Task Based Language (TBLT)

Skehan’s (1998) A Cognitive Approach to Language LearningLittlewood’s (2000) “Task Based Learning of Grammar,” and Nunan’s (2004) Task Based Language Teaching all provide excellent overviews of the Task Based Language Teaching (TBLT) approach. The main goal of this approach is for teachers to have students actively engage in the meaning making process of solving the problem of a communicative task by working towards an assigned product.

For one project during my MA days at Teachers College, Columbia University,  my in-class partner, Marina, and I telecollaborated (online) with educators from Pädagogische Hochschule Heidelberg. In 16 weeks, we discussed our different educational contexts, shared teaching ideas and experiences, experienced task-based language teaching and task-based language learning together, and collaboratively designed lesson plans. Below is one example of a lesson we adopted using the pre-, during, and post- phases of a TBLT lesson.

For more examples of TBLT lesson plans, please check out Task Based Language Teaching and Jane and David Willis’ site.

Skill Area: Reading
Textbook Unit: In Charge, Unit 1-Food for Thought
Lesson Plan Revision: “The Word’s Most Popular Beverage,” pages 12-14
Context: EFL class for adults, 18 and up. High intermediate or advanced class



Our purpose is to activate key metacognitive skills that are crucial for reading comprehension. In addition to promoting communication in authentic situations (Willis, 1996), task based learning teaching is a good problem-solving framework for reading comprehension development. By activating students’ prior knowledge and equipping them with tools for active reading, we are attempting to further their metacognitive development through the presentation of challenging and meaningful tasks.


Teacher Preparation:
The teacher will need to think of the ways to activate students’ background knowledge. A good start would be to ask them: “What is your favorite beverage and why?” “What do you like about it.”

The teacher will need to prepare a questionnaire for the students.

The teacher will need to have a few different ideas of how the data could be represented visually, as some students may not have this skill set. Or, they may not be prepared to demonstrate their knowledge of how to graph in a language class.

The teacher will also need to know different aspects of “coffee culture” around the world. For example, in Ethiopia coffee ceremonies are held and are considered high honors. In other countries, coffee is consumed in the morning while reading the paper, or after dinner with dessert. It is important for the teacher to have a general idea of how coffee drinking are influenced by cultural practices.

Student Task Instructions:

  • After a brief discussion on students’ favorite beverage each student will receive a questionnaire to fill out.
  • Interview three people to find out their favourite beverage. The goal
    is to find out why each person likes the drink, how often he/she drinks
    it, what time of day he/she drinks it, and what he/she adds to the
    beverage, if anything.
Beverage  Coffee  Tea  Juice Latte Macchiato  Other Drinks (Red Bull)
 Reason  Tastes Good
 Frequency  Every Night With Dinner
 Additions  Vodka
  • After you have completed the interview phase, you should form a circle to compile data and discuss findings with the entire class.
  • Class collects findings to see what beverage or beverages are the most popular.
Beverage  Coffee Tea Juice Latte Macchiato Other Drink
  • Present questionnaire results in the form of a graph and draw the graph on one side of the board.


  • The teacher will lead a class discussion of the findings by asking individual students to report on most popular drinks; explain the graph and what the data showed.
  • If coffee does not come up as number one, teacher and students discuss why. Teacher will introduce the idea of “coffee culture” in different social contexts around the world.
  • The teacher will finalize the discussion by asking students to write down three facts that they already know about coffee. Once students write down their facts, teacher asks students to share one of things that they wrote. When sharing these facts aloud, the teacher will encourage students not to repeat what others have said.
  • The teacher will also have to record key terms from what the students share as they go around the class. Or, the teacher can write what students share on the board in list form next to the graph.

Through negotiation of the task, students will produce a greater sense of community in the classroom and a larger body of shared knowledge about each other. Students will have a visual product to represent the information they gathered and a set of facts to accompany what they know about the topic of the day – COFFEE.


Students will find out information on their topic and share this information with other groups. The students fill the information gap, and it makes the task meaningful. As students read, they will write on the text using the Directed Notes key (see below) for easier referral to the text after they read.

Directed Notes Key

? – Confusing sentences, points, ideas that can lead to discussion.
 ! – Interesting, surprising, humorous moments or phrases.
Underline – Important sentences that help explain, clarify, and underscore the author’s argument or other significant points in the text.
Box or circle – Words you do not understand.
*Star* – Character development, descriptions of visual details (shape, color, texture, sounds, smells), ironical statements (those that say one thing and mean another), symbols (objects or images that have more than one level of meaning), abstract idea or conflicting forces (illusion vs. reality, death vs. rebirth, individual vs. society, fate vs. free will, servitude vs. freedom, where you were born vs. where you live now), and messages, themes, issues or problems in the text.
Highlight – repeating themes, words, and phrase


Teacher Preparation:
Teacher will need to provide the text “The World’s Most Popular Beverage” to the students.

