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.

A Task-based approach - methodology article

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

Find out more about task-based learning and other approaches in our teacher development module Understanding methods and approaches in ELT.

Tags

Comments

hi sir / mam, just wondering with TBL actually my partner and i decided that TBL would be our topic and we want to introduce this approach in teaching science among students in one of the high school in our province. To be honest our thesis title was already approved by our professor. Do you think we could have a good results in teaching science with this approach?? just want to know your opinion. thanks!

Thanks for this great article. However, I have several things to ask due to my insufficient knowledge about this method.

1) After reading this article, it seems to me that TBL is an unstructured lesson framework. If this is true, is it still possible to apply it in a context where teachers are required to teach based on a set of predetermined curricular contents?

2) Next, if it is carried out as an unstructured lesson, the class will proceed depending on the language brought into the class by the students, which relies on the students' existing knowledge. If it is so, when is it the time for the teacher to introduce a new language item to the students? Or, introducing a new language item cannot be done by using TBL? (Here, I am talking of an EFL context).

Thank you.

Hello

Thanks for your comment, and glad you found the article useful.

TBL isn't necessarily a framework without any structure - the teacher would divide the task up into different sections, but the focus is on completing the task rather than teaching a specific language point. If you have to teach predetermined language or grammar, then of course, this might not come up in the task. Many teachers would use TBL alongside other teaching approaches, and maybe those are better suited to introducing set language structures that need to be included in the course. This article gives an overview of some of the differences in the two approaches, which you might find useful: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/tbl-pbl-two-learner-centred-a...
And here you have another article describing some different task types for TBL:
https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/six-types-task-tbl

I hope that helps,
Best wishes,
Cath
TE Team

Personally- I have a hard time accepting that I, as a teacher, am leaving the language targets up to the students. First of all even in the strongest of classes my students have an overall goal- and they need to be able to complete certain tasks to complete these goals. IF they are left to 'figure out' what they're learning as they go, they may never stumble across these targeted areas or necessarily connect them to the overall goal. SO for a Tasked Based Class- I would think that this would not completely cover any thing more than a purely oral for fun class. I would NOT in good conscious, tell my students that I am prepping them to take the IELTS test with this method...nor would I use this method in a structured curriculum based school setting that relies on previously taught material in order to advance.

That being said - I do find this model a great tool to further my students range of use. I preload vocabulary first- then go over the targeted area content (be it topic or grammar based)- and then in a subsequent lesson I use a task to reinforce both my targeted language but also to judge how well each person/ group has understood the target. I find this method more suitable as most students do not just 'learn' new language by doing a task- it's my job as their teacher to expand their language and not just rely on what they already know. It's one thing to just allow students to wander through language acquisition but quite another to guide them in creating their own language ability.

I often find that for TBL/TBI to succeed students need to be highly motivated. I think TBL/TBI may be counterproductive in contexts where students are used to lecture-mode/lcok step and other traditional language clarficiation approaches. I understand that TBL/TBI is not only a way of presenting the systems, yet I seriously doubt the utility of TBL/TBI at lower levels with shy and conservative students. I wish someone could share the bnefits/uses of TBL/TBI at lower levels and wtih students studying English as a subject in not as a language in large classes. Also, I am planning to study the effect of TBL in my context (a university with large classes and EFL situation) and would really like some help with research.

Pages

Add new comment

Log in or register to post comments