Task-Based Learning (TBL) or Project-Based Learning is a way of developing language through the “performance of meaningful tasks central to the learning process” (J Harmer; p71, The Practice of English Language Teaching). The belief is, that is students are occupied with the process of completing a task, they are just as likely to learn language- which they acquire as needed throughout the task-completion process- as they would do if they were focussing on language forms. it is something I’ve used a lot as a language teacher as it has always resulted in high-student motivation to learn, as well as giving some interesting tangents in the language classroom.
As a simple example, if you want students to focus on time structures, you could present them with a train timetable and ask questions about what day/ time the Beijing-Shanghai train leaves; when does it arrive, how long does the Xian-Chengdu train take etc. Through completion of the task, students will have to seek out the language structures needed to complete the activity.
Some pros and cons:
This style of approach is, by its nature, both less predictable than a traditional approach, as not all emergent language can be predicted. On the positive side, this does mean that students themselves are identifiying the language that they are interested in knowing however, thus developing their own language skills and intrinstic desire to learn. Also, particularly at earlier stages of learning, a balance has to be struck between complexity of task and complexity of language- however, it is a useful way in which to empower learners early on.
Secondly, this approach is considerably more time-consuming than straightforward delivery of content, and is not always best suited to a time-pressed classroom environment. Where it is incredibly useful however could be as an over-arching project across a term or half term, or as an on-going homework project or, in the case of MEP teachers, as a project focus on a weekly basis, since the 8 hours of learning time allows for language exploration.
An example of TBL:
Topic-based- eg the Environment
Under this topic you could carry out any of the following projects:
- create an emagazine
- create an ad campaign
- carry out interviews online
- carry out class voting
- create a survey, then carry it out (and write up results)
- photo shoot in local area, interview people, write up
- local projects research- what is going on in your local area? Can you translate posters/ information for Chinese residents?
- chinese research- what are some initiatives in China (compare and contrast- even better if you have a twin school)
You then use the topic tasks to build up language needed, working with emergent language. Bring in grammar that’s relevant (questioning, statement, comparisions, etc), and design tasks so that relevant structures are indentified and explained as the task is carried out.