The term task is thrown around a lot in the ESL/EFL classroom. Teachers like to say they use task based learning (TBL), however very few can agree what TBL actually is. Allow me to clarify.

Scrivener (2009) defines TBL as “[learning that] bases work cycles around the preparation for, doing of, and reflective analysis of tasks that reflect real-life needs and skills.” Brown (2009) lists the characteristics of TBL as “a focus on task beyond the forms of language; designing tasks that contribute to communicative goals; providing elements to each task that are carefully designed and have their own objectives; engaging the learners in genuine problem-solving.” According to Harmer (2008), “TBL makes the performance of meaningful tasks central to the learning process. It is informed by a belief that if students are focused on the completion of a task, they are just as likely to learn language as they are if they are focusing on language forms.”

In each of these quotations, there are two common characteristics. First, the focus of TBL should be on completing the task. The second is the belief that the task should reflect real world tasks in which the learner will engage. Let’s take a look at an example.

Demonstration: In the first stage, the teacher will model the task or provide an example of a completed task, e.g. a persuasive speech. This is a good task since most communication involves persuading our listener in some way.

Instructions: After the speech is over, there may be some feedback on what the students saw. Then the teacher gives instructions on how to write this type of speech, such as the steps in the writing process.

Task: Next the students begin working on the project. This may take place in the classroom, at home, or both.

Reporting: After the speeches have been written, the students present them to the class. While the presentations are taking place, the teacher takes notes on common errors that occur as well as language that may have been helpful to the students.

Feedback: After all the presentations have been given, the teacher provides feedback, including error correction and the introduction of target functional language. There may also be a follow-up practice task to check the understanding of the feedback.

Now it is time to ask yourself a few questions. Are you experienced enough to set up and provide feedback for a lesson like this? What types of tasks could you ask your students to do? How can you adapt different real world tasks so that they are manageable for learners of all levels?

Brown, D. (2009). Teaching by Principles. White Plains, NY: Pearson Longman.

Harmer, J. (2008). The Practice of English Language Teaching. Essex: Pearson Longman.

Scrivener, J. (2009). Learning Teaching. Oxford: Macmillan.

This post was written by Matthew Clark.