What is Task Based Learning
• Task-based language learning
(TBLL), also known as task-based language
teaching (TBLT) or task-based instruction (TBI) focuses on
the use of authentic language and on asking students to
do meaningful tasks using the target language. Such tasks
can include visiting a doctor, conducting an interview, or
calling customer service for help. Assessment is primarily
based on task outcome (in other words the appropriate
completion of tasks) rather than on accuracy of language
forms. This makes TBLL especially popular for developing
target language fluency and student confidence.
Definition of a Task
• According to Rod Ellis (2007), a task has four
• A task involves a primary focus on (pragmatic)
• A task has some kind of ‘gap’.
• The participants choose the linguistic
resources needed to complete the task.
• A task has a clearly defined outcome.
• Task-Based Learning, one of the most talked-
about recent methods, can be traced back to
the ‘strong’ Communicative Approach, where
teaching is done entirely through
communicative tasks. There is no set grammar
syllabus. Focusing on language use after a task
has been completed is widely accepted as an
aid to acquisition, and task repetition gives
students the chance to practice new language.
The Communicative Approach
• The Communicative Approach grew out of sociolinguistics in the
1970s and the view that there is more to communication than just
grammar and vocabulary. Communication involves ‘communicative
competence’ – the ability to make yourself understood in socially
• Nowadays most teachers and students take the need for real
communication in class for granted, but English as a Foreign
Language (EFL) history clearly shows that this has not always been
the case! Within the Communicative Approach itself the precise
role of communication is debated. The so-called ‘weak’ form of the
approach sees communicative activities as opportunities for
students to practice new language and develop fluency. A weak
version of language teaching using this approach might simply
mean adding more opportunities to communicate to a traditional
grammar based curriculum.
GENERAL PRINCIPLES AND
CHARACTERISTICS OF TBL
*It`s based on the use of tasks.
*Students learn by interacting.
*It`s focused on the use of authentic language.
*Errors are part of a natural learning.
*The focus is on process rather than product.
• Theory of language
TBL is mainly motivated by a theory of learning.
However, there are several assumptions about the
nature of language:
• Language is primarily a means of making meaning
• Multiple models of language inform TBL
• Lexical units are central in language use and
• “Conversation” is the central focus of language
and the keystone of language acquisition.
Language is primarily a means of
TBL emphasizes the central role of MEANING in
“Meaning is primary […] the assessment of a
task is in terms of OUTCOME. […] Task based
instruction in NOT concerned with language
display” (Skehan 1998:98)
Multiple models of language inform
• Advocates of TBL draw on STRUCTURAL,
FUNCTIONAL and INTERACTIONAL models of
• Structural criteria is employed by Skehan , for
example, when determining the linguistic
complexity of tasks:
“Language is seen as less – to – more complex in
fairly traditional ways. […] Linguistic complexity
is interpretable as constrained by structural
syllabus considerations” (Skehan 1998: 99)
• A Functional classification of tasks is proposed
by Berwick. He distinguishes between Task
goals (educational goals with a clear didactic
function) and social goals (those which require
the use of language simply because the of the
activity in which the participants are engaged
• Foster and Skehan (1996) propose a three-way
functional distinction of tasks:
• Decision – making
• Finally, Pica (1994) distinguishes between
interactional activity and communicative
TBL draws on all three models of language
Lexical units are central in language
use and language learning
• Vocabulary has been considered to play a more
central role in second language learning and,
• Lexical phrases
• Sentence stems
• Prefabricated routines
Skehan incorporates this perspective:
“[…]Linguists and psycholinguistics have argued
that native language speech processing is very
frequently lexical in nature. […] Speech
processing is based on the production and
reception of whole phrase units larger
than the word […] which do not require any
internal processing. […]
Fluency concerns the
learner's capacity to produce
language in real time”
(Skehan 1996b: 21-22)
• Theory of Learning
TBL shares assumptions about the nature of
language learning underlying Communicative
Language Teaching, but some additional
principles play a central role:
• Tasks provide both the input and output
processing necessary for language acquisition
• Task activity and achievements are motivational
• Learning difficulty can be negotiated and fine-
tuned for particular pedagogical purposes
Tasks provide both the input and output
processing necessary for language acquisition
• Tasks, it is said, provide full opportunities for both
input and output requirements, which are
believed to be key processes in language learning
• Plough and Gass (1993) have included
“negotiation of meaning” as a necessary element
• Tasks are believed to foster processes of
negotiation, modification, rephrasing and
experimentation that are at the heart of second
• Tasks are considered to be the pivot point for
stimulation of input-output practice,
negotiation of meaning and transactionally
Task activity and achievement are
Tasks are also said to improve learner motivation
and therefore promote learning, because they:
• Require the learner to use authentic language
• Have a well defined dimension and closure
• Are varied in format an operation
• Include physical activity
• Involve partnership and collaboration
• May call on the learner's past experience
• Tolerate and encourage a variety of
Learning difficulty can be negotiated and fine-
tuned for particular pedagogical purposes
• Specific tasks can be designed to facilitate the
use and learning of particular aspects of
• Long and Crookes(1991) state that tasks
“provide a vehicle for the presentation of
appropriate target language samples […] and
for the delivery of comprehension and
production opportunities of negotiable
• Skehan (1998) suggests that in selecting or
designing tasks there is a trade off between
cognitive processing and focus on form: if the
task is too difficult, fluency may develop at the
expense of accuracy.
• Tasks can be used to “channel” learners toward
particular aspects of language.
