task based learning

Insight into a synthetic syllabus

Views are my own in this post.

I teach from a synthetic syllabus at my school and the following attributes are true of it…

  • it’s a covert linguistic syllabus (notional-functional)
  • it’s task-supported (rather than task-based)
  • the tasks are built on structure-trapping rather than target tasks based on learner needs. However, learners can opt to follow a particular pathway (e.g. work, study) which helps ‘personalise their learning journey’ (to an extent)

You could level plenty of criticism towards the approach – I do love ranting about this myself sometimes. In a nutshell: it’s tblt with small letters, as Mike Long (2015) would put it, and with that his awesome book on TBLT (note the capitals) would pay it no further attention. The “tasks” are more like “situational language exercises” (Cunningham, in Ellis 2009), and would likely lead to “encoded usage” rather than “purposeful use” (Widdowson 2003). I’ve heard some teachers call it worse than that – “McDonaldsy” and “glorified PPP” being some of the softer terms.

I get the PPP thing. (more…)

Teaching functional language

A newly-qualified CELTA teacher has asked me for advice about how to deal with functional language. So… this is one of my approaches to teaching functional language! The example is from a lesson I did last weekend about the World Cup. The target language was phrases for making suggestions/giving advice, along with agreeing and disagreeing with the advice.

Disclaimer: This type of thing works for me. If you’re fresh off the CELTA and looking for a route into dealing with functional language then it might be worth trying, but I am speaking only from experience, not from authority…

Step 1: Find out what language the learners already know…

After a general World Cup chat, do a short roleplay task…

Post-task feedback, board any target language that learners already use…

Step 2: Task model

Students listen to a real example of the convo they just tried. I say ‘real’ – it’s normally a recording I’ve made with another teacher! We try not to grade things too much or make things too contrived, but you know how these things can go in practice…

Do a few gist/detail comprehension tasks. Stuff like: Did they offer the same advice as you? Did they give good advice? Maybe some True/False questions….

(extract from the listening I did)


CELTA Lesson Frameworks

I had a request last week from a reader who wanted to know more about lesson frameworks. I wrote about how useful they are a while back, but only gave one example. So, I’ve dug out my excellent CELTA handbook (from IH Budapest) and summarised most of the frameworks mentioned. I’ve added a bit of information to explain some stages a bit more.

Here’s the basic structure for…

Receptive skills lessons

Note: receptive skills are reading and listening

Lead-in – Generate interest in the topic / text. There are quite a few ideas for lead-ins here and here

Orientation to text – What do you need to tell the students about the text to prepare them for reading/listening? This could be text type, text source, speakers’ accents, etc. Whatever is relevant.

Gist task – set a short task based on general understanding of the text as a whole. For reading texts, the gist task is often timed. Students compare their answers together (pairs/groups) first before class feedback.

Pre-teach vocabulary – Teach any vocabulary needed for the detailed task

Detailed task – set a task based on detailed comprehension (formats might include gap fills, ordering events, true/false, etc). Students compare their answers together (pairs/groups) first before class feedback.

Follow-up activity – do a speaking/writing activity based on the text.framework2

The above is the BASIC framework. In practice, and with more time than you get during a CELTA lesson, certain tasks might be extended or added. For example, I often add vocabulary, pronunciation and game stages after the detailed task in my classes. So, the above focuses primarily on reading and listening skills, in practice other skills/systems are integrated.


It’s your move… helping students manage spoken discourse


Helping learners to deal with spoken discourse was a hot topic on my Diploma course. You might encounter the terms ‘interactional talk’ and ‘transactional talk’ when you get to modules on discourse analysis; a possible development task could be to devise a lesson based on things like ‘responses’ and ‘follow-up moves’. If so, I hope this post will help. I’ll introduce an approach to teaching spoken discourse markers, which is based on a task-based learning input session from my CELTA. (more…)