Task-based learning approach – situational tasks

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A task-based learning approach (TBL), or task-based instruction (TBI), places emphasis on the use of authentic target language in order for students to complete an assigned task.

As I discuss in this post about teachers’ beliefs in ELT, I have been quite attached to lexis-based teaching since 2011.

Recently, however, I have begun to notice the benefits of varying my teaching methods. I have become interested in adopting a task-based learning approach because it emphasises communication and fluency over accuracy. This is ideal for me because I want my students to be confident human beings who are not held back by a fear of making mistakes.

As I want to get on with describing a specific type of task I have implemented recently with my online students, I won’t go over the stages which lessons tend to follow when it concerns a task-based learning approach. However, this superb article summarises the stages and compares a task-based learning approach with PPP



A TASK-BASED LEARNING ACTIVITY THAT REAPS REWARDS

In recent times, I’ve been trying to combine my usual lexis-based teaching with a more task-based learning approach. Therefore, it’s been my goal to come up with some original task-based learning activities.

The first idea that sprang to mind was to think up a real-life situation and get my students to create a story, either imagined or true, about what happened.

Let me take you through the stages of the first situation I came up with:  

Bus ride from A to B in London

Aims:

  • practice of common phrasal verbs related to the use of public transport
  • descriptive use of past simple 
  • use of time transitions, for example, “then” and “after that” 

Possible language to use:

  • give change (money) 
  • help (somebody) up (from their seat) 
  • stand up
  • sit down 
  • get on 
  • get off 
  • stand in line 
  • drive off 
  • fall asleep 
  • get into a fight (WITH someone) 
  • at the next stop 
  • stare at (someone) 
  • take sth out (of your bag/pocket) 
  • give up a seat (to an elderly person)

Instructions:

  • Use the pictures below to create a story about an eventful bus journey you had in London, England
  • Give as many details as you can - be imaginative and descriptive
  • Use as much of the language in the previous section as you can
  • You can use the first or third person
  • Add other pictures and details if you would like to
  • Add opinions about some of the situations in the pictures which took place
task based learning approach

Language practice:

1. What’s going ___?

2. Are you getting _____ at the next stop?

3. I’ve never seen a driver fight ______ a passenger before

4. There were twenty people in the queue so it took me at least three minutes to get ______ the bus when it stopped

5. Honestly, I always _____ up my seat to an elderly person


Story (teacher to type as student speaks):

...........

..........

COMMENTS ON THIS TASK-BASED LEARNING APPROACH

The task-based learning approach I’m trying to implement varies greatly from the methods and stages seen in teaching manuals and methodological textbooks.

First of all, my students are given time to prepare for the task before the lesson. However, they are encouraged to make notes as opposed to writing their story out word-for-word.

The preparation time given to students cuts out the need for introducing pre-task activities and going through the target language that students should include in their stories.

I’m a fast typer so I’ve been able to write down my students’ stories almost word for word. If I slow down, I’m at least able to note their major errors and key areas for improvement.

I will start recording these stories because it will give both my students and me plenty of material to analyse and improve upon. 


HOW DID MY STUDENTS HANDLE THIS TASK?

So far, four of my students have attempted this task. Two of them clearly wanted to stick to the rules and used all of the pictures and phrases to create a deeply imaginative story. Their control of the language was very good, though not spectacular.

One student confessed to not having any imagination skills, so she used the situation to tell a true story about a train journey that she’d had a week before we did the task. I notice that she didn’t use any of the phrases, which was a little concerning.

Finally, one of my Russian students dealt admirably with the task. He used some of the pictures and the majority of the phrases to tell a true story about an eventful bus journey he once had in Cambridge.


FINAL THOUGHTS

It’s difficult to get into my students’ heads and force them to do something in a way that I believe is conducive to efficient learning, the development of fluency and the retention of lexis, such as phrasal verbs.

What this task-based learning activity has taught me is that students need to be trusted. If they do things in a way I may never have expected, then I need to analyse the whole situation and see whether the output they have produced is worth both their and my time. In the case of my Russian student, he exploited the task and his output was exceptionally thoughtful.

I feel that there’s a lot to be gained from a task-based learning approach. I just need to experiment with as many different tasks as possible to see how my students respond to them.

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