Friday, May 31, 2013

Including Global Citizenship in Our Planning Framework

At our sixth meeting, we analysed Oxfam’s Global Citizenship Guides in order to determine how the key elements described in the guides fit into our planning framework based on TBLL and CLIL principles.

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We read two of these free guides. In the first one, Education for Global Citizenship: A Guide for Schools, the Oxfam’s Curriculum for Global Citizenship is outlined in terms of three key elements: the knowledge and understanding, the skills, and the values and attitudes which are believed to be needed in order for young people to develop as global citizens.

The guide suggests several participatory activities (e.g. discussion and debate, role-play, ranking exercises, and communities of enquiry) applying a global perspective to help students learn “how decisions made by people in other parts of the world affect our lives, just as our decisions affect the lives of others” (Oxfam Development Education Programme, 2006: 2). It also shows how the global citizenship syllabus can be implemented at different levels within the British education system in a progressive and cross-curricular fashion (ibid.: 4-7).

Next, we analysed what, what for and why can be borrowed from Getting Started with Global Citizenship (England). This guide is actually meant to be used by teachers working in England. So bearing in mind our particular teaching context(s), we suggested some relevant ways to adapt the materials. Then we thought of some possible activities to help our students foster intercultural communicative competence (ICC) in order to develop global citizenship (GC) as described in this previous post.

In a nutshell, the knowledge and understand element of the Oxfam’s Curriculum for Global Citizenship (OCGC) roughly matches the knowledge (savoirs) component in Byram’s ICC model (Byram et al., 2002: 11-13). The skills element in the OCGC roughly matches the skills of interpreting and relating (savoir comprendré) and discovery and interaction (savoir aprendre/faire) components in Byram’s ICC model (Ibid.). The values and attitudes element in the OCGC roughly matches the intercultural attitudes (savoir être) and cultural awareness (savoir s’engager) components in Byram’s ICC model (Ibid.).

It’s easy to notice that despite some overlapping, all these components have especially to do with the 4th C, Culture, in the 4 C’s Framework put forward by Coyle, Hood and Marsh (2010: 41-42, 53-55) as discussed in this previous post. That is, when planning a project along the lines discussed in this course, especially if you’re applying this framework for project planning, we should analyse contents and resources in terms of both Byram’s ICC components and the GC elements.

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To so doing, Baker (2008: 6) puts forward a framework for global learning that involves five elements in which students play an active role asking questions, making connections, exploring viewpoints and values, responding as active global citizens and assessing learning. Do you see how Baker’s framework can be integrated into the Culture component of the 4 C’s Framework? If you don’t, you can read more about this framework here.

Besides, Baker states that the only real difference between the global dimension (GD) and GC is that GD usually refers to a set of key concepts in education (e.g. social justice, human rights, conflict, diversity, values and perceptions, sustainable development and global citizenship), whereas GC is about the outcomes in the individual (Ibid.: 2).

Going back to the mindmap on this previous post, now I can expand on what I tried to say there. In the mindmap, GD is thought to be a means to an end. That is, in order to develop GC at the individual level, we should include the GD in our teaching practice at a social level.

Finally, I’d like to share the resources I got via Prof. Rubén Mazzei. Click on the links below. These resources are meant to help students (who are living in Buenos Aires Province) develop their ICC and eventually become global citizens.

You can find resources for year 4 of Primary Education here and here.
More resources (years 5 & 6 of PE, and years 2 to 6 of SE) might be published soon on cuadernos de trabajo.


Baker, R. (2008). Getting Started with Global Citizenship (England). Oxfam’s Education and Youth Programme. GB: Oxfam House. Available at retrieved 18.05.2013

Byram, M., B. Gribkova and H. Starkey. (2002). Developing the Intercultural Dimension in Language Teaching. A Practical Introduction for Teachers. Language Policy Division, Directorate of School, Out-of-School and Higher Education, DGIV. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. Available at retrieved 21.04.2013

Coyle, D., P. Hood and D. Marsh. (2010). CLIL. Content and language Integrated Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Oxfam Development Education Programme. (2006). Education for Global Citizenship: A Guide for Schools. GB: Oxfam House. Available at retrieved 18.05.2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013

4xC + 3xA + 6xT = My way of doing project work

At the fifth meeting, we went on analysing some teaching sequences and talked about the factors influencing the choice of resources and the design of tasks in connection with fostering both critical thinking and intercultural awareness.

