stage Five – Feedback.
Having monitored the activity and the final stage, use this opportunity to make comments on your students’ performance. This may take form of a correction slot on errors or pronunciation, providing a self-correction slot. Task 2 Getting To Know Your Teachers Level: Pre-intermediate and above Students may need at least a week to do this activity, depending on the availability of the teachers in your centre Pre-task activity In pairs students talk about an English teacher they have had. • What was her name? • Where was she from? • How old was she? • Do you remember any of her lessons? • What was your favourite activity in her class?
Stage One Using the Getting To Know Your Teachers task sheet (worksheet three) and the Interview Questions (worksheet four) students write the questions for the questionnaire they are going to use to interview the teachers. Stage Two To set up the activity students then interview you and record the information. Stage Three Depending on which teachers are free at this time they can then go and interview other teachers and record the information. You may wish to bring other teachers into your class to be interviewed or alternatively give your students a week or so to complete the task, interviewing teachers before or fter class, or whenever they come to the centre. Stage Four Working with a different partner students compare their answers and experiences then decide on their final answers on the superlative questions. Stage Five Feedback and reflection. Allow time for students to express their opinions and experiences of the activity. Provide any feedback you feel is necessary. Further Activities The Get To Know Your Resources task sheet could be turned into a school competition entry form. Possible prizes could include a video or some readers. Stephen Krashen, The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom, 1996 *Jim Scrivener Learning Teaching 1995 *Jane Willis and Dave Willis Challenge and Change in Language Teaching A traditional model for the organisation of language lessons, both in the classroom and in course-books, has long been the PPP approach (presentation, practice, production). With this model individual language items (for example, the past continuous) are presented by the teacher, then practised in the form of spoken and written exercises (often pattern drills), and then used by the learners in less controlled speaking or writing activities.
Although the grammar point presented at the beginning of this procedure may well fit neatly into a grammatical syllabus, a frequent criticism of this approach is the apparent arbitrariness of the selected grammar point, which may or may not meet the linguistic needs of the learners, and the fact that the production stage is often based on a rather inauthentic emphasis on the chosen structure. An alternative to the PPP model is the Test-Teach-Test approach (TTT), in which the production stage comes first and the learners are “thrown in at the deep end” and required to perform a particular task (a role play, for example).
This is followed by the teacher dealing with some of the grammatical or lexical problems that arose in the first stage and the learners then being required either to perform the initial task again or to perform a similar task. The language presented in the ‘teach’ stage can be predicted if the initial production task is carefully chosen but there is a danger of randomness in this model. Jane Willis (1996), in her book ‘A Framework for Task-Based Learning’, outlines a third model for organising lessons.
While this is not a radical departure from TTT, it does present a model that is based on sound theoretical foundations and one which takes account of the need for authentic communication. Task-based learning (TBL) is typically based on three stages. The first of these is the pre-task stage, during which the teacher introduces and defines the topic and the learners engage in activities that either help them to recall words and phrases that will be useful during the performance of the main task or to learn new words and phrases that are essential to the task.
This stage is followed by what Willis calls the “task cycle”. Here the learners perform the task (typically a reading or listening exercise or a problem-solving exercise) in pairs or small groups. They then prepare a report for the whole class on how they did the task and what conclusions they reached. Finally, they present their findings to the class in spoken or written form. The final stage is the language focus stage, during which specific language features from the task and highlighted and worked on.
Feedback on the learners’ performance at the reporting stage may also be appropriate at this point. The main advantages of TBL are that language is used for a genuine purpose meaning that real communication should take place, and that at the stage where the learners are preparing their report for the whole class, they are forced to consider language form in general rather than concentrating on a single form (as in the PPP model). Whereas the aim of the PPP model is to lead from accuracy to fluency, the aim of TBL is to integrate all four skills and to move from fluency to accuracy plus fluency.
