Task-Based Language Learning and Teaching

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2016

11 Pages, Grade: 1,6


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. A definition of task-based learning
2.1 Principles of Task-Based Language Teaching

3. Designing motivational tasks in the EFL classroom
3.1 Improving task support - the task cycle
3.2 Task-based writing activities in EFL classrooms

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In modern second language teaching the role of task-based learning has become a very important topic. Due to the fact that many exercises in EFL classrooms have no clear connection to real world situations, researchers and modern English teachers try to put emphasis on tasks which help learners to use the target language effectively in different situations outside the classroom.

This term paper has its focus on the implementation of task-based learning and teaching in EFL classrooms and the way task-based activities can be designed. Based on the fact that motivation plays an important role in language learning, it is also necessary to concentrate on possibilities to make the English language attractive (also for young learners) and to help them realizing that through task-based learning activities they can learn something which can be transferred to real life situations.

Since I did not know a lot about task-based language learning (and teaching), I was looking forward to being engaged in this topic. The most interesting and also surprising aspect that I learned was that there are so many advantages of TBL1. First of all, TBL allows students to be free of language control because they use all their language resources rather than just practicing one preselected item. Furthermore, a natural context is developed from the students’ experiences with the language that is personalized and relevant to them. Another essential advantage is the more varied exposure to language with TBL since they will be exposed to a whole range of lexical phrases, collocations and patterns as well as language forms. An important aspect of TBL is that the language explored arises from the students’ needs. It is no more the decision made by the teacher or the coursebook. Lastly, the most important advantage in my opinion is the strong communicative approach because students spend a lot of time communicating. I am sure that TBL is enjoyable and motivating for students as well as for teachers.

In the following term paper, I would like to give a brief overview about task-based learning in general and the way it provides effective language learning with the help of motivational tasks in order to show that in-class language practice does not necessarily have to be an artificial situation.

2. A definition of task-based learning

Contrary to lots of form-based exercises in EFL classrooms, task-based activities have its focus on meaning. Completing a task does not only mean to apply linguistic skills to predesigned sentences but rather to put linguistic knowledge into a meaningful context in order to be successful in real world second language interactions. As Ellis (2003) describes:

A workplan that requires learners to process language pragmatically in order to achieve an outcome that can be evaluated in terms of whether the correct or appropriate propositional content has been conveyed. To this end, it requires them [the learners] to give primary attention to meaning and to make use of their own linguistic resources, although the design of the task may predispose them to choose particular forms. A task is intended to result in language use that bears a resemblance, direct or indirect, to the way language is used in the real world. Like other language activities, a task can engage productive or receptive, and oral or written skills, and also various cognitive processes.2

Further, tasks have to refer to realistic situations which emphasize communication. Willis and Willis (1996) state that an effective task is “where the target language is used by the learner for a communicative outcome.“3 In this context, the authors use the term “outcome“ which means that communication can be productive “through the exchange of meanings.“4

Overall, to complete of a task can be seen as a problem-solving procedure to combine skills of linguistic form with a meaningful context in order to use the target language in a natural and communicative situation. The achievement of the communicative goal is one of the most important aspects in a pragmatic interactional situation. Nevertheless, Nunan (2004) shows that an essential part of such a situation is “[...] mobilizing the grammatical knowledge in order to express meaning.“5 If the learner is able to activate his or her linguistic knowledge, communication can be even more productive.

Considering the question how a task-based approach supports language learning Müller- Hartmann and Schocker von Ditfurth (2011) state that “tasks have the potential to support learning if they motivate learners to get involved.“6 Tasks need to have a communicative purpose and they must be “relevant to learners‘ language needs.“7 Another feature of task-based learning is that “tasks need to include an interactive element“8 in order to provide cooperative learning surroundings for the students. The following part will concentrate on these aspects and shows how to turn them into practice in order to improve task support.

2.1 Principles of Task-Based Language Teaching

Nunan has summarized seven principles which have to be followed in the frame of task- based language teaching: “Scaffolding”, “Task dependency”, “Recycling”, “Active learning”, “Integration”, “Reproduction to creation” and “Reflection”9.

The first principle, scaffolding, claims that the chosen lessons and materials have to ensure that learning can take place. Thus, the learners have to be provided the language they need in order to complete the task.10 Second, task dependency states that each task has to be connected with the one before as this sequence has to tell a “pedagogical story.”11 The third principle corresponds to the students’ recycling of language by which language learning is optimally facilitated. By means of such a recycling, the learners can experience how the target language items function in closely related contexts and in completely different ones.12 The fourth principle, active learning, focuses on the premise “learning by doing”. As language learning is best guaranteed if the target language is actively used, the teacher should play a more passive role as far as possible.13 Fifth, task-based language teaching has to ensure that linguistic form, communicative function and semantic meaning are integrated into the learning process. Thereby, the learners are able to recognize the relationship between function and form and meaning.14 The sixth principle, reproduction to creation, demands that creative language use develops from reproduction of language models. That means, the students first reproduce the language provided by the teacher, a tape or a text and as a next step, they are capable of using similar language items more creatively.15 As the last principle, Nunan mentions the reflective element that “[l]earners should be given opportunities to reflect on what they have learned and how well they are doing.”16