In my previous post, I described the main principles we should bear in mind when designing tasks for our projects. In this post, I’m sharing my own way of putting all these ideas into practice. Please, don’t go thinking I’m going to give you the solution for all your possible problems or something of the sort! The title of this post is just meant to be fun.

Anyway, I work at a technical secondary school with specialisms in electromechanics, computing and construction. I teach two year-6 classes; one with specialism in computing and the other one with specialism in construction.

The main constraints I always have to deal with are the serious shortage of ready-made teaching resources and the lack of prep-time at state schools (which means teachers are expected to use their free time for planning, correcting and marking). So I always do my best to kill two birds with one stone, if you see what I mean.

Photo Credit: heath_bar via Compfight cc

When planning a year-6 project along the lines of both TBLL and CLIL, these steps can be followed:

1. Take the technical secondary education curriculum design of years 4 and 5 to pick out the subjects that have to do with both computing and construction. That is, choose the subjects that both specialisms have in common.

2. Talk to the subject teachers that have been in charge of these subjects so as to find out about both the students’ learning needs (including their interests) and the subjects themselves (e.g. the cognitive load involved in different themes, the prior knowledge required, the more appropriate order to deal with the contents, the availability of resources, the activity types students are familiar with, etc.).

3. Bearing in mind what the subject teachers have told you and the curriculum design of year 6, choose four or five THEMES (1st T), which involve four or five sets of CONTENTS (1st C), and specify the learning and teaching objectives for each theme.

4. Do research in order to find appropriate, relevant authentic spoken, written and multimedia TEXTS (2nd T). Of course, the ideal situation would be to have students themselves choosing the themes, but in this particular teaching context, teachers always need to buy time.

5. Carefully analyse the texts to spot the TOPICS (3rd T) and the three types of language (2nd C: COMMUNICATION + 3A’s: Lg OF Learning + Lg FOR Learning + Lg THROUGH Learning) covered in each topic. Also spot the cultural issues embedded in the way each text deals with a given topic (4th C: CULTURE). This analysis will help you polish up the learning and teaching objectives (in terms of both the 4C’s and the 3 A’s), establish the THREADS (4th T) and be realistic when thinking of possible real-life FINAL TASKS.

Steps 1-4 are to be carried out during the examination period in February, when we aren’t teaching yet. These steps are highly time-consuming, so the idea is to make sure that you’re preselecting a relevant variety of THEMES (subject contents) and drafting the outlines of possible projects with real-life FINAL TASKS in order to offer students a limited selection at the first meeting in March. As you can see, you’re buying time that you’ll need when planning the project(s) in detail.

6. The very first lesson in March, show students a sample of the resources and elicit their opinions. Ask them to choose two or three themes and decide which theme they’d like to work with first. Then, give them a list of several possible final tasks for each theme and ask them to choose at least two final tasks a theme (so that you’ll have a spare one if they change their mind afterwards; remember interests, motivation, engagement and commitment are prone to change as the school year goes by).

At this stage, it’s important that the final tasks you’ve designed look like the kind of activities students will have to do in real life. These activities are likely to be mainly unfocused tasks, which may predispose learners to choose a range of linguistic forms but they are not designed to foster the use of a specific linguistic form (Ellis, 2003: 16-17).

Four years ago, none of the final tasks I showed students was chosen at this stage. So I had to design new ones for the following meeting. To customise the new proposal of final tasks, I asked some subject teachers for help. They shared some of their ideas with me and I was able to tailor the new set of final tasks in time.