The range of tasks available (reading texts, listening texts, problem-solving, role-plays, questionnaires, etc) offers a great deal of flexibility in this model and should lead to more motivating activities for the learners. Learners who are used to a more traditional approach based on a grammatical syllabus may find it difficult to come to terms with the apparent randomness of TBL, but if TBL is integrated with a systematic approach to grammar and lexis, the outcome can be a comprehensive, all-round approach that can be adapted to meet the needs of all learners.
Tim Bowen 1. Introduction At the outset of my teaching career, I readily adopted what little teaching methodology I was aware of to my classroom practice. As with most new teachers fresh from the CELTA course, my lessons followed the PPP (presentation, practise, production) model, or slight variations thereof. However, as my teaching quickly developed on a steep learning curve, so did my awareness of other methodological possibilities, and also the shortcomings of the method I had thus far applied. Nevertheless, I persisted with this method.
Whilst the PPP method offered a comfortable and safe framework1 for me as a newly qualified teacher, I nevertheless soon realised that i) it is important to meet the specific needs of ones learners, and ii) an authentic context will enhance the learning experience. A failure to deliver on both of these counts is one of the major reasons why the PPP method is criticised. This is also the reason why I have chosen to examine an alternative to this model: Task-based learning. 2. A Comparison of Approaches 2. 1 PPP As stated, the model I based much of my early teaching on was PPP.
In this method, a particular language item is presented by the teacher, it is then practised in a controlled way by the learners2, and then finally used by the learners in freer practise activities. My reasons for using this model were twofold. Firstly, it was the one presented to me during my initial teacher training. Furthermore, it offered me a very safe framework in which to operate as an inexperienced teacher, in that it is a reasonably straightforward process to present a structure from a grammatical syllabus (most coursebooks tend to have this to a lesser or greater extent).
Having said this, there is a clear drawback. There is an apparent arbitrariness to most ‘selected’ grammar points, which may or may not meet the needs of the learner. 2. 2 TTT A radically different model exists in the form of TTT (test, teach, test), in that the production stage occurs first: the learners are required to perform a task3 without any input or guidance from the teacher. The grammatical or lexical problems that this activity generates are used by the teacher for language analysis, the learners then being asked to do a similar/the same task again.
Although Bowen suggests that the language presented in the ‘teach’ can be predicted (especially if the initial test is car fully chosen)4, there is a distinct danger of randomness which in turn means that the language focus may not reflect the needs of the learner. 2. 3 TBL A third model for organising lessons is offered by Willis (1996)5. Task-based learning is not entirely different from the aforementioned TTT, although this approach clearly takes into account the need for authentic communication. Typically there are three stages6; 2. 3. 1 The Pre-task Phase Before the task, the teacher explores the topic with the class.
Useful (relevant) lexical items may be given. Also, the learners may be given further input, such as a recording of someone doing a similar task or part of an authentic text as a lead in. During the pre-task stage the learners will have their schemata7 activated, and given the opportunity to become personally involved in the lesson. 2. 3. 2 The Task Cycle The task cycle can be broken down into three stages8; task, in which the learners do the task; planning, when the learners prepare to report to the whole class (usually orally or in writing) how they did the task; and report, when the reports are presented to the class and results compared.
During the task, the teacher monitors and encourages all attempts at communication without correcting. Willis suggests that this harbours a free environment in whish learners are willing to experiment (as mistakes aren’t important)9. At this stage in a PPP lesson the focus would be very much on accuracy, with all mistakes corrected. During the planning stage, the learners are aware that their output will be ‘made public’ and will consequently aim for accuracy. The role of the teacher here is therefore to provide assistance with regard to language advice10.
The teacher then chairs the report, and comments on the content. At this stage, the focus is on both fluency and accuracy11. Also, the learners may hear a recording or read a text of a similar task, in order to compare how they did it. 2. 3. 3 Language Focus The language focus consists of analysis and practice. In the analysis learners examine the recording or text for new lexical items or structures, which they then record. The teacher conducts a practice of the new items either during the analysis or after.
