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Information sheet: Tasks in Second Language Teaching

Do you use tasks and/or activities with your learners?


How do you differentiate between the two?

Teaching professionals often use the terms task and activity
interchangeably but there are some key differences.
Activities are a more general term that describe a broad range of
classroom interactions and include common classroom activities such as
find someone who or backs to the board. Tasks are a type of activity that
teach or practice core learning objectives, and enable communication. For
example, an unscripted restaurant role play.


Pedagogic tasks


These pedagogic tasks have four characteristics:

Conventional language activities offer exploration or practice with a discrete language item such
as an aspect of grammar. While this may help bring focus to the target language, the lack of
communicative purpose may hamper long term learner retention, activation, and use. Since the
ostensible goal of language teaching is enabling learners to comprehend and convey meaning in
real world situations, tasks potentially narrow the gap between what happens within and to what
happens beyond the classroom.
Additionally, a task-based approach can help you manage a mixed-ability classroom. Learners
can take different approaches (simpler or more complex, shorter or longer etc.) based on their
language proficiency to arrive at the task outcome. Tasks can also contribute to classroom
management by encouraging students to take ownership for their own learning through the
process of performing and reporting back on tasks.

Task-based teaching

Task-supported teaching

Pedagogic tasks are the primary basis for

organization and lessons are structured using tasks
rather than linguistic items such as grammar or

Pedagogic tasks play a significant role in lessons

but dont influence course structure, which may be
determined by linguistic items such as grammar or

Its largely learner-centred and focused on real
world application.

It scaffolds language acquisition and use within
the tasks, lowering the cognitive challenge.

Lower-level learners may struggle with a pure
task-based approach where language input is
limited, especially if they are in an acquisition
poor or L1 environment.
It may have low face validity with learners (and
their parents or sponsors) who qualify progress in
terms of content scope, not task achievement.

The task becomes an ill-defined stage that
replaces the last P in Present, Practice, Produce
(PPP) reducing task authenticity, and offering
PPP in a task-based disguise.
Language input takes precedence over tasks and
may take up much of the lesson, compromising
time spent on tasks.

Image attribution: Questions by Gregor renar & Speech Bubble by

Federico Panzano sourced from Noun Project under Creative Commons

Created & submitted by @adi_rajan (blog link) on Oct 2, 2016 for the ESL/EFL Taskbased approach to reading MOOC on Coursera.