Task-based teaching

Non-task preparation activities

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Task-based teaching course work

Non-task preparation activities

There are a variety of non-task preparation activities that teachers can choose from. These can centre on reducing the cognitive or the linguistic demands placed on the learner. Activating learners content schemata or providing them with background information serves as a means of defining the topic area of a task. Willis(1996)provides a list of activities for achieving this(e. g. brainstorming and mind-maps). When learners know what they are going to talk or write about they have more processing space available for formulating the language needed to express their ideas with the result that the quantity of the output will be enhanced and also fluency and complexity. Recommended activities for addressing the linguistic demands of a task often focus on vocabulary rather than grammar, perhaps because vocabulary is seen as more helpful for the successful performance of a task than grammar. Newton(2001)suggests three ways in which teachers can target unfamiliar vocabulary in the pre-task phase; predicting(i. e. asking learners to brainstorm a list of words related to the task title or topic), cooperative dictionary search(i. e. allocating different learners words to look up in their dictionary), and words and definitions(i. e. learners match a list of words to their definitions). Newton argues that such activities will prevent the struggle with new words overtaking other important goals such as fluency or content- learning when learners perform the task. However, there is always the danger that pre-teaching vocabulary will result in learners treating the task as an opportunity to practise pre-selected words. In the case of task-supported teaching this can be seen as desirable but in the case of task-based teaching it can threaten the integrity of the task.

1.2Strategic planning

Finally, learners can be given time to plan how they will perform the task. This involves strategic planningand contrasts with the online planningthat can occur during the performance of the task. It can be distinguished from other pre-task options in that it does not involve students in a trial performance of the task or in observing a model. However, it may involve the provision of linguistic forms/strategies for performing the task. A distinction can still be drawn between the non-task preparation procedures described above and strategic planning, however, as the former occur without the students having access to the task they will be asked to perform while strategic
planning involves the students considering the forms they will need to execute the task workplan they have been given.
There are a number of methodological options available to teachers who opt for strategic planning. The first concerns whether the students are simply given the task workplan and left to decide for themselves what to plan, which typically results in priority being given to content over form, or whether they are given guidance in what to plan. In the case of the latter option, the guidance may focus learners attention on form or content or form and content together. Skehan
(1996)suggests that learners need to be made explicitly aware of where they are focussing their attention̶whether on fluency, complexity or accuracy. These planning options are illustrated in Figure 2. Here the context is a task involving a balloon debate(i. e. deciding who should be ejected from a balloon to keep it afloat). The guidance can also be detailed or undetailed
(Foster and Skehan 1996). The examples in Figure 2 are of the undetailed kind. Skehan(1998) gives an example of detailed planning for a personal task involving asking someone to go to your
house to turn off the oven that you have left on. This involved instructions relating to planning content(e. g. think about what problems your listener could have and how you might help her) and language(e. g. think what grammar you need to do the task). These options do not just provide for variety in planning activities; they also enable the teacher to channel the learners attention onto different aspects of language use. For example, Foster and Skehan(1996)found that when students were given detailed guidance they tended to prioritise content with resulting gains in complexity when they performed the task.

Strategic planning options


1. No planning

The students were introduced to the idea of a balloon debate, assigned roles and then asked to debate who should be sacrificed.

2. Guided planning- language focus

The students were introduced to the idea of a balloon debate and then shown how to use modal verbs and conditionals in the reasons a doctor might give for not being thrown out of the balloon(e. g. I take care of many sick people
- If you throw me out, many people might die’).

3. Guided planning - content focus

The students were introduced the idea of a balloon debate. The teacher presents ideas that each character might use to defend his or her right to stay in the balloon and students were encouraged to add ideas of their own.

Figure 2 : Options for strategic planning (based on Foster and Skehan 1999).

Another option concerns the amount of time students are given to carry out the pre-task planning. Most of the research studies have allocated between 1 and 10 minutes. An effect on

fluency was evident with very short periods of planning in some studies but longer was needed for an effect on complexity(Skehan 1998 suggests 10 minutes is optimal).

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