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learning approach. There is a tendency to associate communication tasks and task-based learning (TBL) with an increase in fluency activities and a reduction in the concern for accuracy. Indeed, I have heard some teachers admit to feeling guilty about teaching grammar. This need not, and research shows that it should not, be the case A focus on both accuracy and fluency can be naturally incorporated if tasks are used systematically as the central part of a larger framework. Grammar and language study arise out of the task and accompanying materials where the emphasis is on their meaning and actual use. Specific features of language form are highlighted after the learners have experienced language in use within a holistic context during the task cycle. What is a task? My definition of ‘task’ (which is more specific than that used by Andrew Littlejohn in ETp Issue One) is: … a goal-oriented activity in which learners use language to achieve a real outcome. In other words, learners use whatever target language resources they have in order to solve a problem, make a list, do a puzzle, play a game, or share and compare experiences. In this sense, the following is a language practice activity, not a task, because the focus is on form, not outcome: Use the question form ‘Did you ever …’ to ask your partner about their childhood. Tasks vary in length. A beginners’ task might only take a minute or so: Ask three people in your class for their phone numbers and write them down. More creative tasks, such as anecdotetelling may take around ten minutes. Some, such as this reading task, may take longer: Compare the summary of the text with the original and spot the two mistakes. Task design As a basic principle, it is impossible to design communication tasks with the express intention of eliciting specific language forms. (If learners are free to express their own meanings in response to the task, how do we know what they will want to mean?) It is, however, realistic to start from topics and texts, design appropriate tasks, and then exploit the language that occurs naturally in the task interaction and/or the text. So, choose your topic (eg cats, or families, or funny things small children do) and then try this model for designing some tasks. (There are many different types of tasks, but for designing your own, I have found this classification with six basic task types to be the most generative.) Tasks of different kinds can be designed for any topic or suitable text. To increase relevant exposure to spoken English, fluent speakers can be recorded doing the tasks and/or reporting how they did them, thus providing spontaneous language data for subsequent language study. This also provides a sample interaction for learners to experience. Having done their own task first, they will understand what meanings are likely to be expressed in the task recording, so as they listen, they can look out for the forms that act as a vehicle for those meanings. The transcription then provides data for a subsequent focus on grammar and lexical phrases. Tasks can be done singly, or in a series on the same topic, with one task arising out of another. Let’s look at a concrete example at beginner level. Topic International words Listing How many words of English can you think of that are known internationally?
even though these forms have been ‘taught’. It is useful to examine the approach your learners are currently used to. Students continue in pairs. one minute. A further desirable condition is: ● focus on language form to prevent fossilisation and help learners improve upon what they can do already. What extra words do you/they have? Sharing personal opinions Which food. ie if they understand the meaning. they may not have had sufficient exposure to spontaneous spoken English or have lacked opportunities to use it. After each of the first three tasks. It’s no good spending a lot of time teaching decontextualised word forms or patterns that cannot be accommodated by the learner. A TBL framework A TBL framework is shown in the box. etc. it is far more like helping a garden to grow. in spoken and written form. and to use what they know to communicate what they mean. especially … Why TBL? TBL recognises the fact that language learners are first and foremost grappling with a new system of meaning. but then. The TBL framework was designed to help create optimum conditions for natural language learning. Who said tennis? You? So do you play tennis? No? And you? Do you play? Or do you watch tennis on TV? I like watching tennis on TV. Classifying How can you classify these words? (Sports or food. The three essential conditions for learning are: ● exposure to the target language in use. Time limit. Language learning is a gradual organic process rather than a piece by piece additive process. in pair and small group interactions. monologue and writing. there could be a lot of interaction between teacher and students. you might say: Tennis. think of other categories. sports. taxi. ● motivation to engage with and try to understand the exposure. Ask which pair found the most words.) In pairs. Comparing Compare your categories and lists with another pair. with learners getting it right during the form-focused practice stage. If they find it difficult to talk. we all know that learners can express questions quite understandably without using standard question forms. goal. The following notes give additional information about the role of teacher and learners. they slowly begin to use other forms. they do not use the ‘new’ item at all. We have all had the experience of presenting and practising a particular language pattern. ● opportunities to use the target language for expressing meaning – both in private and in public situations. hamburger. at the meaningfocused free production stage. is to decide: 1 Which of the four ‘conditions for learning’ mentioned earlier are met during each phase? 2 At which phase/s might learners most benefit from correction of form? During which phase/s might you decide generally not to correct? Why? . Maybe they have had too much focus on form which has affected their confidence. As the learners offer words to fit the categories. phrases and patterns if these fit the stage of development they are at in their own system. For example. after which pairs read out their words which are then written on the board (five to ten minutes). Wimbledon. both spontaneous and planned language. than building a wall one brick at a time. As they gain more experience of the new language in use. to see which of these conditions are fulfilled and which are lacking.Teacher gives some examples: football. Your own task as you read. put the words into your categories and add more words if you can. does your partner like and not like? Find three things you have in common. etc. As Nunan puts it. They will only learn new words. Meaning and use must come first. with examples. for example.