Teacher will need to divide the text into four parts (jigsaw reading), divide students into groups of four and give each group one part of the text.

Teacher will also need to be familiar with the “Directed Notes Key” and be able to explain its benefits, or create one that works for him/her.

As the teacher writes new words on the board and brainstorms the terms with the students, the teacher can additionally ask students if the new learned word is a noun, adjective etc, and can work on pronunciation with them.

As incidental mistakes occur throughout the discussion, the teacher will use recasting, when appropriate, in order to improve students accuracy.

Student Task (1) Instructions:

  • Read the text individually and mark up the text with “Directed Notes Key.”
  • After you have read and marked up the text, refer back to the text and find information that is specific to your assigned topic.

Group 1: Coffee across cultures
Group 2: History of coffee
Group 3: Coffee beans
Group 4: Coffee and Health

  • Students receive cards with the number of their group (1, 2, 3, 4). After the numbered group work, students form Expert Groups. In each Expert Group, there should be one student with a different text excerpt.

Student Task (2) Instructions:

  • Tell the others about what you have found on your topic. Present the results in the form of a table. Be prepared to share your results with the entire class.
Topic Coffee across cultures History of Coffee Coffee Beans Coffee and Health
3 Facts that we consider important
  • Write one question that is not covered in the article for each topic.

Students will create a table of the information they find from the text.
From the creation of this product, students increase their awareness of cross-cultural differences.
Teacher facilitates students’ fluency and accuracy, when appropriate.


Students will add to the list of facts about coffee that they created collectively as a class. They will compare what they knew before reading the article and what they now know after reading the article. However, there are some things that may still be unknown about this vast topic. As a class, teacher and students will discuss the limits of their coffee knowledge, even after reading the article. Students will negotiate ways to bridge this knowledge by conducting computer research. Students will then present their results in the form of a brochure.

Student Task Instructions:

  • Students refer to the questions they formulated in their Expert Groups.
  • Conduct research on the Internet to find out the answers for the questions you came up in your Expert Groups.
  • Try to give very specific and detailed terms into the search engines and always cite your sources.
  • Collect your data and create a brochure about coffee in class. You can use all the information you have found so far, e.g. from the text, from the questionnaire etc. The brochure should not only contain information and text, but also illustrations and formatting.
  • In order to work more efficiently, you should divide your class into groups which work on different topics (like illustration, text, design, etc).
  • Students will use the Internet to explore answers to other topics of interest related to coffee and they may add this to the brochure.
  • Each group creates one brochure about coffee using all of the information they found during the pre-, while and post-reading phases (questionnaire results, questions and answers → text and internet research), as well as illustrate their brochure.

Students will create a brochure.


Students will reconsider the use of the word Arab, along with what is meant by the term “Middle East.” The underlying idea of this task is to explore how ethnic groups choose to name themselves versus names that are assigned to them by others.

Teacher Preparation:

Teacher will need to have an understanding of these issues.

Teacher can consult the following websites:

General website that outlines the myths of “Arabs.”

Article by Edward Said, a leading scholar on Islam and ethnicity in Islamic regions.

Clearly written paper, with references, that presents a chronological view.

Article explaining the addition of Arab-American as a category on the U.S. Census.

Student Task Instructions:

  • In your Expert Groups, re-read the second paragraph in the text.
  • Examine the words Arabs and Middle East as they are used in this context.
  • Think of what is meant by these terms. Do you know which groups can be considered Arab and which groups cannot? What countries include the
    Middle East? Is this term geographically all-encompassing? Exactly what
    is it in the middle of? Is it east? From whose perspective?
  • Discuss your answers with members in your group.


  • Students will create visual and word associations with the terms Arabs and Middle East.
  • Groups will each be given a large piece of butcher paper on which they
    will visually represent their concept of the Middle East, with a map or
    some other creative visual. For Arabs, they will be asked to concept
    map the words that pop into their minds. Additionally, students could
    draw a coffee route on the map.
  • Students can present their associations and explain why they have the
    opinions they do. Collectively, teacher and students can differentiate
    between facts and generalized opinions.
  • Depending on the teaching environment (and country), teacher and
    students can also explore the social, political and cultural
    significance of this issue.
  • Students will enhance their geographical knowledge.


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