Table of Content
2. A definition of task-based learning
3. Designing motivational tasks in the EFL classroom
3.1. Improving task support - the task cycle
3.2. Task-based writing activities in EFL classrooms
4. A focus on young learners
4.1. “My perfect home“ (writing task) as an example of a task-based teaching unit in a young learners‘ EFL classroom
4.2. Evaluation of the teaching unit from a task-based teaching perspective
6.1. Secondary literature
6.2. Online sources
In modern second language teaching the role of task-based learning has become a very im- portant aspect. Due to the fact that very often exercises in EFL classrooms have no clear con- nection to real world situations, researchers and modern English teachers try to put emphasis on tasks which help learners to use the target language effectively in different situations outsi- de the classroom.
This term paper has its focus on the implementation of task-based learning and teaching in EFL classrooms and the way task-based activities can be designed especially for young learners. Based on the fact that motivation plays an important role in language learning, it is also necessary to concentrate on possibilities to make the English language attractive for young learners and to help them realizing that through task-based learning activities they can learn something which can be transfered to real life situations.
Therefore, I would like to give a brief overview about task-based learning in general and the way it provides effective language learning with the help of motivational tasks in order to show that in-class language practice does not necessarily have to be an artificial situation. With a focus on young learners, I would like to concentrate on the question how to implement a task-based writing activity which supports creativity and active second language use.
2. A definition of task-based learning
Contrary to lots of form-based exercises in EFL classrooms, task-based activities have its focus on meaning. Completing a task does not only mean to apply linguistic skills to pre-de- signed sentences but rather to put linguistic knowledge into a meaningful context in order to be successful in real world second language interactions. Ellis (2003) describes that “to this end, it requires them [the learners] to give primary attention to meaning and to make use of their own linguistic resources, although the design of the task may predispose them to choose particular forms. A task is intended to result in language use [...].“ Further, tasks have to refer to realistic situations which emphasize communication. Willis and Willis (1996) state that an effective task is “where the target language is used by the learner for a communicative outco- me“ (p. 173). In this context, the authors use the term “outcome“ which means that communi- cation can be productive “through the exchange of meanings“ (Nunan, 2004, p. 3).
Overall, the completion of a task can be seen as a problem-solving procedure to combine skills of linguistic form with a meaningful context in order to use the target language in a natural and communicative situation. The achievement of the communicative goal is one of the most important aspects in a pragmatic interactional situation. Nevertheless, Nunan (2004) shows that an essential part of such a situation is “[...] mobilizing the grammatical knowledge in order to express meaning“ (p. 4). If the learner is able to activate his or her linguistic knowledge, communication can be even more productive.
Considering the question how a task-based approach supports language learning Müller- Hartmann and Schocker von Ditfurth (2011) state that “tasks have the potential to support le- arning if they motivate learners to get involved“ (p. 63). Tasks need to have a communicative purpose and they must be “relevant to learners‘ language needs“ (p. 63). Another feature of task-based learning is that “tasks need to include an interactive element“ (p.67) in order to provide cooperative learning surroundings for the students. The following part will concentra- te on these aspects and shows how to turn them into practice in order to improve task support.
3. Designing motivational tasks in the EFL classroom
3.1 Improving task support - the task cycle
As described above, tasks are intended to be motivational in order to put emphasis on the communicative goal of the task. Therefore, the so called “task cycle“ helps teachers to implement the activity into a framework which helps learners to profit from the task as best as possible. Willis (2000) describes three components of the task-based language framework which provide motivation in productive learning: The pre-task in which the teacher introduces the topic and gives his or her learners the chance to explore the content, the task-cycle itself which consists of a task-, planning- and report-phase and finally the language focus which aims at an examination and analysis of linguistic features.
In order to draw interest on a certain topic, the learners have to activate their pre-knowledge about the topic. They talk about aspects they already know and adapt this knowledge to new aspects provided by the teacher.
In a second phase, learners get confronted with the task itself. Preferably, they work in groups because this emphasizes interaction and cooperative learning strategies. In order to let lear- ners work on their own, the teacher now acts and reacts as a moderator. He or she does not interfere in the groupwork but reacts in situations where students need specific help. In such a situation learners have the freedom to experiment with the target language; they discuss and cooperate.
Once the task is finished, “students prepare to report to the whole class (orally or in writing) how they did the task, what they decided or discovered“ (Willis, 2000, p. 38). This phase is very important because the students have to reflect what they just did; they perceive their work from an outstanding perspective and realize how they were working. Planning a report of what the group has achieved is also very effective because students get to know that the teacher and the rest of the class appreciate the effort they have put into the task. By telling the group that there will be a short presentation about their results, motivation can be increased: “If you tell the students this before they start the task, it may motivate them to take it more seriously“ (Willis, 2009, p. 230). Another aim of the planning phase is to achieve fluency, accuracy and language development. Whereas the task-phase gives a chance to experiment with and communicate in the target language, the planning-phase forces the studentes to start dealing with form because they have to discuss how they will present their results.
