I’ve been wondering about task-based learning (TBL) and how to incorporate it more deliberately into my classes. However, here´s my disclaimer- I am not an expert. I wanted to share my lesson along with both my reflections and the students’ thoughts. I’m finding my way. I’m not going to go into the theories and debates relating to TBL as there are plenty of people who do a better job than I possibly could. Put simply though I’d say TBL focuses on meaning and a task outcome which is usually related to a real world situation. TBL is often associated with the idea of ‘learning by doing’.

In this post I’ll outline the task and then I’ll consider the outcome from my perspective and the students’ post-task reflection. To give some context to the lesson I’d like to point out that I work in a coursebook-centred environment. We were due to study the topic of travel in the coursebook (New English File: Upper Int B2.2). Both groups I used it with are teens.

The Task

Students were put into pairs and asked to decide on a holiday destination and find information about the trip which would later be presented to the class. It was staged as follows.

I gave the students a list of questions which were to act as prompts a guide for information they could include.

I showed this video of me searching for the information for my chosen holiday so they had an idea of what I wanted them to do.

Students then worked together for about 30-40 minutes preparing their presentations.

Finally they presented to the other groups.

The audience decided if they would like to go on the holiday or not and they were asked to give reasons.

My impression

I found the task to be very productive and from my point of view it was successful for the reasons outlined below.

All the focus was taken away from me and placed onto the students. My TTT (teacher talking time) was minimal.

Student engagement was higher than usual.

The students communicated in English for the duration of the task.

I’d purposely put new language into the questions and the students were motivated to find the meaning. For example, when they encountered an unfamiliar term they asked me, checked online or asked each other.

Without any prompt from me, several students asked for correction of their pronunciation prior to the presentation as they were focused on the outcome.

When I was required to clarify or correct language the students were much more interested in what I was saying. Again I can presume this is because they were focused on the outcome.

The students’ feedback

I wanted to know how the students experienced the task so they completed short written feedback immediately after the task. Here are some of their thoughts:

What did you like about the task?

The answers seem to agree with my impression that they were more engaged.

‘I like it because it’s more dynamic’, ‘I like talking with my partner’. ‘I liked that the task was pretty fun and interesting’, ‘I liked the topic’ and ‘I prefer this to everything else´.

How does it compare to what we usually do?

I think this student is pointing out the combination of skills: ‘We practised reading (we had to search), writing (write the trip), and oral (talk to the class)’

‘In this task we had to be more creative’

Other students pointed out we hadn’t used the book and they were using their phones to find information.

What didn’t you enjoy?

The answers here were overwhelmingly positive.

‘Nothing, I enjoyed (it)’, ‘I really enjoy(ed) it), ‘I liked all’.

One student pointed out that ‘it was a bit difficult to be creative’ and one felt they’d been given a bit too long to do it.

What did you learn by doing this task?

‘I learned how to search for information about holidays and new vocabulary.’ Interestingly, all the students referred to searching for information online and many saw looking for a holiday as the main purpose. On the other hand, several mentioned learning new vocabulary/expressions related to holidays.

Why did I ask you to do it?

‘To improve speaking and writing’, ‘we can practise a lot of things and have a good time’, ‘to learn new vocabulary’, and ‘to do something different’.

To summarise I’d say that although I´m not sure if I did it right, I still think this was a successful activity and it’s left me wanting to do more.

I have questions about what to do with the language generated and I want to create a situation where they use it again. I might ask them to write a review of their holiday imagining that they went on it.

Was it all good?

My view and the view of the students seems to be overwhelmingly positive; we’d all agree that I should include more of this type of task. However, here are some things I need to think about for next time.

My task was still very prescriptive given the number of questions I asked. One group responded as I’d intended using them as a springboard. The other group focused more on each individual question rather than the whole (the presentation) I was asking them to produce. However, I think if I’d asked fewer questions some may have produced less.

The students generally got the idea that I was asking them to find and notice the language used on holiday websites but this was done with varying levels of success. For example, I was pleased when some students pieced together chunks of language they had come across and combined it with their exisiting language knowledge. However, if a student reproduced a large piece of text from their searches it felt as though the task had been less successful.

Timing may present an issue. In my first class there was no problem but in the second, even though I had set a clear time limit to do the task I noticed one pair found it difficult to extend beyond my guided questions whereas another pair really got into the task and wanted even longer. I guess different finishing times is always an issue whatever we do.

Interested in TBL?

Here are a couple of links to videos I have watched this week.

If TBL is new to you this video offers a simple explanation as Rod Eliis highlights the difference between what constitutes a task and what is an activity.

One of the most interesting issues that arises with TBL is the debate it generates between views on the place of coursebooks and TBL (a debate I wish to avoid for now). Cooperativa de Servicios Lingüísticas Barcelona run a course on TBL. There’s a taster module which provides an introduction and it contains some thought-provoking ideas. There’s an overview of declarative versus procedural knowledge by Geoff Jordan here.

Some final questions.

Do you use TBL in class?

What resources/reading related to TBL would you recommend for someone who wants to learn more?

Any links to TBL activities you´d like to share?