There are many different types of activities that we create for our foreign language students. In the communicative language classroom there are two broad categories of activities: exercises and tasks.
What is a task?
- A task requires the use of the target language in order to complete a task. The goal is the completion of the task, though the expectation is that the target language is being used to complete it.
What is an exercise?
- Bill Van Patten describes “exercises” as activities that focus on language mechanics and often use language out of context.
- “Tasks,” in contrast, are activities that have a product, goal, objective or outcome that require using the target language to achieve it, but are not focused on mechanics.
With tasks the goal is independent of language. Research overwhelmingly shows that language used in context is most beneficial to language acquisition. Tasks are an effective way of providing communicative activities to students.
Is the activity an exercise or a task?
Consider these aspects of activities when determining if it is an exercise or a task:
The Activity is an exercise if it…
- focuses only correct examples of language.
- uses language out of context.
- focuses on producing small amounts of language.
- doesn’t focus on meaningful communication.
- dictates language structures and vocabulary.
The Activity is a task if it…
- focuses on achieving communication.
- focuses on meaningful use of language.
- employs communication strategies.
- does not use predictable language.
- links language use to context.
- does not dictate language structures.
How do I design task?
- Choose a theme and a goal. Keep in mind particular vocabulary themes or language structures that you would like students to use and craft the activity accordingly.
- Explain the task and desired outcome.
- Pairs/groups engage in task. Teacher engages as necessary to keep task on track.
- Pairs/groups share out their goals with other groups or as a whole class.
- Teacher provides an individual extension activity.
Take a look at this SlideShare that explains the difference between exercises, activities and tasks.
Also have a look at this post with lots of task-based activities for the French and Spanish classroom.