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What is Task-Based Language Teaching? An explanation for new ESL teachers

Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) is an extremely useful skill in the language classroom. Typically it is motivating for students and teachers alike!

1. A task has a beginning, middle, and end

They start with a limited amount of information, usually require collaboration, and can have a right or wrong answer. There are different phases of a task. Tasks can take a few weeks, days, hours, or minutes. This will depend on the level and needs of your learners.

2. TBLT focuses on using and manipulating language

The goal in TBLT is to use language to achieve a task. Therefore, students must use the grammar to this end. They communicate for a purpose, instead of filling in a blank. Students can use any grammatical structure in their repertoire, but the completion of the task is the end goal. Teachers should ask and prompt the class to think about the language they will need to achieve the goal, or teachers can review the structures that students used during the task.

3. TBLT can use authentic language

Language textbooks are not authentic speech. Each word is leveled and carefully chosen by the authors. Authors and editors pour over every page, and they do this to the benefit of the learners. However, we need to push our students outside of the comfort of "fill-in-the-blank." TBLT can use authentic language by incorporating activities outside of the classroom. There can be pedagogical task and real-world tasks. Both are helpful and relevant for learners. Look here for some pedagogical tasks.

4. Tasks require automaticity

Rehearsing language in the classroom through grammar lessons and role plays can be helpful. However, once the student exits the classroom, the safety net is gone. Students need to adapt to the language in real time. They need the cognitive demand of in-the-moment learning, so they can succeed after leaving the classroom. Tasks can imitate or actually be real life scenarios. This will depend a lot on the language level of your learners.

5. Examples

Pedagogical task:

Students both have a set of pictures. The pictures are a picture of ice, a picture of two eyes, the word "ice", and the word "eyes". Student A has to describe a picture to Student B, and Student B must select the correct picture. See Keith Folse's book for more examples.

Real-life task:

Go to a farmer's market and find a vegetable that you have never seen before. Buy the vegetable and ask the farmer how to cook it. Report back to class about your time at the market, your food, and any difficulties you had in communicating.

Thanks Professor Nunan for summing this up in your book! For more reading, go here.

Nunan, D. (1999). Second language teaching and learning. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

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