On second thoughts, I realised the first set of final tasks involved mainly focused tasks (which were language-oriented and aimed to induce learners to process, receptively or productively, some particular linguistic form) and hence they were perceived as unauthentic (e.g. a computer repairman and a bricklayer don’t usually have to write an instructions manual or a user guide).

However, the second set of tasks involved unfocused tasks which were subject-content-oriented (e.g. a computer repairman and a bricklayer are more likely to need to read and understand an instructions manual, or watch and understand a video tutorial, in order to, respectively, assemble the parts of a desktop computer and apply some construction technique).
Anyway, this doesn’t mean you can’t design a project with a focused final task.

7. Once students have chosen the final tasks, start to plan the first project. I use this template.

During the first month (a total of eight sixty-minute periods; two running periods a week), I usually put a lot of energy into activating and building up the prior knowledge (esp. the linguistic one) that students will need to cope with the project. I give students the different types of tasks described in this post. My main focus is on developing the three C’s (CONTENT + COMMUNICATION + COGNITION) and the three A’s. At this point, I’m paving the way for successful project implementation later on.

This first month’s work enables me to get diagnostic data on the students’ specific learning needs and interests. That is, this data helps me further customise the TASKS (5th T) in the project (e.g. I double check I’ve planned activities that help students develop different critical thinking skills following Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Thinking Skills; the 3rd C: COGNITION). It’s important to notice that actually the planning stage is highly recursive. That is, as you go on planning, you’ll find yourself revisiting what you’ve already planned in order to do away with some activities, introduce new ones, change the activity sequence and polish up the TRANSITIONS (6th T). Moreover, a kind of feedback loop will be established once the project has been launched.

8. Draft the ASSESSMENT PLAN. Yes. Assessment must be planned. This plan should describe the assessment type (Assessment OF/FOR/AS Learning? Formal/Informal Assessment? Summative/Formative Assessment? Peer-/Self-Assessment?), assessment criteria (assessment purpose, construct definition, performance description and weighting) and assessment tools (oral/written test, e-portfolio, anecdotal notes, oral/written comments, quality questioning, peer feedback, reflective blog entry, etc).

Since all forms of assessment are socially constructed activities to achieve certain goals, our assessment decisions (what for/why, who, what, how, when and where is assessed) reflect both our beliefs and political stance. In other words, what we value most will be shown in our teaching and assessment decisions. It goes without saying that this will affect the way we understand and implement the prescriptive curriculum. We need to be aware of all this since there is likely to be a washback effect.

9. At the beginning of the second month, launch the project.
Whether I’ve finished planning the whole project, I launch the project all the same. I think if I finished planning the whole project, I wouldn’t be flexible enough to adapt it later on. Oh yes, I do usually have to introduce changes during the project implementation. But that’s another story; a story for another post.

This is the yearly project I planned for the two year-6 classes I’m teaching this school year. Notice that this version of the project still needs to be further polished up. For instance, at this school, I was asked to include all the learning objectives (not just the ones directly connected with the final task) as they appear in the curriculum design, together with all the possible cross-curricular links, but to leave out the teaching objectives (so they are all missing in this version). You can read Prof. Stella Maris Saubidet Oyhamburu’s feedback on this project here.

Some final thoughts

For the sake of space, I’m just focussing on only a few issues that are worth noticing if you decide to follow the steps above.

First, what I wrote above is my idiosyncratic way of planning a project in an attempt to meet a specific group of students’ educational needs within the specific teaching context where I work; it’s not a successful one-size-fits-all recipe. It seems to work with the classes I teach; that’s it.

Second, I usually plan the final task very carefully since this task gives both students and me a clear focus throughout the project. It helps us stay on the right track. That’s why I check the task design over and over again to improve it. Any change in this task will also affect the assessment plan.

