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

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Comments

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

Hi everybody, my name is Paola. I live in Ayacucho. I'm from Peru and I'm an English teacher. Now, I'm working in a research about this approach to improve the speaking in students in basic level. I haven't got many resources in my country and I would to ask if you could provide me some material.I would greatly appreciate, I hope so.

This is a good approach but it is not posssible to show a recorded activity in all the classes.It is not possible unadvanced countries like India.It may be possible in some corporate schools.

There have been criticisms that task-based learning is not appropriate for beginning students; that is, teachers question its usefulness at lower levels. Others claim that in TBL, there is a danger that students may develop fluency at the expense of accuracy. Moreover, it is believed that such an approach will not help the teacher to be systematic in their teaching process. That is to say, this approach requires teachers to interact with their students in an unsystematic way. Further, Learners who are used to a more traditional grammatical syllabus may find this approach difficult to come to terms with. This is so because of the apparent randomness in TBL. In addition, Littlewood, W. (1999) notes that one of the features of TBL that worries teachers is that it seems to have no place for the teaching of grammar. Nevertheless, we have seen that in TBL, there is a close attention paid to the grammar of the language being leant at the last stage (language focus stage). To summarise, TBL does not, or rather should not, mean 'forget the grammar'. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Task-based_language_learning)       As far as I am concerned, these arguments levelled against TBL seem to be far-fetching and lack adequate evidence, though there is a degree of truth in them. Actually, TBL is complete within itself. I am not implying here, however, that it is a perfect teaching methodology. Nothing goes without problems, especially in this field of language learning and teaching. Assuming that TBL is deficient unless it covers everything would be a serious mistake. All in all, TBL has so far proved to be an adequate teaching approach and talking about its ineffectiveness will be valid only when a more effective approach is introduced.

    Hello evrybody ,in fact I'm about to start working on "syllabus desing". This concerns  the English subject for Business Sciences students. Actually , I've been tepmpted by the implementation of the "TBL" in this syllabus , but still i'm in a serious need of finding some samples of the kinds of tasks "TBL" suggests, as its practical . I'd like to adapt the content ,I target , to  these samples to get an image of the final "TBL-based lesson". I need as well to have an idea about the objective(s) set by the TBL teacher as a targeted outcome worked out throughout the lesson ,considering the latter as the building unit of the syllabus.     I really hope to find someone there to guide me.     Millions of thanks.

This is a nice summary with the pros and cons but I think those who are unfamiliar with TBLL would benefit from some background reading.

Firstly, one of the leading authorities on TBLL is Rod Ellis, University of Aukland. His book: Task-based Language Learning and Teaching (2003) is probably the best place to start. You can also find a number of PPT presentations and videos of Rod Ellis talking on the subject of TBLL if you search the web.

Secondly, I've seen and heard many remarks about how TBLL increases fluency but does little for accuracy. That would be the case if learners aren't encouraged and helped to "focus on form". Michael Long is a renowned scholar in this respect: http://www.mhhe.com/socscience/foreignlang/top.htm

And finally, another learning and teaching approach that is particularly productive with TBLL is Reflective Practice for both learners (Reflective Inquiry) and teachers (Reflective Practice). Thomas Farrell at Brock University in Canada is a pioneer in this field. See: Professional Development for Language Teachers: Strategies for Teacher Learning (Cambridge Language Education) by Jack C. Richards and Thomas S. C. Farrell (4 Apr 2005), and the forthcoming: Reflective Writing for Language Teachers (Frameworks for Writing) by Thomas S.C. Farrell (1 Aug 2012)

I hope this helps!

Can u please tell me that whether TBL can be used for teaching enlgish grammar for Secondary school students.

f you want to increase your English vocabulary and want to flaunt in front of everyone then you should visit www.mnemonicdictionary.com. This website has too much interesting methods by which you will learn words with an interesting manner, not by the regular boring stuff.

I have limited formal teacher training (I did a DTLLS course) However I have been engaged in delivering material to a wide range of schools (Secondary/FE) in the UK.

I almost immediately identified that the students were being driven to utter tedium using the conventional methodologies (which I now know is PPP based) which I witnessed when embedded in their conventional lesson.

I knew drastic action was required. I developed a TBL approach and restructured my lessons. In brief my aim was to silence my-self and get the students to engage, contribute, etc to the max.

It works. I deliver to large classes, that I usually have never seen before and will never see again.

The students are great from start to finish, I'm their to get them into action and doing the work.

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