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An article discussing different models for the organization of language lessons, including Task-Based Learning. How often do we as teachers ask our students to do something in class which they would do in everyday life using their own language? Probably not often enough. If we can make language in the classroom meaningful therefore memorable, students can process language which is being learned or recycled more naturally.
Task-based learning offers the student an opportunity to do exactly this. The primary focus of classroom activity is the task and language is the instrument which the students use to complete it. The task is an activity in which students use language to achieve a specific outcome. The activity reflects real life and learners focus on meaning, they are free to use any language they want.
Playing a game, solving a problem or sharing information or experiences, can all be considered as relevant and authentic tasks. In TBL an activity in which students are given a list of words to use cannot be considered as a genuine task. Nor can a normal role play if it does not contain a problem-solving element or where students are not given a goal to reach.
In many role plays students simply act out their restricted role. For instance, a role play where students have to act out roles as company directors but must come to an agreement or find the right solution within the given time limit can be considered a genuine task in TBL.
In the task-based lessons included below our aim is to create a need to learn and use language. That is not to say that there will be no attention paid to accuracy, work on language is included in each task and feedback and language focus have their places in the lesson plans.
How can I use TBL in the classroom? Each task will be organized in the following way: Pre-task activity an introduction to topic and task Task cycle: A traditional model for the organization of language lessons, both in the classroom and in course-books, has long been the PPP approach presentation, practice, production.
With this model individual language items for example, the past continuous are presented by the teacher, then practised in the form of spoken and written exercises often pattern drillsand then used by the learners in less controlled speaking or writing activities.
Although the grammar point presented at the beginning of this procedure may well fit neatly into a grammatical syllabus, a frequent criticism of this approach is the apparent arbitrariness of the selected grammar point, which may or may not meet the linguistic needs of the learners, and the fact that the production stage is often based on a rather inauthentic emphasis on the chosen structure.
An alternative to the PPP model is the Test-Teach-Test approach TTTin which the production stage comes first and the learners are "thrown in at the deep end" and required to perform a particular task a role play, for example.
This is followed by the teacher dealing with some of the grammatical or lexical problems that arose in the first stage and the learners then being required either to perform the initial task again or to perform a similar task.
While this is not a radical departure from TTT, it does present a model that is based on sound theoretical foundations and one which takes account of the need for authentic communication.
Task-based learning TBL is typically based on three stages. The first of these is the pre-task stage, during which the teacher introduces and defines the topic and the learners engage in activities that either help them to recall words and phrases that will be useful during the performance of the main task or to learn new words and phrases that are essential to the task.
This stage is followed by what Willis calls the "task cycle". Here the learners perform the task typically a reading or listening exercise or a problem-solving exercise in pairs or small groups.
They then prepare a report for the whole class on how they did the task and what conclusions they reached.
Finally, they present their findings to the class in spoken or written form.
The final stage is the language focus stage, during which specific language features from the task and highlighted and worked on. The main advantages of TBL are that language is used for a genuine purpose meaning that real communication should take place, and that at the stage where the learners are preparing their report for the whole class, they are forced to consider language form in general rather than concentrating on a single form as in the PPP model.
Whereas the aim of the PPP model is to lead from accuracy to fluency, the aim of TBL is to integrate all four skills and to move from fluency to accuracy plus fluency. The range of tasks available reading texts, listening texts, problem-solving, role-plays, questionnaires, etc offers a great deal of flexibility in this model and should lead to more motivating activities for the learners.
Learners who are used to a more traditional approach based on a grammatical syllabus may find it difficult to come to terms with the apparent randomness of TBL, but if TBL is integrated with a systematic approach to grammar and lexis, the outcome can be a comprehensive, all-round approach that can be adapted to meet the needs of all learners.
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