he started to leave. came into the kitchen. Who likes it? How is it made? What’s it like? It’s sticky. Level 3 Willis. You have to talk with your partner and try to guess what the problem was. J and Willis. Practice activities may help them remember new phrases and patterns from texts or transcripts of task recordings. classifying. (Talk as you draw. correction. to correct mistakes. The optional listening phase allows students to hear how fluent speakers did the same task. The Planning Phase is the time for teacher input and advice. Taken from The Collins Cobuild English Course. etc. This is a problem-solving task with a difference. to strive to use ‘better’ language and to focus on form. He plastered the sticky side of his bread to the wall. These help learners systematise what they already know while noticing new things about language and the way it is used. Task Cycle Learners use language in varying circumstances and are exposed to others using it. What was the problem? How and why did the slice of bread and peanut butter end up on the wall? . used both hands to turn the knob. peeled his bread off the wall and went out happily to play. He was too small to open the door without using both hands to turn the door knob. You have two minutes to think of two different problems. but brainstorming useful topic words and phrases is a good way of involving students in this phase. a puzzled expression came over his face. The Report Phase encourages a combination of accuracy and fluency (learners don’t want to make mistakes in front of the class). I’m going to give you the solution.) This was the solution to someone’s problem. brainstorm the topic of peanut butter. but when he reached the closed kitchen door. This is a text-based.Pre-task: Introduction to the topic and task instructions This gives exposure to teacher talk. Here is a drawing of a slice of bread and peanut butter. begging for a snack. problemsolving task. Learners plan what to say at the report stage. and focusing on specific language features (eg verbs ending in -ing). Language Focus: Analysis and practice Learners get repeated exposure to the language from the task cycle and have a chance to focus on form and ask questions about language features. Holding the bread carefully in both hands. What do you/we know about peanut butter? (I hate it. It is given here primarily as an example of how a TBL approach works in practice and how and when to incorporate language input. D 1989) Pre-task As an introduction. The Task Phase gives opportunities for interactive spontaneous use of language in the privacy of their pairs where mistakes don’t matter. I gave him a slice of bread and peanut butter. After a moment’s consideration. Examples include consciousness-raising activities such as identifying. A TBL example The following is an example of the TBL framework in use. In America they eat it on bread with jam or jelly. it is stuck on a wall beside a back door. he found a solution. which gives rise to two task cycles. But it’s not on a plate. The Peanut Butter Story My three-year-old brother.) Set the task. who had been playing outside all morning.
went into the kitchen . Report One Ask each pair to report their idea. Students plan what to write or say. either by speaking in turn. as in they all lived happily ever after). learners take turns to read out a part of their version of the story. Resist the temptation to correct – your aim here is to boost their confidence. This phase will take longer than the task phase. There are bound to be some words students still don’t know. Other pairs make a list of the ideas.. or to compare the class version with the original. Problem: Solution: Ending: … went out. Continue with some (not all) of the following activities which are grouped under three starting points. Ask them to look for the words and phrases that signal the problem (but …. Then discuss whose story was the most similar and whether you prefer this version or the ones the class invented. happily … Planning and Report Two After some planning time. a quick demonstration will do. too small to …). Chair the report session. Encourage pairs to think of two (or more) possibilities. spelling or pronunciation. . at this point. ask students in pairs to retell or rewrite the original story from memory as if it had happened to them. Encourage them to guess meaning from the context and/or the grammatical form (eg begging for is the same pattern as asking for). Learners generally gain from working in pairs and having a language notebook at hand to write down useful phrases and patterns. Stop them once everyone has got at least one idea and some pairs have got two or more. Planning One Decide whether pairs will report in written or spoken form. checking their grammar. Follow-up to Report Two Learners read the story again to see which pair remembered best. Others comment and suggest improvements before moving on to the next bit of the story. If necessary. and take a vote. on the language used). commenting positively on the ideas offered (not. Language Focus Let students read through the original story a couple of times. got hungry. Then ask them to decide in pairs which ideas to nominate for silliest/funniest/most probable. (You might like to think about it too!) Encourage all attempts at expressing ideas. Task Two To promote more language use and deeper processing of the text. Suggest they think of two alternative possibilities for problems.. write the story structure on the board: Situation: Playing in the garden. Tell students they will be choosing their best idea to tell the whole class. or by putting up their writing on the wall.Task One Students work in pairs to generate ideas. Allot the role of writer or spokesperson for each pair. the solution (an easy one!) and the ending (happily. It must be in their best English because everyone will read/hear it. Don’t waste time discussing unusual words like plastered. or make copies and let them read it silently. Follow-up to Report One Either read them the original story. Have dictionaries ready for use.
