How to Create a Task Based Learning Lesson Plan for ESL
What is Task-Based Learning?
Very simply, task-based learning (TBL) uses tasks, or activities with a real-world goal, for educational purposes. If you have been teaching for any time at all, you have probably noticed that many ESL activities have little relation to real-world activities. It would be a rare occasion that someone would stop you on the street and ask you to repeat the same sentence ten times, changing only the object noun each time. And how often does your boss, "What's this?" as he waves a series of pictures in front of you? Probably never.
TBL is a teaching method which does away with activities that exist only in the bubble of a classroom. Students learn by being forced to communicate with their peers to solve a series of problems, or tasks. Fluency is the goal, rather than accuracy, and teachers are available for consultation, but do not correct language while students are working.
TBL in Action
Creating a Task-Based Lesson
As you can see, a task-based lesson does not look much like the PPP or PDP lessons you are probably more familiar with. Simply follow the steps below, and you will be on your way to creating a more interactive class.
Just as a PDP lesson begins with pre-reading or pre-listening, TBL lessons begin with a pre-task in which the teacher sets the stage. In this portion of the class, the teacher will introduce the task and provide all the guidelines the students need to successfully complete it.
The teacher may review some vocabulary that would be helpful for the students, but there is no language focus stage. The pre-task could also include a video of people completing the (real world) task as a model. Once the task and guidelines have been given, students take some time to prepare and plan how to execute the task.
In this stage of the lesson, the students complete the task in pairs or groups. The teacher monitors and offers encouragement, but does not correct their language. The teacher is also available to answer questions the students may have.
Once the task has been completed, the students must prepare a report to present the results of their task to their classmates. In this stage, they are more likely to ask for assistance with language, so the teacher should be available to them.
Once the reports have been prepared and practiced, the pairs/ groups present them to their classmates. The report may be memorized or read from notes. The teacher and classmates may offer feedback at this time.
This is the stage of the lesson most like a language focus. Once all of the reports have been presented, the teacher may highlight features of the language used for the task. This can be anything from grammar to register to text features. For example, in terms of text features, a science report is likely to have a hypothesis at the beginning and should use technical language to describe observations.
Based on the results of the task, the teacher can determine if some aspects of the language require additional practice. At this time, students can be given an activity to develop accuracy with regards to a specific language feature. However, some purists believe that this is unnecessary.
In any case, you can see from the above lesson that the teacher does not predetermine a language focus, rather it evolves organically based on observations of the students' performance. In TBL, there is is little to no focus on error correction, as communication is the goal, rather than accuracy.
Fluency versus Accuracy
As you may guess, there are strong proponents of both the more traditional PPP/ PDP lesson plan and the newer, more practical TBL lesson plan. In my most humble opinion, there should be room for both in the language classroom.
In Korea, where I teach, many adult learners could probably sit down and write a book about English grammar, as long as it was in Korean. After decades of teaching English through Korean, there are legions of adults here who can quote any grammar rule you might be curious about, but who could not have the most basic conversation in English.
On the other hand, if your grammar is terrible and your choice of language understandable, but odd, you will find yourself at a disadvantage, as well, particularly if you need to communicate with English speakers on a regular basis (such as immigrants or students studying overseas).
Students need the opportunity to develop fluency, and real world tasks are a motivating way to do it. The students can clearly see the benefit of trying to reserve a hotel room with typical real-world issues, such as no available rooms or credit card denial, over yet another dialogue which presumes no difficulties.
However, students also need to develop accuracy in order to be understood by the "people on the street" with whom they will come into contact outside the classroom.