Third, my notion of TBLL has been highly influenced by Ellis (2009), which is the latest paper I’ve read about this approach. There Ellis addresses a number of theoretical critiques arguing that they are based on misunderstandings of what advocates of TBLL actually propose. He emphasises that there is no single task-based teaching approach and goes on to compare three different approaches. Then, he examines several genuine problems with implementing this approach. Some of these problems are the kind of problems we are likely to come across when implementing TBLL at state schools in Buenos Aires Province.

Fourth, despite the definitions of washback refer to the impact that the use of a test has on individuals and institutions, I think no matter what assessment tool we use, there will always be a washback. Since this effect is brought about by the assessment decisions we make, the assessment tool we choose is just the way we operationalise those decisions. The assessment tool is just a means to an end. We must be aware of our assessment decisions. Anyway, this is just my opinion. If you’d like to learn more about washback, you should read Bailey (1999) and chapters 1 and 10 in Fulcher (2010).

What’s more, and this is something I’ve learnt when doing ETMOOC, we must ask ourselves and encourage students ask themselves: What have I learnt so far? / What did I learn today?, How am I making my learning visible (i.e. accountable, evident to others)? And how am I contributing to the learning process of others?

Finally, though I make my best to give students several opportunities to have a say during the project planning and implementation, and that I go back to my initial plans and introduce changes here and there; doing all this doesn’t mean the project will be 100% successful. Last year, due to non-teaching staff’s strikes, I had to trim some teaching sequences from the project in one of the classes. Some contents were left out. As a result, the final task had to be changed. So did the assessment tools.

Any suggestion, piece of constructive criticism? I’m all ears (and eyes). 


Bailey, K. M. (1999). TOEFL Monograph Series 15. Washback in Language Testing. RM-99-04. Princeton, New Jersey: ETS. Available at retrieved 18.05.2013

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ellis, R. (2009). Task-based language teaching: sorting out the misunderstandings. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 19 (3), 221-246.

Fulcher, G. (2010). Practical Language Testing. UK: Hodder Education.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Task Design Principles: A mash-up of TBLL and CLIL

In my previous post, I reviewed some definitions of task within the field of Second Language Learning (SLL) and, more specifically, along the lines of both Task-Based Language Learning (TBLL) and Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL).

At the fourth meeting, we analysed some teaching sequences and talked about the factors influencing the choice of resources and the design of tasks. Among other things discussed, we came to the conclusion that we, as EFL teachers, need to make sure the subject content is relevant, interesting and cognitively challenging to learners through language input that is comprehensible and accessible.

In other words, we must customise tasks by meeting the students’ learning needs in terms of the ideational, interpersonal and textual metafunctions of language described by M. A. K. Halliday and in terms of Coyle, Hood and Marsh’s Language Triptych, a conceptual representation that analyses the connexions between cognitively demanding subject content, language learning and language using (2010: 36-38).

That is, tasks should exploit the language of learning (the language needed to access basic concepts and skills related to the theme; the language directly derived from the subject content), the language for learning (the language needed to operate in a foreign language environment; the language need to carry out tasks and communicate in the classroom, together with the language skills and metacognitive strategies to go on learning) and the language through learning (the language that emerges as the result of developing new knowledge and skills; continuously recycling and extending new language so that it becomes embedded in the learners’ repertoire).

Moreover, since there’s always a sociocultural component embedded in the resources chosen and the tasks designed, tasks must also help learners meet the challenges imposed by the features of our particular teaching context. When working at a state secondary school in Buenos Aires Province, among other aspects, we must take account of:

a) the learners’ representations of their culture and of their role as students,

b) the teachers’ representations of their culture and of their role as education professionals, c) the availability of educational resources (including graduate EFL teachers and graduate subject teachers),

d) the fact that we are teaching English as a foreign language at state secondary schools where CLIL is implemented as language-based projects (i.e. only English language teachers are in charge of these projects),

e) the fact that the curriculum design of secondary education is prescriptive and clearly establish the attainment goals, learning objectives, teaching objectives, contents, teaching methods, assessment tools and, in some subjects, the compulsory bibliography,

f) the fact that some students live in very poor conditions in shanty towns and have to work long hours before or after school,

g) the teachers’ working conditions (e.g. secondary teachers usually have to teach several large classes a week in order to make ends meet; sometimes they barely get to know and remember all the students they teach; there's not prep-time at state schools), and so on.