The learners are given the opportunity to reflect on how they performed the task and on the new language they used in this final part of the lesson12. 3. What TBL Offers Such a framework theoretically provides the learner with an opportunity to use the language they need for genuine communication13. I will now consider how this approach benefits the learner, and how it theoretically eliminates the pitfalls of other teaching approaches. 3. 1 Motivation A need to achieve the objectives of the task and report on it provide short-term motivation. Long-term motivation will be gained from successfully completing tasks14.
Bowen (2002) notes that the range of useable tasks15 offer a great deal of flexibility and should also lead to more motivating activities for learners16. TBL also therefore accommodates different learning styles 3. 2 Private v Public There are clear instances in TBL in which the learner has the chance to privately practice the language, using it fluently, and then to publicly show other learners that they can use the language in a fluent and accurate manner. There is no such opportunity or necessity for public performance in the other methodologies. 3. 3 Reflection Task-based learning offers action and reflection. In contrast, PPP is elatively low in action and offers little if any chance for reflection as the language focus comes at the start of the lesson, and is entirely teacher generated. 4. Potential Shortcomings Learners who are used to a more traditional grammatical syllabus may find this approach difficult to come to terms with. This is primarily due to the apparent randomness of TBL, a criticism shared with TTT. Littlewood (1999) notes that one of the features of TBL that worries teachers is that it seems to have no place for the teaching of grammar17. Nevertheless, Willis (1998) suggests there are two phases of TBL in which focus on form prove beneficial18.
Firstly, the planning stage between the private task and the public report promotes close attention to language form. Secondly, the language analysis activities provide a focus on form through consciousness-raising processes19. To summarise, TBL does not mean ‘forget the grammar’20. 5. Relevance to Teaching Contexts As stated, PPP is popular with many new teachers, as it offers what Scrivener (1996) defines as a single, simple, clear, workable lesson model21. Furthermore, it is very comforting for the teacher to be in charge of proceedings22, and this method of teaching is largely based on teacher activity.
This ties in with shortcomings mentioned in the introduction, in that it isn’t facilitating the needs of learners so much as easing the life of the teacher. Indeed, it is true to say that utilising learner interaction (which clearly occurs in TBL) as a teaching method is underused, mainly due to the fear of factors such as a reversion to L123. However, the relevance of learner motivation and involvement cannot be overlooked. Learner-centred methods, such as TBL, draw on the learner’s knowledge, and consequently materials are selected on the basis of both their needs and interests.
Learning can be seen as a collaborative enterprise, in which there is a great deal of negotiation between the teacher and learner. Nevertheless, when considering TBL it is necessary to examine the context in which it is to be used, and furthermore the possible reaction of the learners. Will learners openly accept a methodology that is alien to them? If learners are unfamiliar with TBL, then it will be necessary to negotiate with learners to make sure that they are happy to learn in this way. If this can be done, then the learners become stakeholders in the approach.
It is therefore vital for me as a teacher to take into account my teaching environment and apply this new approach sensitively. It is an accepted fact in my institution that learners cannot possibly be taught all the English that they need to know in one academic year. Consequently, a large part of their classroom time is allotted to teaching skills that will i) allow learners to cope with academic English using the level of language they have thus far attained, and ii) to encourage autonomous learning through the development of learning skills and the use of resources relevant to their future academic careers.
Therefore, a methodology that supports the reflective learner, encourages autonomy and accommodates a range of learning styles should suit my learners’ needs. Also, as stated, TBL is of particular relevance as language is used for a genuine purpose, meaning that real communication should take place. Furthermore, learners are forced to consider language form in general rather than focusing on a single structure24, as is the case in PPP. Another way in which TBL is more relevant to learners than PPP is that the aim of TBL is to integrate all four skills25 and move from fluency to accuracy plus fluency26. . Conclusion TBL offers a structured approach to learning, and supports the notion that learning occurs most effectively when related to the real-life tasks undertaken by an individual. TBL encourages the development of the reflective learner, and accommodates a wide range of learning styles. TBL offers an attractive combination of pragmatism and idealism: pragmatism in the sense that learning with an explicit sense of purpose is an important source of student motivation and satisfaction; idealism in that it is consistent with current theories of education. ask: An activity (or technique) where students are urged to accomplish something or solve some problem using their language. Preferably, this activity is open ended; there is no set way to accomplish their goal. What is Task-Based Learning? by Nick Dawson Using tasks Teachers have been using tasks for hundreds of years. Frequently, in the past, the task was a piece of translation often from a literary source. More recently, tasks have included projects for producing posters, brochures, pamphlets, oral presentations, radio plays, videos, websites and dramatic performances.
