The Role of Tasks in Second Language Teaching

What is a task as a language teaching activity?

A task as a language teaching activity points out the priority of meaning by linking with the language use outside the classroom. According to Ellis (2008), in tasks, “students are required to use their linguistic resources and there is an outcome other than the display of language for its own sake.”

If we consider a task as a language teaching approach, it contains a syllabus which consists of communicative tasks and a methodology where meaningful communication has more priority than linguistic accuracy (Ellis,2008).

The task-based language teaching approach has some benefits for an effective learning. This approach prioritizes the needs of learners while content creation and also focus on teaching communication in the target language through interaction. Besides, it provides an opportunity for learners to link the classroom language and the language use outside the classroom.

However task-based language teaching might not be always the priority for some institutional or personal preferences. In some cases, it might be useful to include other grammatical elements in the syllabus besides tasks. At this point, the teacher can organize the lessons with “task-supported” activities. This changes the role of tasks in the syllabus but this flexibility also provides more options for teachers.

How to apply?

Principally, whether we apply task-based or task-supported activities in our classes, we need to consider key characteristics while the task designing. Shekan (1998, as cited in Nunan, 2005) summarizes these factors as below:

  1. Meaning is primary.
  2. Learners are not given other people’s meaning to regurgitate.
  3. There is some sort of relationship to comparable real-world activities.
  4. Task completion has some priority.
  5. The assessment of the task is in terms of the outcome.

During a task-based or supported activity designing, there are some steps to follow. Firstly, the teacher needs to decide the focus before she/he starts the task designing. If the focus is the target language, it means the activity might be centered on new language features or aims acquisition of a subject that is already learned before. If the focus is the content, learners can engage with a topic that serves communicative usage of the target language. During the tasks, learners can work individually or collaboratively. The teacher can divide them into groups or pairs and also decide his/her role whether it is active or passive according to the needs of the activity. After completion of the task, the teacher needs to repeat what students have done and reported the outcome. At the last step, the focus changes from meaning to the language itself, and teachers can point out the grammatical features or forms that they want to teach. In this way, input will be more comprehensible and the learning process will be gained more benefits.


Ellis, R. (2008), The Study of Second Language Acquisition, Oxford University Press.

Nunan, D. (2005), Task-Based Language Teaching, Cambridge University Press.