Blog | English Language Learning | Centre For Excellence

Task-based Language Teaching

  • Task-based Language Teaching

The following blog post was written by Jennifer Jessop, a faculty member at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement (CEIIA). This blog post is part of our Conference Reflection blog series. The blog series is an opportunity for Centre faculty to share a key finding or teaching technique learned at a conference.  

Carrying out TBLT (Task-Based Language Teaching) often stymies teachers, according to Dr. Jonathan Newton of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. During his keynote address at the 2016 ATESL Conference, he led attendees through the theory and the process of successfully building a meaningful task-oriented activity.

Dr. Newton outlined the six challenges teachers face when creating a TBLT plan and offered some clarification:


One task leads to a network of preparatory, follow-up, and extension activities. The set-up for these can be minimal. Time can be saved once the teacher and students are familiar with this kind of process.

TBLT builds on a process of activities that bring in multiple skills and an interconnected, developing set of goals.

Teacher understanding of TBLT

TBLT does not mean stand-alone activities, oral communication tasks, or games and activities. Nor does it involve explicit "focus on form" teaching. Instead, TBLT builds on a process of activities that bring in multiple skills and an interconnected, developing set of goals.

Fitting in Focus on Form

Focus on Form can be included with a focus on key lexis and useful phrases.

Working with textbooks

Textbooks have a closed outcome with material that is irrelevant and removed from the learners’ experience. However, teacher-created tasks have an open outcome and are relevant and local.

Use of TBLT in beginner levels

Real use of language is meaningful use of language. No matter how simple the task is, students feel disappointed when they can’t perform or speak once that has been established in the class.

Use of first language

Dr. Newton said that the more students use English in collaborative, meaningful contexts, the less they resort to their first language. Using English becomes rewarding for them.

Example TBLT Lesson

The example Dr. Newton gave for a TBLT lesson was “Things on a Tray.” Many teachers would recognize it as a version of “Kim’s Game”. However, instead of simply carrying out the game of showing items on a tray briefly, hiding them and then having students write down the words, only to end the activity with a simple comparison, the process described by Newton involves the following:

  1. A pre-task discussion of the objects
  2. The familiar and classic Things on a Tray/Kim’s Game process (reveal objects, hide them, have students remember and write down the words.)
  3. Students work in pairs to create a joint list.
  4. Each pair prepares and then delivers a report based on the list. This moves their work into presentation preparation - to “go public”.
  5. During the report presentations, all students listen for a purpose - to find out what others got that they didn’t.
  6. Each pair must then make a new list of the items that they got that the speakers from the other pairs did not get.

A task done in this manner pulls in so many benefits and purposes of language: social, structural, purpose, negotiation, presentation, et cetera. In this way, teachers “mediate access to affordances.” In other words, teachers open doors for students to use their skills to achieve language goals.

Do you have any favourite TBLT-based activities that you would like to share?