Tom Smith, co-author of “StartUp Enterprise” looks at Task-based learning and gives us an insight into his thinking behind the title and its usefulness in teaching Business English.
Task-based learning (TBL) is a teaching method that is particularly suited to learners of Business English. As the name suggests, it is based around the completion of tasks. The language that is studied is determined by how students perform in the tasks. Any pre-teaching of language is kept to a minimum, and focus on form comes after the task rather than before.
A typical task-based language class starts with the teacher priming students for what they need to do. The students then carry out the task while the teacher observes and records. The outcome of the task is then discussed and the teacher gives language feedback.
From the student’s perspective, the aim of each task is to achieve a result, not to practise language for its own sake. From the teacher’s perspective, the task provides the linguistic testing ground for identifying errors and gaps in language that need to be addressed. The tasks also serve as a practice arena in which students recycle and consolidate newly acquired language. The diagram below shows a version of the TBL cycle. The TBL cycle starts with input, such as a framework to elicit language that will be useful for the task to follow. For example, if the task is to be a meeting about cutting the workforce, the initial discussion could be sparked by a quick brainstorming session on: ‘What motivates people to work?’ This would elicit plenty of language relevant to a human resources topic, and the teacher can note down the key words on the board in the form of a mind map:The language that emerges can be left up on the board as the students prepare for the task, in this case a meeting. (Equally, the language could also be used to prepare for a task such as a telephone call to make an arrangement, or a job interview.) As additional support during the task a ‘phrases for meetings’ handout can be given to students. Whatever task is undertaken, it should have a tangible outcome with a clear purpose. Many of the tasks involve students working in pairs or groups, but there may also be tasks that students do on their own, such as writing a job application letter.
The task is followed by a feedback session in which students and teachers evaluate the outcome and discuss language points arising. Language feedback given straight after the completion of a task is fresh and immediate. Students will recognise words and phrases that were missing or used incorrectly, and this will help the teacher when explaining and extending language. However, there may be some points that will require more detailed work; these can be kept for another time, and fashioned into a worksheet or ‘language clinic’.
The outcome of one task provides the input for the next, and an opportunity for consolidating language. This is where the follow-up comes in. For example, after the meeting on cutting jobs, the students could reshuffle into groups of employers and employees and the follow-up task could be a redundancy package negotiation. This time, preparation for the task will involve creating an information gap. Any number of topics can be covered, with ideas coming from the students (they have the business expertise, after all) and in addition to the language work a range of business skills in English can also be practised. StartUp Enterprise is a Business English simulation that follows the key stages of starting up a company. Designed as an intensive 2-day or 3-day course, it covers marketing, finance and human resources; during these three phases students use English to hold a concept meeting, conduct a market survey, present to a focus group, write a business plan, negotiate a bank loan, and recruit staff.
The first part of the book is a teacher’s guide to the simulation, and the second part contains photocopiable materials for students. All of the activities follow the task-based approach described above, so the materials are used as support where needed. It is the students who provide the business knowledge and the creative input, and so they are the main resource.
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