Package language teaching into tasks

Last Updated 13 October 2010, 12:45 IST

Task-based approach is a new paradigm in the teaching of English. A ‘task’ may be defined as an activity where the target language is used by the learner for a communicative purpose in order to achieve an outcome. In the task-based approach,  priority is on the completion of the task and on achieving a particular goal or outcome.

It may involve real-world tasks such as conducting a survey, writing a newspaper advertisement and developing interpersonal skills or a linguistic one such as practising useful language forms or recording useful words and phrases in the vocabulary notebook.

In task-based language teaching, tasks are central to the teaching-learning process. Tasks may be of different types such as opinion exchange tasks, jigsaw tasks, information gap tasks, decision-making tasks and problem-solving tasks. The task must be related to the use of language outside the classroom. For example, if learners are discussing statements on ‘The influence of television’ and are conducting an opinion survey on the topic, they will be using lots of  language skills which will be useful in the real world.

Focus on meaning

The task-based approach is apparently distinct from form-focused teaching where a ‘Presentation / Practice / Production’ sequence is followed.

In contrast to the traditional approaches, task-based teaching is a meaning-focused approach where learners are engaged in real language use. They are involved in communicative activities such as discussions, role plays, making decisions, constructing arguments, and so on.

Task cycle

A task-based lesson involves not a single task, but a sequence of tasks that are related to one another but have different characteristics and purposes. There are mainly three stages in the task cycle:

Pre-task phase

Target task(s) or Task-proper phase

Post-task phase.

The pre-task phase, which involves facilitating tasks, prepares or primes learners for completing the target task. The facilitating tasks may be a teacher-led introduction or pair work or group work which help learners focus on the topic, activate relevant schemata or familiarise with the vocabulary associated with the topic.

Teachers should not go straight into the target task without giving learners time to plan or prepare. For young learners, it is crucial to create a meaningful context/purpose for the topic to be discussed by them at a later stage in the sequence. Also, it is necessary to provide a lot of exposure to the kind of language they need to use for the successful completion of the target task. Hence, the pre-task phase enables the learners to approach the target task(s) with greater confidence and adequate support.

The next stage, the target task (s) or the task-proper phase is the most important stage in the sequence.  This stage involves the reading of a text followed by a class discussion and presentation or reporting to the class. The target tasks could be receptive — reading or listening to a wide range of resources — or productive — conversational talks, role plays, writing, oral or written presentations, etc.

Task types

In the task-proper phase, a set of different types of tasks are generated based on a topic. The following are a few task types, with examples, according to the cognitive processes:

*Listing: brainstorming, memory challenge, quizzes, guessing games
*Ordering and sorting: sequencing, rank ordering, classifying, drawing mind maps, making timelines, drawing storylines
*Matching: listening and matching, reading and matching
*Comparing and contrasting: finding similarities and differences
*Problem-solving: offering advice and recommendations on various problems and issues, problem-solving games and puzzles
*Sharing personal experiences: storytelling, anecdotes
*Projects and creative tasks: Task-based projects with end-products such as a portfolio, a journal, a leaflet, a booklet, a tourist brochure, a webpage, a class magazine or newspaper, a short radio programme, a short video recording, a performance, an entertainment piece or a guided tour

In the task-proper phase, learners get optimum exposure to the target language and also get opportunities to use the language to speak and write.

It may not be possible to use all types of tasks on each topic. However, the best three or four types that link together well and that suit a particular group of learners may be chosen for a given topic.

In the post-task phase, the task is analysed and evaluated in terms of the time taken, use of language, difficulty level, and the learners’ performance. Learners are also given an  opportunity to reflect on what they have learned and how well they are doing. In this stage, learner’s attention is drawn towards the specific forms used in the process of completing the task. Language awareness (consciousness-raising) activities are conducted at this stage for the analysis and practice of words, phrases, sentence structures, sound, stress and intonation patterns.

Hence, in the task-based procedure, the lesson does not begin with a focus on form. Rather, the specific forms used in doing the target task are studied and analysed at the end of the task sequence. The language focus work occurs after the learners have seen, heard and spoken the target language within a communicative context.

In a task-based lesson, one task should lead into the other. Each task exploits and builds on the one that has gone before. A graded sequence should start with a less challenging task and move on to a greater cognitively and linguistically challenging task.

(Published 13 October 2010, 12:45 IST)

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