OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a bit confused. I think my classroom practice and teaching materials reflect a Communicative Approach to language teaching. Prompted by some debates on Twitter, though, I’ve been trying to read up on TBLT and picture exactly what it would look like in the classroom, how TBLT-type lessons and courses would be sequenced and structured, and whether my lessons are actually TBLT. I’ve just read that “[g]enerally, [ELT] methods are quite distinctive at the early, beginning stages of a language course, and rather indistinguishable from each other at a later stage” (Brown, 1997, p. 3, in Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p. 249), and “[t]here are no convincing video ‘demonstrations’ with intermediate or advanced learners, perhaps because…at that level there is nothing distinctive to demonstrate.” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p. 250), so maybe that’s why I’m finding so hard to see whether the lesson and materials for B2-C1 learners I’ve created are actually TBLT or not.
Still, I think a lot of my lessons fit with what Willis (1996, in Richards & Rodgers, 2001, pp. 239-40) recommends as a sequence of activities in TBLT, even though I didn’t particularly plan them to be that way. Here’s an example; see what you think, I’m genuinely interested in opinions on this!
Pretask: Introduces topic & task
My lesson: T writes “food sharing” on the board and Sts brainstorm what they know about it. Any useful vocab sts use, especially if it’s new to other sts, is noted on the board. Sts are told that the overall goal for the lesson is to write a short statement showing their opinion on a food-sharing initiative.
Planning for task: Gives input on topic necessary for task
Stage 1 – Sts listen to a podcast on the topic, which discusses different ‘types’ of food sharing (e.g. food-sharing platforms, meal sharing, also food salvaging) and a couple of potential problems/legal issues. The two speakers basically have different views – one is very enthusiastic about food sharing and the other is wary. This is a real podcast, but I just use an excerpt so that it’s manageable within the lesson (Does this make it less authentic? And therefore not suitable for TBL?)
Sts answer some listening comprehension questions and take notes on what they learn about different sharing initiatives. Sts compare notes (e.g. in pairs) to check anything they aren’t sure they understood properly. T answer sts’ questions about any vocab or phrases in the podcast.
Stage 2 – Sts read two example comments that were left on the podcast website: again one is in favour, the other is sceptical. They both state their opinion and explain a couple of reasons for it. (I just selected two, which were well-written i.t.o. structure and no typos/language slips, and where I thought the language used would be understandable to B2 learners – again, I wonder if this is authentic enough? Sts answer comprehension Qs: Which one is for / against food sharing & how they know (which words/phrases show the opinion). They highlight the statement of opinion and the supporting points/reasons in different colours.
Sts think about which comment they agree with most and find a partner with a similar view.
Task – Completing the task/goal of the lesson
My lesson: In pairs (with the partner they just found), sts write a comment showing their opinion to add to the podcast website. They are told to state their opinion clearly and include supporting points/reasons.
The comments are displayed around the classroom and sts read each others’ texts. They then decide which one they think makes the best argument and why. Individual sts report back to tell the class about which comment they find most convincing and what they think makes it so good.
Language Focus – analysis and practice
My lesson: Sts look back at what they highlighted in the comments and what they wrote themselves. They are directed to find words/phrases that introduce opinion (e.g. I honestly believe, the way I see it, I’m afraid I have to disagree); these are written on the board. Sts look at their notes from the podcast and see if they can remember any other phrases – they can listen again if they wish. Sts can also be asked to discuss equivalents in their L1 (is that OK in TBLT?)
Sts discuss in small groups other things that can be shared / other sharing initiatives they’ve heard about and their opinions of them (also in comparison to food sharing) – whether they see any issues or whether they’d like to try them. I display pictures (e.g. of books, cars, couch-surfing, office space) to give them ideas, but the language they mined from the input texts remains displayed on the board.
Posttask – reporting and consolidating
Finally, Sts reflect on their use of the words/phrases for showing opinion and edit their written comments on the podcast if they wish. They tell each other what they changed and why, and evaluate each others’ edited comments.
If sts wish, they can post their comments on the real podcast website.
From what I’ve been reading, a lot of what makes TBLT TBLT is the priority or focus given to meaning over “language points” – if I had, for example, done the language analysis (here, the guided discovery of phrases to introduce an opinion/supporting reasons) before the actual task (here the writing of comments), then this would perhaps have not been so in-keeping with what TBLT recommends, right? Then I would be “back to” the Communicative Approach, wouldn’t I? Comments welcome!
Don’t get me wrong, this blog post is not trying to weight different methods up against each other (that’s a discussion for another time and place), but I’m trying to get my head around some criticisms of teaching and materials that claim TBLT would be better – and that got me wondering if it’s not TBLT I’m doing anyway…
Brown, H.D., “English language teaching in the ‘post-method’ era: Toward better diagnosis, treatment and assessment,” PASAA, 27, 1997, pp. 1-10.
Richards, J.C. & T.S. Rodgers, Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (CUP, 2001)
Willis, J., “A flexible framework for task-based learning”, in J. Willis and D. Willis (eds), Challenge and Change in Language Teaching (Heinemann,, 1996), pp. 52-62.