“… Task design needs to cater for scaffolded activity which engages and stimulates thinking in the learners, but which also offers opportunities for specific help to be available when needed from teachers, peers or support material (Coyle, Hood and Marsh, 2010: 99).”

Besides, we must make sure that the prior knowledge required by both the subject content and language is activated, or built up, and that enough cognitive/linguistic scaffolding is provided throughout the teaching sequences we plan. That is, in terms of language, there must be a balance between input-providing and output-prompting tasks because learners need to receive meaningful comprehensible input before they can be reasonably expected to produce anything (Krashen’s Comprehensible Input Hypothesis). Then, learners also need to have some control over their interlanguage to become aware of the gap between the target language and their own current production (Swain’s Comprehensible Output Hypothesis).

According to Coyle, Hood and Marsh (2010: 98-101), some issues that have to be addressed when planning tasks are:
  • What type of tasks is the most cognitively relevant / meaningful / appropriate / engaging / motivating at different stages within the teaching sequence?
  • What type of information is required by the task? What type of text type is required? What type of comprehension processes is involved? Does the task ask for interpretation / inference / summary / analysis / comparison / evaluation of information?
  • What type of interaction pattern is required by the task at different stages? Does the task involve students working on their own, in pairs, in small groups or class-as-a-whole?
  • What type of scaffolding does the task require at different stages?
  • To what extent does the task allow learners to show they have understood the concepts?
  • To what extent are the task output formats customised to meet the learners’ educational needs?
  • To what extent do the outputs produced by the learners allow the learners to revisit what they have learnt and how they have done so?

Coyle, Hood and Marsh (2010: 41-42, 53-55) put forward the 4 C’s Framework to map the integration of content and language learning in four contextualised building blocks: content (progression in learning subject matter knowledge and developing skills and understanding), communication (interaction together with progression in learning to use the language and using the language to learn), cognition (engagement in higher-order thinking, understanding, problem-solving, and accepting challenges and reflecting on them) and culture (developing self and other awareness, identity and progressing towards intercultural understanding and global citizenship).

According to Coyle (2005: 4-5), the content is the starting point of the planning process and determines the learning route. He goes on to state that while the 4C’s framework provides a useful guide for the overall planning of a unit of work, the 3A’s Tool can be used for more detailed lesson planning. There is clearly some overlap between the framework and the tool. However, their suggested use is significantly different. The 3A’s tool operates in three stages and is used with specific content.

Stage 1: Analyse content for the language of learning. This involves systematic content analysis to identify key words (including specialised contextualised vocabulary), phrases, grammatical functions for concept formation and comprehension.

Stage 2: Add to content language for learning. This involves adding language experiences to the lesson plan for specific attention which enable the learner to operate effectively in a CLIL setting (including strategies for information processing and understanding a difficult spoken/written text, metacognitive strategies, classroom talk and discussion, strategies to cope with task demands, considering ways in which the learning will be scaffolded and so on).

Stage 3: Apply to content language through learning. This involves building on the language which emerges through the learning context in order to make sure that there is cognitive and cultural capital. This stage involves exploring how thinking skills have been incorporated into the lesson plan in order to advance learning. It uses emergent knowledge and skills to apply thinking skills and high level questioning, which also demands cultural awareness. Since language and thinking are explicitly related, this stage is also necessary to ensure that a translated transmission model of learning won’t evolve.