The characteristic of all these tasks is that rather than concentrating on one particular structure, function or vocabulary group, these tasks exploit a wider range of language. In many cases, students may also be using a range of different communicative language skills. What makes ‘task-based learning’ different? The traditional way that teachers have used tasks is as a follow-up to a series of structure/function or vocabulary based lessons. Tasks have been ‘extension’ activities as part of a graded and structured course. In task-based learning, the tasks are central to the learning activity.
Originally developed by N Prabhu in Bangladore, southern India, it is based on the belief that students may learn more effectively when their minds are focused on the task, rather than on the language they are using. In the model of task-based learning described by Jane Willis, the traditional PPP (presentation, practice, production) lesson is reversed. The students start with the task. When they have completed it, the teacher draws attention to the language used, making corrections and adjustments to the students’ performance.
In A Framework for Task-Based Learning, Jane Willis presents a three stage process: • Pre-task – Introduction to the topic and task. • Task cycle – Task planning and report • Language focus – Analysis and practice. Does it work? Task-based learning can be very effective at Intermediate levels and beyond, but many teachers question its usefulness at lower levels. The methodology requires a change in the traditional teacher’s role. The teacher does not introduce and ‘present’ language or interfere (‘help’) during the task cycle.
The teacher is an observer during the task phase and becomes a language informant only during the ‘language focus’ stage. You can read more about task-based learning in: How to Teach English p31 by Jeremy Harmer [Longman] The Practice of English Language Teaching 3rd edition pp86-88 by Jeremy Harmer [Longman] A Framework for Task-Based Learning by Jane Willis [Longman] A Task-based approach Richard Frost, British Council, Turkey In recent years a debate has developed over which approaches to structuring and planning and implementing lessons are more effective.
This article presents and overview of a task-based learning approach (TBL) and highlights its advantages over the more traditional Present, Practice, Produce (PPP) approach. This article also links to the following activity. Try – Speaking activities – Task based listening – planning a night out • Present Practice Produce • The problems with PPP • A Task-based approach • The advantages of TBL • Conclusion Present Practice Produce (PPP) During an initial teacher training course, most teachers become familiar with the PPP paradigm.
A PPP lesson would proceed in the following manner. • First, the teacher presents an item of language in a clear context to get across its meaning. This could be done in a variety of ways: through a text, a situation build, a dialogue etc. • Students are then asked to complete a controlled practice stage, where they may have to repeat target items through choral and individual drilling, fill gaps or match halves of sentences. All of this practice demands that the student uses the language correctly and helps them to become more comfortable with it. Finally, they move on to the production stage, sometimes called the ‘free practice’ stage. Students are given a communication task such as a role play and are expected to produce the target language and use any other language that has already been learnt and is suitable for completing it. The problems with PPP It all sounds quite logical but teachers who use this method will soon identify problems with it: • Students can give the impression that they are comfortable with the new language as they are producing it accurately in the class.
Often though a few lessons later, students will either not be able to produce the language correctly or even won’t produce it at all. • Students will often produce the language but overuse the target structure so that it sounds completely unnatural. • Students may not produce the target language during the free practice stage because they find they are able to use existing language resources to complete the task. A Task-based approach Task -based Learning offers an alternative for language teachers.
