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Task based learning


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  • 1.  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.
  • 2.  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.
  • 3.  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?
  • 4.  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.
  • 5.  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.
  • 6.  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?
  • 7.  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 after class, or whenever they come to the centre.
  • 8.  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
  • 9.  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.
  • 10.  . A Comparison of ApproachesPPP 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).
  • 11.  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
  • 12.  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;
  • 13.  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.
  • 14.  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 arent important)9. At this stage in a PPP lesson the focus would be very much on accuracy, with all mistakes corrected.
  • 15.  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.
  • 16.  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.
  • 17.  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
  • 18.  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.
  • 19.  Reflection Task-based learning offers action and reflection. In contrast, PPP is relatively 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.
  • 20.  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.
  • 21.  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 isnt facilitating the needs of learners so much as easing the life of the teacher.
  • 22.  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.
  • 23.  What is Task-Based Learning? 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.
  • 24.  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 teachers 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.
  • 25.  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.
  • 26.  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 wont 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.
  • 27. A Task-based approach Task -based Learning offers an alternative for language teachers. In a task-based lesson the teacher doesnt 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.
  • 28.  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.
  • 29.  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.
  • 30.  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
  • 31.  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.
  • 32.  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.