When planning a project, we could combine the elements of the 4 C’s Framework and the 3 A’s Tool with those of the Six-T’s Approach to Content-Based instruction designed by Fredricka Stoller and William Grabe. Thus, in this approach, we follow these steps:

  • First, we determine the most relevant, meaningful and interesting themes (central ideas that organise major curricular units of subject content) for the students we’re going to teach.
  • Second, we look for the most appropriate authentic spoken/written/multimedia texts.
  • Third, we carefully analyse the texts collected to spot the topics (the subunits of subject content which explore more specific aspects of the theme) discussed in each text. At this stage, we should use the 3A’s Tool.
  • Fourth, we establish the abstract concepts that work as cross-curricular linkages or threads. That is, we determine how the theme and topics are linked to other themes in order to create greater curricular coherence. 
  • Fifth, bearing in mind the features of different task types and the learners’ needs, we design tasks to teach content and language in an integrated fashion.
  • Finally, we plan topic and task transitions. That is, we organise the topics creating links across them and providing constructive entries for new topics within the same theme unit. Then, we put the tasks into a given order that both creates links across them and provides constructive entries for follow-up tasks within the same topic.

On the video below, Dr. Fredricka Stoller talks about the possibilities and benefits of introducing Project-Based Learning (PBL) through a 7-step process as well as the potential challenges a teacher may face.

Well, so far so good. I’ve been applying in practice the main principles of CBI, TBLL and project work for fifteen year and CLIL for about 5 years. Lately, I’ve noticed I’ve been developing my own way of putting all these ideas into practice in the particular teaching context where I work. Maybe, I should share my own interpretation of these principles in the following post. In the meantime, what do you think about all these ideas? In your specific teaching context, are these ideas relevant/useful? Are they easy to apply in practice? Why (not)?


Coyle, D. (2005). CLIL. Planning Tools for Teachers. Nottingham: University of Nottingham. Available at retrieved 04.05.2013

Coyle, D., P. Hood and D. Marsh. (2010). CLIL. Content and language Integrated Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Snow, M. A. and D. M. Brinton (1997). The Content Based Classroom: Perspectives on Integrating Language and Content. UK: Pearson Education.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Tasks and the (Revised) Bloom’s Taxonomy of Thinking Skills

In this previous post, there was a suggestion that the Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Thinking Skills should be used when planning activities. Another way to think of Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking skills is the wheel designed by Dr. Doug Belshaw. This graph seems to downplay the hierarchy implied in the other graphs and suggest a balanced between higher-order and lower-order thinking skills. In other words, when planning pedagogical language activities, all these thinking skills should be taken into account.

Photo Credit: dougbelshaw via Compfight cc

So at our third meeting, we talked about language learning activities and revisited the concept of task within the field of Second Language Learning (SLL) and, more specifically, along the lines of both Task-Based Language Learning (TBLL) and Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). We got started by asking ourselves:

What is a task?

We reviewed several definitions and a bunch of task taxonomies in class. Later, at home I felt I needed to summarise what I think are the most important ones here.

The first thing I did was to google the term task and I got Lee’s definition (2000: 32). This definition is consistent with Nunan’s when he states that a pedagogical task is a communicative act in its own right with a beginning, a middle and an end; it is a piece of classroom work that involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing or interacting in the target language while their attention is focussed on mobilising their grammatical knowledge in order to express meaning and in which the intention is to convey meaning rather than to manipulate form (Nunan, 2004: 4).

Yet Bygate, Skehan and Swain (2001:11-12) put forward a broader definition. For them, a task is an activity which requires learners to use language, with emphasis on meaning, to attain an objective. Thus, the way tasks are defined depends on the purposes to which the tasks are used. That is, task will mean slightly different things to different stakeholders or groups of users (i.e. teachers, learners, examiners, researchers) and hence there is scope for misunderstanding between different groups.

In an attempt to address the shortcoming in Bygate, Skehan and Swain’s definition and provide a generalised definition, Ellis (2003: 9-16) describes the six critical features of a task (in italics) and states that a task is a workplan that requires learners to process language pragmatically in order to achieve an outcome that can be evaluated in terms of whether the correct or appropriate propositional content that has been conveyed. To this end, it requires the learners to give primary attention to meaning and to make use of their own linguistic resources, although the design of the task may predispose them to choose particular forms. A task is intended to result in language use that bears a resemblance, direct or indirect, to the way language is used in the real world. Like other language activities, a task can engage productive or receptive, and oral or written skills, and also various cognitive processes.

