Review: Activities for Task-Based Learning – N. Anderson and N. McCutcheon

This year I have been going TBTL crazy. I’ve always been keen on TBLT, but I made the conscious decision to really build my understanding of it so that I could better implement it in my classes (generally in a task-supported manner) and so I could better answer questions from teachers. One of the books that I picked up recently is Activities for Task-Based Learning, and boy am I happy. What follows here is a short review of Anderson and McCutcheon’s fabulous book, some pictures from some of the activities I’ve done using some of the materials, and some thoughts for teachers.

Three-sentence summary

This book provides the reader with a brief overview of TBLT as well as a whole range of tasks, which have been categorised by type (based on and adapted from Willis’ taxonomy). It is one of those ideas books that you can pick up, choose an activity and then be confident in their being real task success in the classroom. A great, versatile TBLT-focused book that should be on every school’s shelf.

What I like

So you can tell that I love this book already, but let’s go into a little more detail why.

  • A practical introduction: There is a lot of theory and research behind TBLT – like a lot! – but this book gives the reader a concise introduction that is very accessible. It goes into the right amount of detail for someone using the book, including the task cycle framework, and some of the rationale for TBLT.
  • Emphasises Focus on Form: The authors have taken care to provide teachers with a clear introduction to corrective feedback and how it can be done. I really liked their ideas regarding feedback templates in their Tools section.
  • Very easy-to-use tasks: Ok, so the reason people are going to get this book is the fact that it has tasks. The reason I would recommend it with this in mind is that the tasks are not only easy to understand but they are also easy to use in various contexts. The authors provide an introduction to each task with possible focuses for focus on form work, and they also provide a very clear task cycle overview, with extra ideas that could be implemented if the reader chooses.
  • Variety of tasks: The tasks are separated into categories (e.g. categorising, opinion gaps, etc.), which is really useful. There are also a wide range of tasks and themes. One of my favourites so far is the Domestic Robot task in which students brainstorm apps that a household chore robot will be programmed with.
  • A framework for designing your own tasks: The authors have provided the reader with a very clear framework for creating your own tasks. I have found that reading this as well as looking at how the authors have created and written their tasks has helped me in designing my own tasks.

What I don’t like

There really isn’t anything worth mentioning here. I mean, I think it would be great if the book included some reflective tasks that teachers can complete after they have tried a task in class (e.g. something that helps raise their awareness of what went well, what could be improved, and why) – but in reality perhaps it is not fully in the scope of the book.

Who should read this book?

  • Teachers: This is the obvious choice, but if you do read/use the activities, I strongly recommend reading the introduction (unless you are very familiar with TBLT). These tasks work great in a variety of classes, but it is important to understand the why behind some of the concepts in TBTL.
  • Trainers: The tasks in here are great for introducing TBTL to teachers. I think it was Long who said that if you expect your teachers to use TBLT, ensure that their training is ran in a TBLT manner. I couldn’t agree more.
  • TBLT material writers: For those professionals looking to write their own TBLT materials, I highly recommend this book. There are not that many TBLT materials out there (polished at least), and these provide the reader with a clear overview of how to design good TBLT tasks.

An example lesson – A struggling artist

This week I chose to carry out the lesson, A struggling artist. In short, learners create their own piece of art – drawing on an A4 piece of paper. Then these are put around the room and learners are tasked with identifying the meaning behind the piece of art, their opinions, etc. Learners are also asked, in the second task, to share their art with another learners and, in a sense, convince them to buy their piece of art. I found this task really useful with both my A2 Key and B2 First class, highlighting the versatility of some of the tasks in this book. Here you can see my set-up to support learners (excuse my terrible drawing!):

A terrible masterpiece

I did adapt this task a little, including an auction of the pieces of art and an ordering task in which learners had to rank the pieces of art from best to worst. Here are the pieces of art that now don my classroom walls – do you agree with the first place masterpiece?

Final notes

All in all I think I’ve made my opinion on this book pretty clear. If you are looking for easy-to-use tasks that really do engage learners, then definitely get this book. If you are looking for a bite-size intro to TBLT with some really good examples of task, then also get this book. I have no doubt that many teachers will find this book useful (I know I have already), and I have a feeling (although I am not sure!) that the authors may bring out another one in the future (I’m hoping).

Have you read this book? Have you used any of the tasks? Let me know your thoughts – is it as good as I say it is?

3 Comments

  1. I really like this book too, though I haven’t been able to try out any of the tasks yet.
    By the way:
    a) your drawing isn’t terrible – that dragon is amazing!
    b) you should definitely share that whiteboard on the #eltwhiteboard hashtag on Twitter. I really like the way you’ve used tape to divide off the parts of the board permanently

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hahah thank you, Sandy!

      I had no idea about #eltwhiteboard – so many things in the world of Twitter. Will share it for sure. I find the separated areas help me keep tidy and that way it doesn’t get too confusing for learners. Generally I am successful, but there are still some times when I think, ‘oh god need to clean it up a bit’!

      Liked by 1 person

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