Guide to the Task-Based Language Learning

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I think that the task-based approach is one of the best approaches to teach English since I have used myself over the past three years in my classes as a university professor in the UTN in Costa Rica.

I also have had the chance to use smartphones as part of my teaching there since I have all the resources to do so and I love technology.

You don’t have to force me to use technology, I just think that if you have smartphones, a whiteboard  and  a strong internet connection, you can make things work really easy if you train your students to use them effectively.

The combination of task-based learning and technology is powerful.

What’s Task-Based Language Learning

Task-based language teaching (TBLT), also known as task-based instruction (TBI), focuses on the use of authentic language and on asking students to do meaningful tasks using the target language.

Task-based language learning is important because:

  • It is meaning-based but offer opportunities to study language.
  • It is motivating because it is relevant to learners.
  • It involves learning by doing.

The task-based approach is made up of four important parts which are:

  • Schema activation which is a small activity to activate student’s background knowledge and it can be related to games.
  • Pre-task activities which usually include  a presentation of the topic, you can include the students in that if you want. Then the rest of activities can take different forms, these can be about reading, speaking, listening and  writing. These can be language or content focused.
  • We also have the main task which is the most important part of the lesson because everything you do in the previous two stages has the end goals of doing well in this part of the lesson.
  • The post-task stage is also a very important stage, you can call it a consolidation stage because you are going to spend some time in it dealing with the errors that students make.

There are professionals which call these stages:

  • Pre-task stage
  • During-task stage
  • Post-task stage

Task-Based Language Learning Tasks

These are some of the characteristics of Task-based language Teaching tasks

  • Meaning is primary.
  • A communicative problems needs to be solved.
  • There is a link with real-world tasks.
  • The Task is assessed in terms of outcome

Something that we must remember is that tasks don’t have to be necessarily oral activities, writing, listening and reading activities can be also part of a task-based lesson.

Example of Task-based language activities:

  1. Responding to an email from a colleague from work.
  2. Asking for directions to get to a new place in a new city.

Sometimes you learn what a task is by answering these four questions:

  1. is meaning the primary focus of the task?
  2. Is a communicative problem solved during the task?
  3. Is there a link between the activity and real-world tasks?
  4. Can we assess the task based on the outcome?

Another important aspect regarding task-based language teaching is that sometimes a syllabus uses task-supported language teaching which are task which not necessarily meet the criteria mentioned above.

Task-Based Language Learning and Receptive Skills

TBL classes can be oriented to reading and listening but those tend to be less common since reading and listening usually don’t take an active role.  I can only think of a classes which are aiming to help students  learn how to skim and read a text but  I think that the PPP approach would be a better approach if you want to help students develop receptive skills in isolation.

Task-Based Language Learning and  Writing Classes

The TBL can be used to teach an important aspect of writing such as writing emails but I personally don’t like to teach the TBL to teach writing in isolation since the TBL serves a greater purpose. I would say that there are others framework which can help students achieve better results in their writing. However using the TBL to teach writing is something worthy to explore.

Task-Based Language Learning and Speaking Classes

The TBL is an approach that works well in speaking-oriented lessons since everything depends on the main goal you set.  If the goals is helping students produce, the controlled reading, listening and writing will help that end goal. if speaking is the ability that you want your students to develop, you can make every reading, writing and listening communicative.

Making a reading communicative is quite easy since you can tell students to complete a task and then ask the learner to share some important information, they read, for example, you ask your learners to read a short biography about Brad Pitt and then you ask your learners to share the most important details about brad’s biography. 

Task-Based Language Learning and Technology

So you can teach all skills using the task-based approach as long as those activities help students achieving  the objective of the lesson.

The degree in which you use the technology depends on how creative you are and how embedded technology is embedded in your teaching methodology

I love incorporating technology in my TBL classes for so many reasons, the first is that students love using their devices in the classroom and that fact alone boosts their motivation.

The second reason to use smartphones in TBL classes is that we are distancing ourselves from the traditional old classes which pretty much consist of adding information from the whiteboard to notebook or solving copies. TBL is about learning by doing so a TBL class that involves smartphone will have students working with the cellphone in their hands most of the time. That’s pretty rare to see in most classroom based on my experience.

The third reason for using smartphones in TBL classes is that you will save tons of money in materials, copies, worksheets and so on. That’s a benefit for the professor and for the students. Students love having the key information on their phones, it is something that they can use and study anywhere.

If students spend a lot of time on their phones, we have to go where they are, we have to create or use already existing resources to make sure they learn the lesson.

Some people are reluctant about using devices in the classroom because they think that these are a great distraction but we have to change that paradigm

I can mention a few activities which I find quite engaging if you have the resources:

Padlet

Padlet is a great app to start collaborative writing since all of them can write a piece in a padlet wall. What I do is asking learners to write something in the padlet wall and I check in real time. When I am in the classroom , I take a look at what they are writing and give them feedback right away. Now that virtual classes are a thing, I have done something similar sharing my screen using Google Meet with the learners and then providing feedback.

Instagram

Instagram was another site which is very popular among teenagers and it can be used to teach English. The other day I posted a few pictures on an instagram account and ask my students to type a comment about such person. I was sharing my screen with my students and I liked every comment who did well in the task.

I am sure that there are plenty of other ways to use technology in the classroom to promote reading, speaking, listening and writing.

I can tell you with all honesty that using technology is something that make fell in love with my teaching because if times flies for me, it also flies for the students. The biggest thing that I want is enjoy my time and feel that a 3-hour lesson didn’t feel like a 3-hour lesson.

I like the fact that the TBL and the implementation of smartphones in the classroom creates a place in which new ideas can be applied and refined.

Video Recommendations to Learn about Task-Based Language Learning

This is one of the best videos in which task-based language learning is explained.

YouTube video

These are some task-based language learning resources which can help you learn more about the topic:

  1. Demo: Task-Based Learning – International TEFL Academy

Recommendations when Using Task-Based Language Learning

Remember that one of the important principles when applying TBL in the classroom is that you have to use good scaffolding techniques  so every task server the purpose of achieving the main goal of the lesson.

The second recommendation when applying the TBL is that students have to get used to it and that takes a little bit of time if they have been taught using traditional methods of learning.

Teachers must act as guides and they don’t have to act as the center of attention, learners are the ones who are supposed to work hard during lesson as you monitor what they do and provide feedback.

Conclusion

The task-based approach in its simplicity is one of the best methods to teach English, if not the best method to do it.

The key is keeping it simple, if we start adding stuff which doesn’t stay true to the original concept, that modified TBL will end up burden teachers and students in the short and long term.

TBL is one of the best methods if you want to grow professionally and improve your teaching style. I have learned so many good things thanks to the task-based approach and this has helped me a lot gaining confidence especially in classes that tend to last more than 2 hours and which are speaking-oriented.

Jose Manuel Campos N - English Professor

About manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of EnglishPost.org, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English