He goes on to describe two general types of tasks: unfocussed and focussed ones. The former may predispose learners to choose a range of linguistic forms but they are not designed to foster the use of a specific linguistic form, whereas the latter aims to induce learners to process, receptively or productively, some particular linguistic form (Ellis, 2003: 16-17). Focussed tasks can be designed as structured-based production tasks, comprehension tasks or consciousness-raising tasks (Ibid.: 151-167). Click on the links to find out more about these activities. Then, you can watch Dr. Rod Ellis' conference on Using Literature in Consciousness-raising Tasks. He also argues that tasks can be input-providing or output-prompting. Input-providing tasks engage learners in listening or reading, whereas output-prompting tasks engage learners in speaking or writing (Ellis, 2012: 200).

Based on required vs. optional information exchange, Ellis then describes one of the earliest task taxonomies, which appeared in the Bangalore Project directed by N. S. Prabhu in 1979. Tasks can involve an information-gap activity, opinion-gap activity or reasoning-gap activity. The first one involves a required information exchange in which the information is split, whereas the second one involves an optional information exchange in which learners have to provide their own ideas about shared information (Ellis, 2003: 86).

The third type involves a required information exchange in which the information to be conveyed is different from the one initially understood. This is so because it is derived through processes of inference, deduction, practical reasoning, or a perception of relationships or patterns (Nunan, 2004: 57). However, Ellis (2003: 102) points out that no research has examined interaction in relation to this type of task.

Elaborating on Ellis’ definition (five paragraphs above), Samuda and Bygate (2008: 69-70) argue that a task is a holistic activity which engages language use in order to achieve some non-linguistic outcome while meeting a linguistic challenge, with the overall aim of promoting language learning, through process or product or both.

Finally, Ribé and Vidal (1993: 2-3) distinguish three generations of tasks. First generation tasks focus mainly on the development of communicative abilities (e.g. problem-solving activities). Second generation tasks focus primarily on the development of the communicative competence and cognitive aspects of the learner (developing cognitive strategies that have to do with the handling, processing and organisation of information). Third generation tasks aim at developing the communicative competence, cognitive aspects and personality aspects in the learner through the attainment of wider educational objectives. They are thought to better address the issue of learners’ low motivation in state school systems.

Briefly, in other words, what a task involves can be  summarised in this mindmap:

All in all, I think the most useful definitions are the one made by Samuda and Bygate (2008: 69-70) and that by Bygate, Skehan and Swain (2001:11-12). The former explicitly addresses the holistic nature of tasks and the linguistic challenge the learners have to meet, while the latter makes us aware of the important roles the task purpose and the stakeholders play in task design. Yet, since the term task seems to be quite biased in favour of certain approaches to second/foreign language teaching, I think I’ll keep using the hypernym activity – even though it may also be ambiguous and vague.

By the way, when planning speaking activities, I’ve found it quite useful to consult this resource by Dr. Carl Blyth, Professor of French Linguistics in the Department of French and Italian and Director of the Texas Language Technology Center (TLTC), University of Texas.


Bygate, M., P. Skehan and M. Swain. (2001). Researching Pedagogic Tasks. Second language learning, teaching and testing. Essex: Pearson Education Ltd.

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ellis, R. (2012). Language Teaching Research and Language Pedagogy. UK: Wiley - Blackwell.

Lee, J. (2000). Tasks and Communicating in Language Classrooms. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Nunan, D. (2004). Task-Based Language Teaching. A Comprehensively revised edition of Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ribé, R. and N. Vidal. (1993). Project Work. Step by Step. Scotland: Heinemann.

Samuda, V. and M. Bygate. (2008). Tasks in Second Language Learning. Research and Practice in Applied Linguistics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.