In a task-based lesson the teacher doesn’t pre-determine what language will be studied, the lesson is based around the completion of a central task and the language studied is determined by what happens as the students complete it. The lesson follows certain stages. Pre-task The teacher introduces the topic and gives the students clear instructions on what they will have to do at the task stage and might help the students to recall some language that may be useful for the task. The pre-task stage can also often include playing a recording of people doing the task.
This gives the students a clear model of what will be expected of them. The students can take notes and spend time preparing for the task. Task The students complete a task in pairs or groups using the language resources that they have as the teacher monitors and offers encouragement. Planning Students prepare a short oral or written report to tell the class what happened during their task. They then practice what they are going to say in their groups. Meanwhile the teacher is available for the students to ask for advice to clear up any language questions they may have. Report
Students then report back to the class orally or read the written report. The teacher chooses the order of when students will present their reports and may give the students some quick feedback on the content. At this stage the teacher may also play a recording of others doing the same task for the students to compare. Analysis The teacher then highlights relevant parts from the text of the recording for the students to analyse. They may ask students to notice interesting features within this text. The teacher can also highlight the language that the students used during the report phase for analysis. Practice
Finally, the teacher selects language areas to practise based upon the needs of the students and what emerged from the task and report phases. The students then do practice activities to increase their confidence and make a note of useful language. The advantages of TBL Task-based learning has some clear advantages • Unlike a PPP approach, the students are free of language control. In all three stages they must use all their language resources rather than just practising one pre-selected item. • A natural context is developed from the students’ experiences with the language that is personalised and relevant to them.
With PPP it is necessary to create contexts in which to present the language and sometimes they can be very unnatural. • The students will have a much more varied exposure to language with TBL. They will be exposed to a whole range of lexical phrases, collocations and patterns as well as language forms. • The language explored arises from the students’ needs. This need dictates what will be covered in the lesson rather than a decision made by the teacher or the coursebook. • It is a strong communicative approach where students spend a lot of time communicating.
PPP lessons seem very teacher-centred by comparison. Just watch how much time the students spend communicating during a task-based lesson. • It is enjoyable and motivating. Conclusion PPP offers a very simplified approach to language learning. It is based upon the idea that you can present language in neat little blocks, adding from one lesson to the next. However, research shows us that we cannot predict or guarantee what the students will learn and that ultimately a wide exposure to language is the best way of ensuring that students will acquire it effectively.
Restricting their experience to single pieces of target language is unnatural. Task based speaking Richard Frost, British Council, Turkey This is a speaking lesson on the theme of planning a night out that uses a listening exercise to provide language input. • Preparation and materials You will need to record two people planning a night out on the town • Pre-task (15-20min) Aim: To introduce the topic of nights out and to give the class exposure to language related to it. To highlight words and phrases. o Show sts pictures of a night out in a restaurant / bar and ask them where they go to have a good night out. Brainstorm words/phrases onto the board related to the topic; people / verbs / feelings etc. o Introduce the listening of two people planning a night out. Write up different alternatives on the board to give them a reason for listening e. g. (a) restaurant / bar (b) meet at the train station / in the square. Play it a few times, first time to select from the alternatives, second time to note down some language. o Tell them that they are going to plan a class night out and give them a few minutes to think it over. • Task (10min) o Students do the task in twos and plan the night.
Match them with another pair to discuss their ideas and any similarities and differences. • Planning (10min) o Each pair rehearses presenting their night out. Teacher walks around, helps them if they need it and notes down any language points to be highlighted later. • Report (15 min) o Class listen to the plans, their task is to choose one of them. They can ask questions after the presentation. o Teacher gives feedback on the content and quickly reviews what was suggested. Students vote and choose one of the nights out. • Language Focus (20min) Write on the board fives good phrases used by the students during the task and five incorrect phrases/sentences from the task without the word that caused the problem. Students discuss the meaning and how to complete the sentences. o Hand out the tapescript from the listening and ask the students to underline the useful words and phrases. o Highlight any language you wish to draw attention to e. g. language for making suggestions, collocations etc. o Students write down any other language they wish to remember. Note: You can go on the planned night out with your students. This can make it even more motivating for them.