Jane Willis: award winning writer, speaker and consultant on English language teaching
  • Research into Task Based Learning


    I want to do some research into Task-based learning and make it relevant to my teaching context, but I’ve no idea where to start.  Please can you advise?


    It is always difficult getting to grips with a research project, and it is clearly very important to make the right decision at the start when you are going to live with it for the next few months or possibly years of your life. Your tutor is best suited to advise you, but here are some things you can do to get you started.

    If you go to http://willis-elt.co.uk/books/ you can find a description of Teachers Exploring Tasks which Jane edited with Corony Edwards. This book contains a range of research studies focusing on TBL. You could replicate or extend any of these studies as the basis for PhD research. They are drawn from a variety of teaching situations and are firmly rooted in classroom practice. You will find that a good number of them could be applied to your particular context.

    If I were starting out on a research project I would be interested to investigate the effects of the post-task planning phase in the TASK > PLANNING> REPORT task-based cycle. It would be interesting to have recordings of learners working in groups to prepare their report to the class. Two things in particular would be of interest:

    • How much of the planning is meta-linguistic – i.e. how much does it focus on form, on how to say things?
    • How much of the language they discuss and decide on is actually incorporated  in their final report stage?

    The whole task-based cycle as Jane and I have described it is based on the assumption that different communicative circumstances present learners with different challenges and different linguistic responses. So we would expect different levels of accuracy and complexity in the planned language. Skehan and Foster have both written about this. There is a paper by Foster  (‘Doing the task better: how planning time influences students’ performance’) in Challenge and Change in Language teaching, which we edited in 1996 and which was published by MacMillan.  You may find it in a library. There is a relevant paper by Martin Bygate in the same volume. You could also look at Bygate, M. 2001. ‘Effects of task repetition on the structure and control of oral language’ in M. Bygate, P. Skehan, and M. Swain (eds.). Researching Pedagogic Tasks: Second Language Learning, Teaching and Testing. Harlow: Longman.


    I hope these suggestions are useful.