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5 Steps to Design Kick-Ass TEFL Tasks
Your students will thank you.
Task design is essential for students to learn consistently, yet we often leave it to luck.
As teachers, we’re so busy planning, marking and teaching that we rarely design our tasks. We often just look for any activity that’s related to the lesson aim and make do.
Students need tasks to guide their thinking, as what they think about determines what they’ll learn and remember.
As psychologist Dan Willingham says in his book, ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’;
“Memory is the residue of thought”.
As a language teacher, my tasks should encourage the students to think about (and use!) the target language.
Here are five principles to follow when you design tasks for your lessons.
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1. Your Tasks Should Support Your Aims
Check: what will your task encourage students to think about? What language will it likely get them to produce?
Tell or act out a short story or anecdote ( “I woke up this morning with a really bad cold… AHHH-CHOOO! I went to the doctor and…”).
Play a short audio clip.
If it’s too flashy, it might be so engaging that it distracts them and changes the subject.
If it’s too boring, it won’t engage at all, and they’ll talk among themselves.
Do the topic and context match the task?
Are the students likely to produce the target outcomes?
This is a quick but necessary step.
2. Your Tasks Need a Gap
Students need to have a good reason to communicate. Sure, they’ll talk if you tell them to (“discuss the topic with your partner!”), but it won’t be as engaging as it could be.
In his book ‘Second Language Pedagogy’, Prabhu describes three types of gaps — information, reasoning and opinion.
Information gaps are where students have different information and have to exchange that information.
In reasoning gaps students have to figure out how to get from where they are to where the task says they should be. An example would be planning a night out with restrictions on budget, timing, and other variables.
Opinion gaps are where students must agree or disagree with others and give reasons. For example, a debate on society — the classic, ‘should there be a death penalty?’ question.
Any of these three gaps will provide a reason for students to communicate other than ‘the teacher told me to speak, so I guess I’ll have to’.
For more on using gaps in the classroom, read my article ‘How to Use ‘Gaps’ in Communicative Activities’.
3. Your Tasks Should Build Confidence and Encourage Creativity
While it might sound impossible to do both of these things, it’s not. It’s about using interaction patterns to their fullest advantage. I’ve written about that here, so click through and have a read.
4. Your Tasks Should Try to Exploit Your Materials
They’ve got to understand the lesson, your instructions, and that’s before trying to even do the task.
So instead of giving them new materials, could you re-use ones you’ve already used in the lesson?
I’ve written about that here, so click through and have a read. As a bonus, you can keep it for the next time you have a similar task…
5. You Should ‘Mentally Rehearse’ Your Tasks
This sounds taxing, but it’s actually quite quick and is a real help when anticipating problems.
Simply close your eyes and imagine the class that you’re going to teach. Imagine all the personalities that make up the class. Now run through the task. Imagine:
Introducing the task
How the students will react
What language they’ll produce
So there you have it. A few easy-to-apply principles to guide you in designing your tasks.
See you again in two weeks.
Whenever you're ready, there are three ways I can help you:
1. Learn how to plan better, faster and stress-free with my book Lesson Planning for Language Teachers (90 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).
2. Develop calm students, a relaxed mind and a classroom full of learning with my book Essential Classroom Management (16 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).
3. Improve your teaching in five minutes daily with my Reflective Teaching Practice Journal (4 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).