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A to Z of Methodology


What and why?

The word 'task' is used in a variety of meanings in language teaching. One common use is in the sense of 'whole tasks', that is, a large classroom activity in which the students may be doing a variety of different things. In this sense, the optional Activity Units are 'whole tasks'. The focus in 'whole task' work is usually on meaning rather than the form of the language, although both are important (see FLUENCY). Many writers argue that teaching through 'whole tasks' is most effective since students can learn the language through natural processes of acquisition.

In CEWw, however, the word 'task' is used in the same way as 'exercise', to refer to any structured language-learning procedure. 'Task' in this sense will include everything from a gap-fill exercise to a poetry-writing activity. Tasks may be 'small' and may only take a few minutes (such as doing a word puzzle) or they may be 'large' and take a whole lesson or more (such as making a poster). In actual fact, 'large tasks' are likely to be made up of smaller tasks. Some of the key questions in language teaching are: 'What are the most effective kinds of tasks for language learning?', 'What makes a task more or less difficult for students?', 'How do different kinds of tasks affect classroom interaction?', 'How do different kinds of tasks shape LEARNING STRATEGIES?' and 'What roles do different kinds of tasks place on teachers and students?'

Practical ideas

Researching the classroom

  • Experiment with different ways of doing similar tasks to see if that affects student performance. For example, writing can be done individually or in small groups, with or without planning and BRAINSTORMING, or with or without dictionary support, and so on.
  • Choose two or three tasks which seem to be very different in nature. For example, a poster-making activity, a grammar discovery task and a reading comprehension task. Then choose three or four students in your class. When you come to those tasks in your teaching, watch how the students respond individually to different kinds of tasks. Do some students prefer to work in a particular way? Do they seem to achieve more from particular kinds of tasks?
  • Give a lot of support initially in a particular area and then gradually reduce that support to see when it becomes difficult for the students. For example, if the students are doing listening work, you can initially teach them the language they will hear, give them an overview in their own language, let them listen with their books open, and then listen several times. Gradually reduce the support (for example, they can listen with their books closed) to see at what point it becomes difficult for them. You can then discover how much support you actually need to give.
  • Do the tasks that the students do in your lessons emphasise particular LEARNING STRATEGIES and classroom roles? When you are planning a lesson, sometimes look back over your plan and analyse the main tasks with the following questions: 1 What role will the students take? Will they be initiating language or responding? 2 What mental process will they have to go through? (E.g. repeating, analysing, planning, recalling from memory.) 3 What is the task about? Where does most of the subject matter come from? From the book, from the students, from the teacher? If you continually get the same answers to these questions, try to identify ways in which you can change the focus of your lesson to create greater variety and learning opportunities.


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