Guess the meaning of come over in these sentences and then check the meanings in a dictionary. Make up three more phrases like this that could fit into the story.) ● Who had been playing outside all morning. after a moment’s hesitation/thought/ reflection. eg When we lived in London. before eating.Meanings ● Read aloud five whole phrases referring to food. on leaving. ● Find four phrases denoting going to/ from a place. Newspapers are full of them. Which one is very different from the others? started to leave too small to open the door plastered his bread to the wall used both hands to turn the knob went out happily to play ● Use the pattern too small to … and tell your partner two things that were true for you when you were young. with your partner. Then. ● Find two time phrases. . Think of what to means in each case. all night. Dictionary work ● a puzzled expression came over his face Like many English words. In what senses can it be made plural? Copy down two or three phrases you like. What other time phrases can you make with the same patterns? eg all day. make a sentence in English that explains each one in full. after realising.) ice cube (An ice cube is a cube made of ice that you put in cold drinks. eg After playing outside all morning … ● Here are five examples from the story with the word to. Notice the position of each -ing word. Which two begin a phrase? What about the last one? (This should give insights into the narrative style of short stories. ● The phrasal verb come over has several different uses: the one used in the text is the most common. Which verb takes no preposition? Word or part of word ● Find and read out four complete phrases in the first paragraph with a verb ending in -ing. eg Holding the bread carefully in both hands. Kitchen door. expression has three fairly distinct common meanings.) ice tray ice cream van front door key English language school student outing Start a collection of noun + noun phrases in your language notebook. Why has the writer chosen had been playing (the Past Perfect Continuous tense) rather than was playing (Past Continuous)? ● Verb + -ing is commonly used following a preposition. Look these up in a good dictionary. I was too young to go to discos. Useful phrases to build on My three-year-old brother Write three or four similar ‘age’ phrases describing people you know. (It often helps if you begin with the final noun. I came over all queer. door knob These noun + noun phrases are very common in English and German. eg without thinking. Are they common in your language? Try translating some of the examples below into your language.
J and Willis. N How Languages are Learned OUP 1993 Nunan. we help them gain insights gradually rather than having the unrealistic aim of expecting them to learn structures all at once. J and Willis. and A Framework for Task-based Learning (Longman). rather than spending time presenting and practising one structure or pattern (the equivalent of perfecting the laying of one brick). The activities not only shed light on the language in this text. As teachers. and waiting for the next shower to help them grow. This article originally printed in issue 09 of the English Teaching Professional. In this way. In TBL. This set of sample activities shows how rich even a short text can be in its potential to contextualise grammar. as they find and generate their own examples. but help learners to move outside the text and reflect on their own language experience. Lightbown. Heinemann). learners start with the task. J A Framework for Task-based Learning Longman 1996 Willis. which some students may not be developmentally ready for. D Teaching grammar in context English Language Teaching Journal Vol52/2 1998 Willis. D Challenge and Change in Language Teaching Heinemann ELT 1996 Skehan. on their new modular Masters in TESOL/ TESP. Exposure and use TBL rests on the premise that learners learn though direct experience of language in use (exposure) and through using language for themselves (use). The meaning doesn’t come over very well. We are not giving learners bricks to build a wall – we are sowing seeds. watering them. Her books include Teaching English Through English (Longman).I met him on the boat coming over. Similar activities can be based on the transcription of a spoken interaction. UK. Then they improve their language during the planning and reporting phases and build on and extend it during the language focus component. P and Spada. Challenge and Change in Language Teaching (with Dave Willis. using what they can of the target language and recalling what they know from previous lessons to achieve the task outcome. we are helping learners to notice a whole array of language features in the hopes they will recognise them when they see or hear them in future exposures. D 1996 Jane Willis teaches at Aston University. July 1998 . P Second Language Acquisition Research and Task-based Instruction in Willis.
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