Finally, in a report-phase the students present and compare their results with the rest of the class. Not only do they tell the others how they did the task, but they do also talk about indi- vidual problems which accured during the task-phase. This phase requires a certain language accuracy. It has a lot of potential to increase the learners‘ language-based improvements be- cause they can actively exchange their results and comment on classmates‘ presentations. The teacher encourages this learning process by keeping a certain distance to the learners‘ interac- tions. As a “chairperson“ the teacher lets the learners speak and takes some notes at the same time. Students get self-determined and do not have to feel pressure of saying everything cor- rectly. Willis (2009) summarizes this behaviour as follows: “Always be encouraging. It is ext- remely important not to devalue their achievements, for example by commenting or even thinking negatively [...]. Instead, focus on all the things they are getting right!“ (p. 233).
Nonetheless, a task-oriented activity has to have a language focus which is covered at the very end of this process. The “chairperson“ now gives feedback about linguistic features the stu- dents already used correctly and appreciates that. The advantage is that learners realize that they are already quite competent language users to some extent. Difficult expressions or other language-based aspects which are more complex or just unclear can be analysed and discus- sed altogether. Willis (2009) also wants teachers to “make sure [to] give feedback tactfully and positively. Give examples of good expressions you have heard, or ones students have u- sed for the first time, and mention other good points“ (p. 236).
After a focus on a positive feedback, the teacher now has to concentrate on language mistakes and, if necessary, other clarifications in order to make sure the students do not memorize incorrect expressions. Yet again, the teacher should focus on new linguistic features which accured during the students‘ presentations and give them an opportunity to practice them. Thus, new knowledge can be acquired productively.
The task-based language framework as described above plays an important role in task-based teaching practice because it increases motivation and cooperative learning strategies. This do- es not only support an individual reflection of a learners‘ approach to a certain task but also lets students experiment with the English language. The task-cycle provides a self-regulated learning surrounding in which learners can actively use English as it is used in real life - for communicative purposes.
The following part of this term paper deals with the features of a task-based writing activity in order to show how the task-based language framework can be applied to a specific kind of task.
3.2 Task-based writing activities in EFL classrooms
Apart from the fact that modern English teaching is mostly about communicating in the target langauge, there are often situations learners have to write something in English. Whereas the communicative purpose of task-based English teaching is to let learners actively use the language in appropriate interactional settings, there are also possibilities to apply task-based learning to writing activities.
The general explenation of the task-cycle above showed that in the task-phase students get the chance to interact with each other and experiment with the target language without much in- terference by the teacher; thus, language-based correctness is not as important as in a later planning- or report-phase. With a look at writing activities it seems to be different: “For lear- ners this process [writing] challenges their current language system. Composing in the target language often demands a ‘restructuring‘ of language form; it forces learners to examine as- pects of their current grammatical knowledge and adapt and exploit it so that it will carry the meanings they wish to express“ (Willis, 2009, pp. 236-237). Willis (2009) shows very clearly that writing is a complex process for second language learners because they are forced to stick to grammatical rules. They cannot write as they speak so they have to have a certain background knowledge about linguistic features in the target language.
Although some people argue that communication has to be the main focus in second language learning, writing in a foreign language does also have to be an essential part of the overall le- arning process. Willis (2009) states that “however, language students need to write for other reasons. It is well known that writing in itself is a learning process. It often helps people to clarify ideas and to create new ones“ (p. 236). Related to EFL classroom situations this would mean that writing supports students‘ self-organization but also structuring thoughts or ideas they want to express.
But not only is the clarification or creation of ideas the main reason for writing in English classrooms; Willis (2009) again gives several examples for writing activites in EFL class- rooms, such as creating brochures, guide books for tourists, school newspapers or magazines. The interesting thing with these examples is that they are not restricted to a consideration in- side the classroom: “Could your class actually ‘publish‘ something for other classes to read or listen to, or even for wider distributions outside school, possibly by email?“ (Willis, 2009, p. 238). With regard to the motivational aspect of task-based language learning this would pro- bably be a perfect example of how to reinforce learners‘ effort into the writing activity; in this case it is a project rather than only an activity.
Writing in English is not only an essential part of the learning process of advanced learners but it also has to be taught in young learners‘ EFL classrooms in order to achieve a more dis- tinct second language acquisition. With a first look at the implementation of task-based wri- ting activites for young learners, therefore, a focus on the aspect of individualism seems to be appropriate. Speaking and writing skills have to be conveyed at the same time to create a mental connection between how a word is written and how it is pronounced. For young lear- ners this is very essential. Therefore, the following part of this term paper deals with a sepcial focus on young learners and a writing task-based teaching unit in particular. Firstly, the te- aching unit will be described as it has been simulated in the seminar; finally, it will be evalua- ted from a task-based teaching perspective.
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