Reflections on Designing Input-Based Tasks: Important Concerns

In a previous post, I introduced the concept of input-based tasks in explaining some myths about task-based language teaching (TBLT). This blog will continue with some notes on designing an input-based task that Professor Rod Ellis brought into discussion in our talk. Following the principles and concerns, I will also include an example with illustrations. Hopefully, this can give a clear view of how an input-based task is constructed to teachers and material designers.

1. Choice of topic

Topics for tasks can vary greatly. The examples mentioned in the previous post cover kitchen utensils, a zoo and a supermarket, and clothes. Appropriate topics are those interesting and relevant to students. Teachers can also consult their students to know what they are fond of.

2. Non-verbal devices

In a task, students also use their non-linguistic abilities to demonstrate their understanding of the input. Teachers should be clear about what kinds of non-verbal subjects they would like to employ. Some suggested ideas for teachers are geometric shapes, pictures, maps, diagrams, videos or models.

3. Task complexity

Simply put, task complexity deals with the question How difficult should the task be? For example, with the same instruction, Listen and point to the people, the second picture set requires a higher level of thinking. This is because the differences are very slight, and students must observe and think more carefully.

Picture Set 1 (Easy)
Picture Set 2 (Difficult)

4. Choice of linguistic form

I personally find this part the most straightforward step as we usually do the same things in designing our lessons. Linguistic features presented in a task should be closely related to students’ stages of development. To illustrate, with the same picture set below, teachers with lower-level students may want to focus on the colours and clothes. A class at a higher level may also use the same set of pictures but with a focus on the actions that these women are doing. More importantly, when it comes to linguistic form, it is not only limited to vocabulary. Grammar and pronunciation can also be the target language of a task, depending on the learning outcomes.

5. Verbal input

This part is more of the role of a material designer. A decision should be made on whether teachers have the freedom to improvise the language input they give to the students or a rigid text is provided. This also depends greatly on the teaching context.

6. Task outcomes

This is when we think about the response we would like to get from the students. Unlike a speaking or writing activity where the response varies, input-based tasks require that each response be categorised as right or wrong. If students get it right, they can understand the input. Otherwise, they do not. There is nothing in between.

As the title suggests, these are not steps in a linear process to follow. In my own experience, teachers or material designers can actually start at any point when designing an input-based tasks. The important thing is to ensure that we cover all the aforementioned points to make our tasks worth doing. Below is a task that I have developed for my own class after considering all these points.

Example: The Food Map Task

I am currently teaching some A1 – A2 students aged 9 – 10. They have just learned some vocabulary to describe the location. This task is part of the lesson that revises these prepositions of place.

1. Choice of topic: Food (based on my students’ interest – they’re real food lovers)

2. Non-verbal devices: Pictures and maps

3. Task complexity: A quite high level of thinking – Positioning objects

4. Choice of linguistic form: Prepositions of places

5. Verbal input: Fixed transcript 

I decided to have a fixed transcript beforehand because this task deals with map labelling. The instruction, therefore, must be logically sequenced so that students can find the directions.

6. Task outcomes: Correct placement of food stickers

If you wish to have an editable file, please follow this link.

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