The Task-Based Learning approach focuses on the acquisition of language through relevant, applicable tasks that take place in a relaxed, positive environment. The best way to experiment, learn more about, and eventually perfect the Task-Based Learning approach in the classroom is to do it. Here are 5 fun activities to help you get started with TBL!
1- Plan A Trip
Whenever a school break or long weekend was approaching, my students liked to ask me about my travel plans. I liked to ask them about their dream trips, as well, planting the travel bug in their young minds from an early age. With this activity, your students will consider details in order to be able to accomplish a task while developing a sense of worldliness. Planning a trip is a highly useful skill that is applicable to real life. Plus, it allows them to use their imaginations and think about the most exotic places and experiences that they can brainstorm. Allow them to create a real trip for you, or enable them to add something to their own bucket list.
Split the class intro groups. You’ll need a map for each of these groups, so plan accordingly. A single country map, usually of their home country, is easier for designing a road trip. They’re also more likely to be able to come up with suggestions about a place they know. However, this is dependent on their own experiences and knowledge, so assess your class accurately. Prompt the group to brainstorm what information they will need from you (the traveler), and answer the questions the questions that they pose. For example: they should be thinking about how many days you want the trip to last, what your budget is, and what kind of sites you’d like to see or activities you’d like to do. Tell them how much time they have, then set them loose to plan the ultimate trip.
Once the allotted planning time is up, have each group present their trip to the class. Encourage other groups to ask questions, too. After each group has presented their itinerary, have the class vote on which is the “best trip”- it’s probably more diplomatic to phase it as, “Which trip should I take first?!”. Students can offer up why they made their choice, which is especially interesting if they voted for a group other than their own.
2-Department of Tourism
Many students decide to learn English because a) they want to travel or work somewhere where that is the language or b) the language is quickly becoming a major player in their own country (schools, business world, etc.). This is another fun activity that gets students thinking about the world around them. Your ESL class may be the only exposure that the students get to life outside of their own culture, so use that to inspire and teach!
As a group, come up with ideas for countries, cities, or specific travel destinations- this activity is meant for more developed students, not early elementary kids. When they are listing places, ask them to consider what they know about these places. Have they seen commercials on TV or vacations advertised elsewhere? Was this place in the news recently? Allow them to come up with as much as they can on their own. Since this is a group activity (in which many students have different ideas), allow for more than one place if you’d like. Alternatively, you can present the activity as a competition, where each group is vying to be chosen by the Department of Tourism.
In groups, have the students think of selling points for their destination. Why would people like to go there? What would they do and eat? Where could they stay? Have the groups organize and create a poster campaign to advertise the best of their destination- this includes words, sentences, and images! The work groups use a variety of communication techniques here, such as listing, comparing, listening and responding, and weighing out options. When finished, each group should present their proposal to the Department of Tourism (teacher and the rest of the class). Have the class vote on the most convincing presentation.
This activity can be adapted to almost any topic and can be restructured to any level. As the teacher, you can come up with a plethora of problems to present the students with. For example, you could describe a traffic problem that occurs in the city that your students live in. Tell them that they are part of a special committee responsible for brainstorming solutions and deciding on the one that best works for everyone in the community. On a more advanced scale, you could present a problem that a country is facing (i.e. an increasing number of refugees) and tell your students to work as UN aid workers trying to find viable options. However, if the students are advanced enough, have them write down common problems in their town, a country, or the world in general. Vote on which ones to use, or have one group switch papers with another.
Although this activity is a problem-solving task by nature, it includes other types of tasks, such as listing, comparing/contrasting, and evaluating. Be sure that each group comes up with multiple solutions before presenting the best one to the class. Simple, go-to responses should not be accepted- you really want to push them to brainstorm, listen to each others’ ideas, and evaluate pros and cons.
4. Story Comparison
Give the class a story/cartoon topic. Depending on your style, you can provide them with as much or as little information as you’d like. I usually give them a main character and a few compulsory events. I set the stage for the story and let them run wild planning out how the story develops and eventually ends. Put the students in pairs after giving them the initial information. This way, each student will have had a few minutes to start coming up with their own ideas in their heads before being stifled by a partner. After they are in pairs, instruct them to write and illustrate how the story ends. They will need to listen to each other and either agree on or compromise each movement forward. After the allotted time has finished, have each group present their story verbally to the class. This allows for a relaxed finish, whereby the entire class can discuss the commonalities and differences that evolved between the different groups.
5- Jury Duty
This task requires well thought-out planning, but the fun makes it worth it. Come up with a crime story (or find one in a lesson plan)- try not to be too gory. Present the class with a suspect (it could be you), his/her alibi, and any accompanying statements from witnesses. Don’t make it too complex, but also have at least four bits of information for your groups to use in their considerations. Divide the class into groups and explain that they are the jury, responsible for the fate of the accused. In the allotted amount of time, they will be required to review the evidence and agree on a verdict. If you are posing as the accused criminal, encourage the students to ask you questions if they require further information for their deliberations. Once they have finished giving their verdicts, discuss (as a class) how each group came to their conclusions. What aspects did they consider most important? Were there things that stood out more than others? Did a group member point out something interesting that the others hadn’t thought about? The list is endless. Have fun!