Teaching methods: An introduction to TBLT

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Another acronym?!

ELT, PPP, ESP, TTT… there are so many acronyms and abbreviations to learn when you start teaching English it can make you feel dizzy. But once you know what they mean and understand the theories behind them, you start to become more aware of your own teaching practices and can continue to develop professionally.

Today we’re going to introduce you to another one – TBLT.

TBLT stands for Task-Based Language Teaching. It’s an educational framework for the theory and practice of teaching second or foreign languages. Over the past few decades it’s attracted considerable attention from both researchers and teachers.

Now, let’s look at the TBLT approach in more detail, discover its advantages over more traditional methods and understand how it can be implemented.

How is TBLT different to other approaches?

Task-Based Language Teaching is primarily a student-centred approach. It originated from the Communicative Approach, but has since developed its own distinct principles.

It can be seen as a response to more traditional teacher-led, grammar-oriented, presentation-practice-production (PPP) approaches of language instruction.

Here are some examples of the growing criticism the PPP method has received.

  • It assumes that language learning is linear, that grammar points can be learnt one after the other. However, just because a structure has been taught, it doesn’t mean it has been learnt.
  • Activities offer opportunities to practise the target language, but can lack real purpose and meaning.
  • Learners may be able to produce the target language during controlled activities, but this doesn’t necessarily transfer to more spontaneous interaction.

In TBLT, activities are designed around the learner’s real life needs. They focus on the using authentic target language and linguistic strategies to complete meaningful, interactive tasks.

What exactly do we mean by ‘task’?

Kris van den Branden, in Task-based Language Education: From Theory to Practice, describes a ‘task’ as:

“…an activity in which a person engages in order to attain an objective, and which necessitates the use of language.”

This is a clear, concise definition to keep in mind. But, when coming up with a task, it’s perhaps more helpful to consider a set of criteria.

Jane Willis offers these questions to bear in mind when designing a task:

  1. Does the activity engage learners’ interest?
  2. Is there a primary focus on meaning?
  3. Is there an outcome?
  4. Is success judged in terms of outcome?
  5. Does the activity relate to real-world activities?

3 types of TBLT activities you can try

1. Information gap activities

These activities rely on the exchange of information between learners. By providing students with different information, you can ensure that there is a real need for communication.

This type of activity gives students the opportunity to request information, ask for clarification and negotiate meaning.

Example tasks could be to give a partner directions, to consult each other’s diaries and schedule a meeting or describe the activities of a company. Remember, the task should be related to what the learner needs to do with the language in the real world.

2. Opinion gap activities

In opinion gap activities learners exchange personal preferences and offer ideas about a particular topic or situation. This is especially useful for more proficient language users who have a level that allows them to discuss a topic in more depth.

For lower levels, the task may be offering opinions on something they’ve listened to or a text they’ve read. The key is to ask students open questions. Unlike most comprehension questions, in opinion gap activities there is no right or wrong answer.

Remember all of these activities should involve an outcome. This could be to report back to the class orally or to summarize people’s opinions in writing.

3. Reasoning gap activities

These are similar to information gap activities, but this time students must work together to solve a problem. Rather than exchanging information, they must collaborate, speculate and, typically, come to some agreement.

Example activities could include something as simple as planning a holiday. Learners are given a budget and a set of requirements. Using different materials and resources, they would then have to decide on appropriate destinations, the best method of transport and plan holiday activities.

Why not try one of these activities with your class today?

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