Task language

Published on 19th May, 2011 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

This tip invites you as teachers to step back from (interactive) tasks that are commonly carried out in the classroom. It invites you to think of language which certain tasks may require, language which is seldom highlighted in ready-made materials, but which can be very useful for students. These examples and the ensuing sample utterances will hopefully make this clear.

Categorising tasks
These two are connected because …
Do you reckon these ones go together?

Prioritising tasks
So, shall we put this at the top?
I don’t think this one’s as important because …

Spot the difference (where partners do not see the other’s picture)
In this picture there’s a X, whereas in that one …
Oh, so you’ve got a X in yours and there’s nothing in mine.

Ordering pictures or sentences
This one comes either here or there.
It makes sense if this one goes next.

Board games
It’s your throw.
We have to take it in turns.

Indeed, even comparing a gap-fill task naturally invites certain language, such as What did you write?; That one doesn’t really fit because … This sort of language often remains unnoticed and unhighlighted. As teachers, we often just let students interact in such tasks using unnatural, incorrect or very basic language. However, this procedural language is not only useful (both inside the class and possibly outside), it is potentially valuable. It is language in use. It is also instructive from a lexical and even a grammatical perspective (even the few examples given here naturally employ the passive, modals, thus perhaps consolidating ‘taught’ language etc).

As a teacher, you can choose to highlight these phrases either before you anticipate your students need it at the start of a task, as they are actually on task and in need of upgrading, or after the task.

1 Comment

  • Dear Frances

    Thank you very much for this invaluable tip. I’m going now to make a bank of functional language for different levels students and various tasks.It won’t take much time teaching and building this part of English, neglected before.

    Thanks agai

    Tasha on 21 May, 2011