3. Designing motivational tasks in the EFL classroom

3.1 Improving task support - the task cycle

As described above, tasks are intended to be motivational in order to put emphasis on the communicative goal of the task. Therefore, the so called “task cycle“ helps teachers to implement the activity into a framework which helps learners to profit from the task as best as possible. Willis (2000) describes three components of the task-based language framework which provide motivation in productive learning: The pre-task in which the teacher introduces the topic and gives his or her learners the chance to explore the content, the task-cycle itself which consists of a task-, planning- and report-phase and finally the language focus which aims at an examination and analysis of linguistic features.

In order to draw interest on a certain topic, the learners have to activate their pre-knowledge about the topic. They talk about aspects they already know and adapt this knowledge to new aspects provided by the teacher. In a second phase, learners get confronted with the task itself. Preferably, they work in groups because this emphasizes interaction and cooperative learning strategies. In order to let learners work on their own, the teacher now acts and reacts as a moderator. He or she does not interfere in the group work but reacts in situations where students need specific help. In such a situation learners have the freedom to experiment with the target language; they discuss and cooperate.

Once the task is finished, “students prepare to report to the whole class (orally or in writing) how they did the task, what they decided or discovered.“17 This phase is very important because the students have to reflect what they just did. They perceive their work from an outstanding perspective and realize how they were working. Planning a report of what the group has achieved is also very effective because students get to know that the teacher and the rest of the class appreciate the effort they have put into the task. By telling the group that there will be a short presentation about their results, motivation can be increased: “If you tell the students this before they start the task, it may motivate them to take it more seriously.“18 Another aim of the planning phase is to achieve fluency, accuracy and language development. Whereas the task-phase gives a chance to experiment with and communicate in the target language, the planning-phase forces the students to start dealing with form because they have to discuss how they will present their results. Finally, in a report-phase the students present and compare their results with the rest of the class. They do not only tell the others how they did the task, but they do also talk about individual problems which accured during the task-phase. This phase requires a certain language accuracy. It has a lot of potential to increase the learners‘ language-based improvements because they can actively exchange their results and comment on classmates‘ presentations. The teacher encourages this learning process by keeping a certain distance to the learners‘ interactions. As a “chairperson“ the teacher lets the learners speak and takes some notes at the same time. Students get self-determined and do not have to feel pressure of saying everything correctly. Willis (2009) summarizes this behaviour as follows: “Always be encouraging. It is extremely important not to devalue their achievements, for example by commenting or even thinking negatively [...]. Instead, focus on all the things they are getting right!”19 Nonetheless, a task-oriented activity has to have a language focus which is covered at the very end of this process. The “chairperson“ now gives feedback about linguistic features the students already used correctly and appreciates that. The advantage is that learners realize that they are already quite competent language users to some extent. Difficult expressions or other language-based aspects which are more complex or just unclear can be analyzed and discussed altogether. Willis (2009) also wants teachers to “make sure [to] give feedback tactfully and positively. Give examples of good expressions you have heard, or ones students have used for the first time, and mention other good points.“20 After a focus on a positive feedback, the teacher now has to concentrate on language mistakes and, if necessary, other clarifications in order to make sure the students do not memorize incorrect expressions. Yet again, the teacher should focus on new linguistic features which accured during the students‘ presentations and give them an opportunity to practice them. Thus, new knowledge can be acquired productively.

The task-based language framework as described above plays an important role in task-based teaching practice because it increases motivation and cooperative learning strategies. This does not only support an individual reflection of a learners‘ approach to a certain task but also lets students experiment with the English language. The task-cycle provides a self-regulated learning surrounding in which learners can actively use English as it is used in real life – for communicative purposes.


1 abbreviation for Task-based learning.

2 Ellis (2003), p. 13.

3 Willis/ Willis (1996), p. 173.

4 Nunan (2004), p. 3.

5 Cf. cit., p. 4.

6 Müller-Hartmann/ Schocker von Ditfurth (2011), p. 63.

7 Cf. cit.

8 Cf. cit., p. 67.

9 Nunan (2004), p. 35ff.

10 Cf. cit., p. 35.

11 Cf. cit.

12 Cf. cit.

13 Cf. cit., p. 36f.

14 Cf. cit., p. 37.

15 Cf. cit.

16 Nunan (2004), p. 37.

17 Willis (2000), p. 38.

18 Willis (2009), p. 230.

19 Cf. cit., p. 233.

20 Cf. cit., p. 236.

Excerpt out of 11 pages


Task-Based Language Learning and Teaching
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (England and American Studies - Didactics Department)
Integrating Skills and Task-Based Language Learning
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Quote paper
Nicole Jan (Author), 2016, Task-Based Language Learning and Teaching, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/457919


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