W.Littlewood_Osaka-K.. - Task-based Learning Special Interest Group
W.Littlewood_Osaka-K.. - Task-based Learning Special Interest Group
A view of learning: ‘learning through
◦ E.g. Stephen Krashen; N.S. Prabhu; Gertrude
A view of language: ‘doing things with words’
◦ e.g. J.L. Austin; Michael Halliday; Henry Widdowson
The two ‘streams’ from these sources often
convey conflicting messages
From the beginning there has been confusion
◦ A ‘strong version’ of CLT: if people ‘learn
by communicating’, students should
communicate all the time (‘experiential’
◦ A ‘weak version’ of CLT: people can also
learn how to ‘do things with words’ through
conscious learning and practice (‘analytic’
According to Allwright & Hanks (2009):
The strong version stimulated the ‘radical rethink’ that language teaching needed.
However it was not commercially viable as it
could not form the basis for published courses.
This ‘commodity problem’ was solved by the
‘much less challenging ideas’ of the weak
The weak version of CLT presents a more
familiar framework for teaching: it includes
familiar forms of controlled, analytic learning,
e.g. grammar practice and exercises.
Thornbury (2011): ‘The old PPP model by
Both ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ versions involve the
teachers in creating and organizing
communicative activities for experiential
In this respect ‘tasks’ are a category of
communicative activity with special design
They pose challenges for teachers and
learners used to a more transmission–
The challenges faced by many teachers include:
◦ new organizational skills e.g. for group activities
◦ unfamiliar roles in the classroom e.g. ‘facilitator’ not only
◦ classroom management esp. with large classes
◦ students resorting to the mother tongue in tasks
◦ students performing tasks with minimal use of language
◦ excessive demands on their own language competence
◦ conflict with educational traditions and conceptions of
◦ incompatibility with public examinations
(e.g. Butler, 2011, Jeon, 2009, Littlewood, 2007, Wang, 2007)
‘A strong version where learners choose whatever
language forms they wish to convey the meaning
required by the task’
‘A weak form of task-supported teaching
(analogous to P-P-P) through which tasks
provide opportunities to practise language items
that have been introduced in a traditional way’
There are many variations and choices for
teachers to select from when they are
carrying out TBLT.’ (Carless, 2012)
‘There is no single way of doing TBLT.’ (Ellis,
Ellis finds only two common features in the
versions advocated by Ellis, Long and Skehan:
◦ The role of tasks in creating contexts for
natural language use;
◦ The need to also focus on form.
That is: they recommend both experiential and
analytic strategies but offer variation in how to
This flexible conception of TBLT integrates
easily into a ‘context-sensitive postmethod
pedagogy’ (Kumaravadivelu, 2006, p. 20).
We may look at TBLT and tasks in the broader
context of postmethod pedagogy, in which
◦ provide necessary contexts for communicative
language use, which are part of both the strong and
the weak versions of CLT and TBLT;
◦ can also serve as focuses for attention to relevant
Three views from the bridge:
The experiential – analytic dimension
The communicative continuum
1. Experiential and analytic learning
focus: meaning + message)
Subconscious learning and
Fluent language becomes
Instruction (main focus:
form + meaning)
Controlled practice and
Learnt language becomes
‘Strong’ versions of CLT / TBLT ←
→ ‘Weak’ versions of CLT / TBLT
2. The ‘communicative continuum’
which elicit prelearnt language
but with some
Practising pretaught language
in a context
gap activities or
some attention to
meaning but not
new messages to
Focusing on the
they are formed
and what they
Focus on meanings and
Focus on forms and
(May be) Task-supported
I love music!
How do you feel when you listen to music? Why do you like music?
Discuss with your partner. Write down five reasons.
(adapted from Vidal, 1996)
Designing an alternative world
1 Students and teachers brainstorm aspects of the environment they
like and those they would like to see improved. These may include
changes to the geographical setting, nature, animal-life, housing,
society, family, leisure activities, politics, etc.
2 Students are put into groups according to common interests. The
groups identify the language and information they need. The students
carry out individual and group research on the selected topics. The
students discuss aspects of this ‘Alternative reality’ and then report
back. They decide on the different ways (stories, recordings, games,
etc.) to link all the research and present the final product.
3 Students present the topic and evaluate the activity.
(adapted from Ribé & Vidal, 1993)
The World Tomorrow
•Students are asked to write down a list of changes they expect to see in the
world by a date 50 years in the future. For example:
•We will have a working day of four hours.
•Every home will have a video telephone.
•People will live to be 100 years old or more.
•The ideas are then read out and discussed. Those that most of the class agree
with may be written up on the board.
•Later, students may choose predictions that appeal to them and use them as
the topic for a short essay.
(adapted from Ur, 1988/2009)
Communicative language practice
Fill in this chart about your classmates’ preferences
male singer female
Pre-communicative language practice
•With your partner, practise asking and answering questions about
what John and Rachel have to do and what they would like to do.
(The cues could also be in the form of pictures.)
•Empty the bins
•Answer the telephone
•Go to evening
•Get a better job
•Earn more money
•Take holiday abroad
•Marry her boss
(adapted from Harmer, 1987)
•In the examples below, look carefully at the position of the
adverbs always, often, sometimes, usually, and never. What
are the rules?
•We are usually hungry
when we come home.
•I sometimes go to the
cinema on Fridays.
•John is always late.
•We never eat much in •You can always come and
•His parents were often
tired in the evening.
•I am never sure
whether this word is
•They have never written
to me again.
•Jane often arrives at
•I will never know why he
•They always come
home late at night.
•Pat has often seen him
with two dogs.
3. Task engagement
B: form-oriented but
D: message-oriented and
A: form-oriented and
C: message-oriented but
Field A: form-oriented and not engaging,
e.g. a boring drill
Field B: form-oriented and engaging, e.g. a
Field C: message-oriented and not engaging,
e.g. a role-play not related to Ss’ interests
Field D: message-oriented and engaging,
e.g. a personalized role-play or discussion
Neither (or both)
We need a broader, encompassing conceptual
framework which will orient us in creating
experiences that are:
◦ real and meaningful to learners, and
◦ help them towards fulfilling their communicative
The framework may be called
‘communication-oriented language teaching’
or ‘COLT’ (Littlewood, 2014)
Allwright, D. & Hanks, J. (2009). The developing learner: An introduction to exploratory practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
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Review of Applied Linguistics, 31, 36-57.
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Carless, D. (2012). Task-based language teaching in Confucian-heritage settings: Prospects and challenges. On Task, 2, 1, 4-8.
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Littlewood, W. (2014). Communication-oriented language teaching: Where are we now? Where do we go from here? Language
Teaching, 47, 3, 349-362.
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Ur, P. (1988/2009). Grammar practice activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Vidal, N. (1996). Teach your teacher music. Madrid: Alhambra Longman.
Wang, Q. (2007). The National Curriculum changes and their effects on English language teaching in the People’s Republic of
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Optimal combinations of analytic
and experiential strategies.
How to structure classroom
interaction more effectively (also
without direct teacher control).
How to deepen the content of L2
communication in the classroom.
The role of the L1 as a resource in
the language classroom
How to create a rich L2 environment
in the classroom.
How to create better links between
practice, theory and research.