TeachingEnglish
A Task-based approach

In recent years a debate has developed over which approaches to structuring and planning and implementing lessons are more effective. This article presents an overview of a task-based learning approach (TBL) and highlights its advantages over the more traditional Present, Practice, Produce (PPP) approach.

This article also links to the following activity.
Try - Speaking activities - Task-based speaking - planning a night out

  • Present Practice Produce
  • The problems with PPP
  • A Task-based approach
  • The advantages of TBL
  • Conclusion


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.


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 won't 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.


A Task-based approach
Task -based learning offers an alternative for language teachers. In a task-based lesson the teacher doesn't 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.

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.

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 practise 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.

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.

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.
  • 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.


Conclusion
PPP offers a very simplified approach to language learning. It is based upon the idea that you can present language in neat little blocks, adding from one lesson to the next. However, research shows us that we cannot predict or guarantee what the students will learn and that ultimately a wide exposure to language is the best way of ensuring that students will acquire it effectively. Restricting their experience to single pieces of target language is unnatural.

For more information see 'A Framework for Task-Based Learning' by Jane Wills, Longman; 'Doing Task-Based Teaching' by Dave and Jane Willis, OUP 2007.
Also see www.willis-elt.co.uk

Richard Frost, British Council, Turkey

Average: 3.9 (178 votes)

Comments

halasalih's picture
halasalih

Greetings

Most of the TBL activities depend on group or pair work. I was just wondering how does fit with large classee.

Hala

taekwon79tkd's picture
taekwon79tkd

Hi Hala,

In response to your question, I will actually recall Jane Willis reply in her interview on this same website. When she was asked if a task-based approach would fit a large class, she said that the only way to teach a large group was to give them a task. And most of the tasks require group or pair work. There might be a little noise but that's how it goes.

Hussain

Saudi Arabia

Dave Willis's picture
Dave Willis

It's a good question, Halasalih, and one that is often asked. I think there are three parts to the answer. The first part is suggested by Hussain in his comments above. If you keep a large class under close teacher control all the time they have very, very little opportunity to use the language. The only way to give them this opportunity is to break up into groups or pairs.

The second part of the answer goes into the history of TBL. One of the earliest users of the notion of task was N.S. Prabhu, working in Bangalore in South India. Prabhu used TBL in very large classes but based his teaching around a series of tasks, most of which involved problem solving of various kinds. Prabu's classes were teacher led with no pair or group work. His classes were conducted entirely in English. He would explain the background and perhaps explain how to solve a problem. He would then set a similar problem and work through it with the class in teacher led mode - in the same way as a maths teacher, for example, works through a problem with the class. Finally he would ask learners as individuals to solve the problem. They were then asked to explain in English how they had done this. If you had seen one of Prabhu's lessons you might have though you were observing a maths lesson or a geography lesson, depending on the nature of the problem. You would probably not have guessed that you were observing an English lesson. But his pupils learned to use English more effectively than their counterparts who were engaged in traditional language lessons.

So it is possible to use a task-based methodology in teacher led mode. In our book Doing Task-based Teaching (OUP 2007) we have devoted a section (7.6) to teacher roles, including a discussion of teacher led tasks. Basically you need to extend the teacher led introduction to a task. You can then do two things to replace the usual group work. First work through a similar problem or part of the problem in teacher led mode. Secondly allow learners time to work as individuals instead of asking them to work in groups. You can follow this up by asking learners to work as individuals to solve the problem then giving them time to prepare their answers before explaining their answers to the class.

This teacher led approach is a viable methodology, but I don't think it's ideal. As we have seen above it does not allow learners enough opportunities to produce language for themselves.

This brings me to the third part of my answer, which is a part of Richard Frost's excellent article (above). Both of you, Halasalih and Hussein, have obviously though carefully and critically about TBL. You have recognised difficulties and looked for ways around them. This is what good teachers do when they meet new ideas and approaches. But the trouble is that we don't always subject established approaches to the same critical scrutiny. Why, for example, is it that learners who have worked in a traditional PPP mode can do grammar exercises but can't actually use the language? Why is it so difficult to motivate learners? Why is it that most learners do not have a usable competence in the foreign language even after six or seven years in the classroom. These are really important questions. And these are the questions which TBL can answer if it is sensibly and sensitively applied.

Roseyanni's picture
Roseyanni

Hi all,

I have another question, that is: what if there are some very shy students in the groups of big class who are not willing to work with others ? How can we encourage them to coorporate with others and make sure they can learn something?

Thank you.

Rose

mazibulhaque's picture
mazibulhaque

Hi allGreetings from me!I think that teacher is the feature of nature.Every teacher can create an innovative idea how teach samething in different way.Better late than never. As a matter of great regret that teachers of Bangladesh are seldom trained.A trained teacher can create live discussion on any lesson.I have earnest request to British council to arrange TKT as a pilot project for the underdeveloping country like Bangladesh. Kind regardsMazibul Haque 

mazibulhaque's picture
mazibulhaque

Hi allGreetings from me!I think that teacher is the feature of nature.Every teacher can create an innovative idea how to teach samething in different way.Better late than never. As a matter of great regret that teachers of Bangladesh are seldom trained.A trained teacher can create live discussion on any lesson.I have earnest request to British council to arrange TKT as a pilot project for the underdeveloping country like Bangladesh. Kind regardsMazibul HaqueEmail: mazibulhaque@gmail.com

DebbieT's picture
DebbieT

I guess I need to read your book(s) but I'm intrigued by your ideas. In attempting to work with tasks, I've found that in a monolingual classroom, the students consistently use their L1 instead of the L2 when working in pairs or groups, thus not benefiting from the opportunities to practice the L1. What can I do to improve this? Is the task too difficult? Is their proficiency too low for attempting to problem-solve in the L2? The students are so concerned with getting the "right" answer that they forget about using/learning the L2.Thanks for your suggestions. DT

Nataliya13's picture
Nataliya13

I use both methods. It sometimes depends on the stage of learning, sometimes on the age of students. Those who are older prefer being taught via PPP, younger learners enjoy TBL.

Zuhaira's picture
Zuhaira

Hi all,
Recently there has been a debate on this new approach called 'dogma' by Scott Thornboury and I see it quite relavent in my own teaching context. However, I have not been able to draw clear lines between TBL and Dogma approach since both of them depend heavily on teachers'  guidance in the lesson and depend less on structured courses. Or is it so that we can apply TBL to any course?
 

summy's picture
summy

Could you tell me what are the possible risks the teacher can face when carrying out the lesson, in tbl?

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