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.

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

Comments

Submitted by halasalih on Thu, 05/29/2008 - 20:02

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

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

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.

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

Hi all

Greetings 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 regards

Mazibul Haque

 

Hi all

Greetings 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 regards

Mazibul Haque

Email: mazibulhaque@gmail.com

Submitted by DebbieT on Fri, 07/24/2009 - 09:47

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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

Submitted by Nataliya13 on Tue, 11/16/2010 - 20:12

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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.

Hi all,

Recently there has been a debate on this new approach called 'dogma' by Scott Thornboury and I see it quite relevant 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?

 

I to a considerable extent agree with you that TBL as explained in this article has resemblance to the Dogma approach by Scott Thornbury in which both are based on an unstructured lesson framework. Are they really the same? However, when our lesson is restricted by a set of curricular content that we should follow, is TBL still feasible to be applied?

Submitted by summy on Thu, 06/02/2011 - 19:50

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

Submitted by hadadeanis on Mon, 10/31/2011 - 15:26

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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.

Submitted by jvl narasimha rao on Thu, 11/03/2011 - 01:08

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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.

Submitted by Hammani12 on Wed, 02/08/2012 - 18:58

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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.

Submitted by amarbel on Wed, 03/07/2012 - 12:29

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    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.

Submitted by matbury on Mon, 05/14/2012 - 01:29

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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!

Submitted by Noora Abdul Kader on Fri, 05/10/2013 - 14:37

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

Submitted by ankur mahajan on Thu, 10/30/2014 - 10:27

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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.

Submitted by mike904 on Sat, 01/30/2016 - 15:23

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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.

Submitted by mjgiray.ph on Thu, 02/04/2016 - 02:20

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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!

Submitted by wmyartawan on Fri, 05/12/2017 - 02:59

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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.

Submitted by Cath McLellan on Fri, 05/12/2017 - 12:53

In reply to by wmyartawan

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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-approaches?page=2 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

Submitted by ReiMi on Tue, 01/30/2018 - 23:54

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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.

Submitted by mshujaat2012 on Sun, 06/17/2018 - 10:15

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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.

Submitted by carlosweb1000 on Sat, 04/27/2019 - 15:16

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The PPP is a simplified instructional designed model that can consider different tasks into its performance. It includes TBL (Task Based Learning).

Submitted by KateB on Fri, 07/26/2019 - 06:05

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The article looks great. Task Based Learning is the next best alternative to PPP or as some may consider it to be part of PPP. However, as rightly mentioned in your article, with the TBL approach, students are free to communicate (without any language constraint) and interact to reach their goals determined by the task. I also found a similar article here, which speaks about some task based activities that can be done: https://www.xploretefl.com/articles/task-based-learning-teaching/

Submitted by IraMaidan on Wed, 08/10/2022 - 16:53

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As for me, it is better to use TBL when students have some basic knowledge. For primary teaching PPP is not bad.

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