Goals in TBL are ideally to be determined by the
specific needs of particular learners. The
selection of tasks, according to Long and Crookes
(1993), should be based on a careful analysis of
the real world needs of the learners.
• The syllabus
TBL is more concerned wit the process dimensions of
learning than with the specific content and skills that might
be acquired through the use of these processes.
A TBL syllabus specifies TASKS
Nunan (1989) suggest a syllabus with two types of tasks:
• Real world tasks: designed to practice or rehearse those
tasks that are found to be important and useful in the
real world (Example: booking a flight)
• Pedagogical tasks: they have a psycholinguistic basis in
SLA theory and research but do not necessarily reflect
real world tasks. (Example: information gap task)
The order of tasks has also to be determined. “Task
difficulty” has been proposed as a basis for the sequencing
of tasks, but the concept itself is difficult to determine.
Honeyfield (1993) offers these considerations:
1) Procedures (what learners have to do to derive output
2) Input text
3) Output required (including language, skills, discourse
knowledge and world knowledge)
4) Amount and type of help
5) Role of teachers and learners
9) Learning styles
Types of Tasks
• According to…
Breen: a language learnig task is a structured plan for the
provision of opportunities for the refinement of knowledge
and capabilities entailed in a new language and its use during
communication. Such a work plan will have its own particular
objective, appropriate content which is to be worked upon
and a working procedure…a simple and brief exercise is a task;
any language test can be included within the spectrum of
For Prabhu, a task is “an activity which requires
learners to arrive at an outcome from given
information thriugh some process of thought, and
which allows teachers to control and regulate that
E.g.: reading train timetables and deciding which train
one should take to get to a certain destination on a
Crookes defines a task as “a piece of work or an activity,
usually with a specified objective, undertaken as part of an
educational course, at work, or used to elicit data for
Willis proposes six task types. She labels her task examples
2. Ordering and sorting
4. Problem solving
5. Sharing personal experiences
6. Creative tasks
Pica, Kanagy and Falodun classify tasks according to the type
of interaction that occurs in task accomplishment and give the
Jigsaw tasks: these involve learners combining different pieces
of information to for a whole.
E.g.: Learners in three groups hear different versions of an
encounter with aliens. Together with other learners, they
complete comprehension questions based on all three
descriptions of the encounter.
Information-gap tasks: one student or group of students has one set of
information and another student or group has a complementary set of
E.g.: Learner A has a biography of a famous person with all the place names
missing, whilst Learner B has the same text with all the dates missing.
Together they can complete the text by asking each other questions.
Decision-making tasks: students are given a problem for whichthere are a
number of possible outcomes and they must choose one throgu
negotiation and discussion.
Opinion exchange tasks: learners engage in discussion and exchange of
ideas. They do not need to reach agreement.
Other characteristics of tasks:
1) One-way or two way: whether the task involves a one-way exchange of
information or a two-way exchange.
2) Convergent or divergent: whether the students achieve a common goal
or several different goals.
3) Collaborative or competitive.
4) Single or multiple outcomes.
5) Concrete or abstract language.
6) Simple or complex processing: whether the task requires simple or
complex cognitive processing.
7) Simple or complex language.
8) Reality-based or not reality-based: whether the task mirrors a real
world activity or is a pedagogical activity not found in the real world.
Primary roles that are implied by task work are:
GROUP PARTICIPANT: many tasks will be done in pairs or in small groups.
MONITOR: in TBL, tasks are not employed for their own sake but as a means
of facilitating learning. Class activities have to designed so that students
have the opportunity to notice how language is used in communication.
RISK-TAKER AND INNOVATOR: many tasks will require learners to create and
interpret messages for which they lack full linguitic resources and prior
experience. The skills of guessing from linguistic and contextual clues,
asking for clarification and consulting with other learners may also need to
SELECTOR AND SEQUENCER OF TASKS: a central role of the
teacher is in selecting, adapting and/or creating the tasks
themselves and then forming these into an instructional
sequence in keeping with learner neeeds, interests and
language skill level.
PREPARING LEARNERS FOR TASKS: activities might include topic
introduction, clarifying task instructions, helping students
learn or recall useful words and phrases to facilitate task
accomplishment and providing partial demonstration of task
The Role of Instructional Materials
Materials that can be exploited for instruction in TBLT are limited only by the
imagination of the task designer.
Realia: the use of authentic tasks supported by authentic maerials
wherever possible. The following are some of the task types that can be
built around such media products:
E.g.: students prepare a job-wanted ad using examples form the classified
E.g.: after watching an episode of an unknown soap opera, students list
characters and their possible relationship to other characters in the
E.g.: students initiate a “chat” in a chat room, indicating a current interest in
their life and developing an answer to the first three people to respond.
Example of a TBL lesson plan
• What do you think is the strangest animal in the world?
Discuss in pais.
• What do you think the platypus is like? Draw and write the
names of the parts of the body.
• Each compares their drawing with their friend’s.
• The teacher shows a picture of a platypus to the students.
They compare the picture to the one they have drawn.
• The teacher now displays another picture of this animal with
some new vocabulary included (adjective+part of the body).
Students should see this picture for half a minute and then
include to their drawings as many vocabulary as they can
remember. They compare their results in pais and hey report
results to the class.
• In pairs, students discuss what characteristics they think this
animal may have according to his body (habitat, alimentation,
reproductive cycle, etc).
• Students watch a fragment of a documentary and find out
information about the platypus. On a second watching, they
should complete a chart with the required information.
• Students report results to the class.
• Students do some practice on the new
vocabulary and collocations learnt thoughout
the lesson. While correcting, the teacher goes
back to the topic and engages students in