The task-based learning framwork basically consists of three phases; pre-task, task cycle and language focus. The pre-task phase introduces the class to the topic and the task by activating topic-related words and phrases. The task cycle offers learners the chance to use whatever language they already know in order to carry out the task, and then to improve that language. Exposure to language can be provided at different stages, depending on the type of task. The last phase in the framework, language focus, allows a closer study of some of the specific features naturally occuring in the language used during the task cycle. It includes analysis and practice components and serves the purpose most PPP concepts rely on - explicit study of language form.
The components within each phase of the framework provide a naturally flowing sequence, each one preparing the ground for the next. Let us now take a closer look at each of the individual steps of a task-based learning cycle.
3.1 The pre-task phase
The pre-task phase is usually the shortest stage in the framework. It can last between two and twenty minutes, depending on the learners' familiarity with the topic and the type of task.
At first, learners have to be given a definition of the topic area. They may, especially if they come from other cultures, hold different views on what some topics are about. To make the learners then ready for the task, words and phrases that might be useful have to be recalled. This can be done in a number of ways.
According to Willis, pre-task activities to explore topic language "should actively involve all learners, giving them relevant exposure, and [...] create interest in doing a task on this topic" (Willis, 43). One way of doing this is by classifying words and phrases connected with the topic. Playing "Odd one out", where an item that does not fit in a set of related words or phrases has to be found, or matching phrases to pictures are also useful techniques. In some classes, drawing mind-maps might help learners to become familiar with the topic area.
The third step in the pre-task phase is to ensure that all learners understand what the task involves, what its goals are and what outcome is required. Apart from mere explaining the task, the teacher can show the class what previous learners have achieved or demonstrate the task with a good learner.
3.2 The task-cycle
After working hard to set the scene in the introduction phase, the teacher now in the task stage acts as an observer monitoring what is going on in the classroom and acts as a time keeper. He should make sure that all groups are doing the right task and that really all the learners take part. As a passive observer, he ought to be forgiving about errors of form and should only interrupt and help if there is a major communication break-down.
The task component helps learners to develop fluency in the target language and strategies for communcation. The main focus lays on the meaning which has to be conveyed. Through tasks, learners may well become better communicators and learn new words and phrases but it is often argued that this does not necessarily streches the learners' language development or help with internalisation of grammar.
This is supplied by the report stage, where learners naturally aim for accuracy and fluency. It gives them a natural stimulus to upgrade and improve their language. In fact, it is a real linguistic challenge - namely to communicate clearly and in accurate language appropriate to the circumstances.
In the task phase, when they speak in real time, learners just tack words and phrases together in a more or less improvised fashion. In planning their report, in contrast, they have to create a comprehensive and compact summary of what has happened with the support of their group, the teacher, dictionaries and grammar books. The teacher's main role now is that of a language adviser, helping learners to shape their meanings and to express exactly what they want to say. He ought to comment on good points and creative use of language and should, if learners ask to be corrected, point out errors selectively - most important are those which obscure the meaning. For other errors of form, learners should try to correct each other.
The report stage, Willis points out, then probably presents "slightly less of a learning opportunity than the planning stage" (Willis, 58). But without the report, the learning process of planning, drafting and rehearsing would not happen. Learners naturally feel curious what their colleagues have achieved during the task and actively join in the report stage. A report might last as little as 30 secondes or up to two minutes. Of course, also the reports are bound to strange wordings and grammatical errors. What must be taken into consideration, however, is that learners here offer the best language they can achieve at that moment, given the linguistic resources and time available. During the report stage, the teacher acts as a chairperson, introducing the presentations, deciding who speaks next and summing up at the end. He ought to keep an eye on the time and stop the report stage when it becomes repetetive.
Giving reports can be done orally or by writing. Audio and video presentations can be included and a number of media should be used to make the reports as interesting and vital as possible. If feedback is given by the teacher, it should be tactfully and positively. Whenever possible, learners ought to be encouraged to find out mistakes by themselves. This can be done by little quizzes and guessing games, noting the respective phrases on the blackboard but leaving a gap where the mistake occured. Learners then should complete the phrase in order to make it correct.
3.3 Language focus
Within the task-based learning framework, tasks and texts give learners a rich exposure to language and also opportunities to use it themselves. In addition to that, they also benefit from instruction focused on language form. This is not necessarily teacher-led, although the teacher mostly introduces the activities, is on hand while learners do them and reviews them in the end.
The activites mentioned above are sometimes called "consciousness raising activities" or "meta-communicative tasks". These are tasks that focus explicitly on language form and use, an aspect that is normally covered first in traditional language teaching. To avoid a PPP situation, analysis activities should not, as Willis writes, "consist of decontextualised presentation and practice of language items in isolation" (Willis, 102). By following the task cycle, they rather involve learners in a study of those language forms they actually used and needed during the cycle. Analysis activities give learners time to systematise and build on the grammar they know already, to make and test assumptions about the grammar and to increase their repertoire of useful lexical items.
While learners test their own hypothesis and make their own discoveries, the teacher should hold back but ought to be ready to handle individual questions. In reviewing the material they have been exposed to and the language they have used, learners not necessarily notice the same aspects as the teacher but rather pick out things that are new to them and they can fit into their own developing picture of the target language.
There are three main starting points for analysis activites: semantic concepts, words or parts of a word and categories of meaning or use. Of course, the teacher has to set certain guidelines where the learners' investigation should be leading to. Starting points that will catch the right kind of samples to stimulate a deeper investigation into grammar and meaning have been proven useful. Looking for had in a text, for example, will lead learners to verb phrases with had and help them explore the use and meaning of the past perfect.
The main themes in a text or transcript are revealed in the lexis. In analysing semantic concepts, identifiying the theme words and phrases helps learners to notice lexical repetition and how this can form cohesive through the text. These words or phrases can also be used for categorising, for exploring shades of meaning and finally building up lexical sets.
Analysis tasks staring from words or parts of words can involve learners in classification according to grammatical function, exploring the meaning and effects of alternative choices of form, exploring collocation or classification according to meaning and use. Learners might also want to collect similar examples from their previous knowledge or from a dictionary.
Working on categories of meaning or use mostly consists of concordance analysis. Learners are asked to find phrases or verbs with a specific form that serve a specific function. They might be asked, for example, to find all phrases with verbs ending in -ing, which describe someone or something, which follow is/was/are/were or which follow verbs like stop and start. If there are any constructions left over, learners could try to classify them as well.
Once most learners have finished the activity, the results are discussed in class. When presenting their findings, learners should be asked to explain their reasons for classifying an example in a particular way. When the review is completed, further examples that fit in these categories can be added to the list. The teacher may also focus on other useful words or collocations that occur, always based on the linguistic material provided by the task cycle.
In the course of the analysis activities, learners practise saying target words and phrases and hear them repeated in different contexts. Practise activities can combine naturally with analysis work. On their own, they are unlikely to give learners deeper insights into the meaning and use of grammatical patterns or speed up their acquisition of these patterns. In connection with analysis work, however, they serve a valuable function and provide confidence and a sense of security.
Language practise activites start with mere repetion and listen-and-complete exercises and can reach up to memory challenge tasks and concordance and dictionary exercises. The teacher's creativity here is, of course, unlimited.