IATEFL Belfast 2022: TBLT – task-based language teaching – what are the challenges? – Jane Willis

The willis-elt website has lots of information about TBL. Jane and Dave Willis learnt about TBL from a workshop which Prabhu did at the school they were working at. They then started to share the materials and spread the word.

This was a task-based workshop, with two short tasks and two major tasks.

Task one: From Prabhu: Listen and draw

Fold a piece of paper in half.

In the top half, draw a circle, about 8cm across. In the bottom half, draw a rectangular box – about 12cm across and 3 or 4cm deep.

In the circle, think of it as a clock. Draw a little line sticking up at 12 o’clock, and a little line sticking out at 6, 2, 4, 8, 10 o’clock.

In the rectangle, make it into three boxes, so that the middle box is bigger than the other two, but all big enough to write in.

Step two: Listen and write

In the top circle, write three words. Why TBL?

  • Gets learners to use language in a meaningful way.
  • To do that, they need to have had lots of exposure to language, to the kind of language they want to be able to produce.
  • Learners need to be motivated.

Examples of tasks:

  • Listen and do – follow instructions. Lots of exposure, but haven’t had to speak.
  • Listing – e.g. reasons for speaking English, characters in a story…
  • Ordering and sorting, sequencing
  • Problem solving / prediction
  • Sharing information or opinions
  • Creative tasks

They all have a communicative outcome, with exposure, use and motivation, and something to share at the end.

A lot of us are already doing tasks, but how many of us ask our learners to share the results? And what about planning to share? That’s where the learning really happens in this three-step process:

  1. Task
  2. Planning what to share: where the learning happens!
  3. Share

Jane has found that TBL often isn’t covered in teacher training courses, or if it is, step 2 (the central/key part) isn’t included.

We produced our own homemade handout:

What are the challenges of TBLT for novice teachers?

In our group, we discussed:

  • How do teachers know learners have achieved the task?
  • How do we define the task?
  • What is the teacher role during each stage? What feedback should they give?
  • How do they set up the tasks?
  • Focussing on the language use, rather than the task itself.
  • Dealing with different levels.

Task Two: allocate roles

Who will be:

  • Chairperson: ensure everyone speaks
  • Secretary: writer
  • Oral reporter: the person who will report back
  • Timekeeper: check you finish on time

This is a way to get your shy students talking. [I’m reading about this in Dornyei and Murphey’s Group Dynamics at the moment.] Choosing the roles stimulates a lot of chat.

Questions Jane answered

What topics can be covered? Anything! You could take a text: list three problems from the text, give them the first half of a text and predict the second half, list three things you do before you go out to work or school. You could create two or three tasks to create a task sequence within a lesson.

How do you approach feedback? Always respond to content first – that was interesting, could you expand on it? Other groups could write them a question to find out more or say what they want to clarify.

What is a task? A task entails learners using language in a meaningful way. They’re not practising a particular language form. They’re using any language they know. It has a goal which is meaning based, and an outcome which can be reported back on.

How much time should we allocate it? Depends on the task, and they can be linked into a task sequence. Make sure there is more time for the planning. Give them limits so they know when they’ve finished. For example, if there are 12 differences between pictures, ask them to find 7, and then there will be extra ones in the feedback.

At what point does the teacher give language input, feedback, corrections? At the planning stage. Don’t interrupt during the task. Another role could be ‘linguistic advisor’ or ‘language monitor/observer’ – they can report back on how much English was spoken, and what was difficult to say so other language was needed. Don’t negate it, but make it a role if it’s something which could help your learners.

What is a framework for the planning stage? This comes from the learners. For example, hands up if you have a problem. [I think the emergent language tips from this morning could help!]

Is pre-teaching OK? Yes, you can add a pre-task stage. Dave and Jane call it priming. Introduce the topic, tell a story, ask students some topic-related questions. Do preparation, for example language preparation of a few items of language students might need e.g. what punishments might be good for this type of offence? Add them to the board for students to refer to later. Jane wouldn’t teach grammar at this stage because you don’t know what grammar they want until they start the task. Lexical words express meanings, grammar fine tunes meaning. Introduce useful phrases.

What is the role of the teacher during planning? Advisor, supporter, corrector.

What is the difference between TBL and Project-based language teaching? PBL generally has tasks in it, and is a series of lots of different mini tasks.

How do you apply TBL if you’re confined to a curriculum? The topics and functions in the lessons will all come up over the course of a year, but they don’t necessarily come up in the same order as the materials.

There is a language focus in TBL – it’s a form focus, which can happen after the ‘share’ stage.

There could be a recording of two fluent speakers which could be used as a model for learners. Learners could study the recordings or the transcribed talk. Cobuild recordings are being resurrected and will hopefully be online and available for free soon.

How can you make it relevant to exam-based lessons? Prabhu did task-based learning, then in the final term he did intensive exam prep. His learners did better in the state exams in most areas, and about the same in the grammar section.

How do you get students to feel satisfied as a result? If you’ve done the form focus, the learners go away with a ‘rule in their pocket’ (Krashen). You can let them repeat a task from a couple of lessons ago, record them and help the learners to notice the difference – if you warn them in advance and let them go back over what they’ve learnt, this helps students to revise.

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