Task Based Learning – Task Based Gaming
Task based learning is a language learning principle where learners communicate in order to complete a meaningful tasks. The Wikipedia TBL site cites visiting the doctors, conducting an interview, or phoning customer services for help as possible task scenarios. In TBL how well a learner has done is mainly based on the task outcome and how well the task was achieved and not on how accurate the language production was. This is in direct contrast to how traditional assessment is done based on tests. Unfortunately, the tasks mentioned above are very much ‘adult world’ tasks and not very meaningful for young learners. Nor do young learners assess their own language production in terms of accuracy but rather whether they have successfully communicated their point. This is why a lot of classroom activities need to be either very structured or fun. If it’s not then young learners tend to use their own language because it is a more effective means of communication. How many times do we hear learners getting the task done but in their own language?
What’s the problem? To find a meaningful task for young learners which uses authentic language and encourages them to complete the task using any target language – in English! What’s the solution? One of them is to use video games. Video games are a very meaningful cultural icon to young learners much in the way films and music are to me and my friends. Much of the authentic language within the video game culture is in English. Such things as reviews, cheats, guides, walkthroughs, fansites, forums and in-word chat (online games). Modern video games have now advanced enough that you can choose which language you want to play in the settings or at a pre-play ‘set up’ stage (console games). Furthermore, many online games which require gamer interaction use English as the Ludo Lingua Franca (virtual worlds). The meaningful task for teachers is unearthing this language and bringing it into focus.
Many video games are ,in my opinion very suited to a task based learning approach. As I said before the task of completing a game is very meaningful and so any language that assists in this task also has a level of meaning for young learners. The TBL approach can be used to help increase learners’ awareness of language items, for teaching them new language items and for practicing language. First let’s look at some of the beliefs held by this theory. There are in fact several beliefs about language acquisition that are held by this theory. These beliefs in turn are highly relevant to how we may use computer games in the English language classroom. For example, staging a gaming activity in three stages – a pre-gaming stage (or orientation activity), a gaming stage (playing the video game) and a post-game stage (a focus on language) is not only very much in line with TBL but also good practice when using video games in the classroom. A pre-gaming stage helps orientate learners to the language task before they can become too distracted by the game itself. Each of these stages in turn can have their own set of task types and each type of game can lend itself to differing areas of language and skills practice. Learner task types can be done by either individuals, pairs or small groups and the language areas covered can generally be adapted so that they are skills, vocabulary or grammar based.
Where do we start then? As language teachers using a TBL approach to video gaming, our first concern is how best to plan a class to ensure that the video games are used effectively. During the planning stage it is necessary to consider what game you’ll choose, how best to orientate learners towards the language task before playing the game, how learners will actually play the game and finally after the game has been played how and what language can be focused upon.
Choosing a game
First of all, the teacher needs to find a game for their learners. This should be done with both the individual learner’s interests and language level in mind. The great thing about this is (at least for potential gamers out there) is that you have to play the games in order to assess them. Some useful website sources for free online games include:
The games section here has an extensive list of games. Each title has a brief description and a rating out of 4.
This is a comprehensive site dedicated to point & click games. It also has links to walkthroughs.
This site has got an extensive range of games with a star rating system and a brief description of the game.
This is home to a large selection of Flash games.
NOTE With many online games you need to be sure of a reliable ADSL internet connection and have the latest version of Flash Media Player installed.
Preparation of learners for tasks
Some sort of pre-task preparation or orientation is important for learners. This is particularly so as young learners may become ‘over distracted’ by the game at the expense of the language element. Such activities might include:
- introducing the game via visual cues (screenshots, for instance)
- clarifying task instructions
- introducing or recycling useful words and phrases to facilitate completion of the task
- exposure to text that communicates the games ‘narrative’ (e.g. a walkthrough)
- providing partial demonstration of task procedure (guiding learners through first part of material, say a gap fill, with the game on a data projector, for instance).
The Language Facilitator
While students are ‘gaming’ our role is generally to monitor. This is to make sure that our learners remain on task, get the necessary help with any language problems when it is needed and to engage us, a language learning expert, in meaningful communication. Incidentally, some of the most productive teacher/ learner moments for me here has come out of instances where neither I nor the learner knew how to play a game. (“try doing . . . No?”, “How about . .”, “That’s odd! And what about if you . . . ?”, “Sorry, I haven’t a clue.” and “Does anyone here know how to . . . ?”). For this reason don’t panic if a learner asks you a question about the game that you don’t know the answer to. In fact, you’ll probably discover that they are the gaming experts while you are the language expert and remember that at the end of the day the main aim is simply to generate language.
Finally, we need to use a variety of ‘focus on form’ techniques. A ‘focus on form’ activity needs to be considered early on and be seen to smoothly move from your engaging pre-task activity into the game itself and finally move into a post play stage. These tasks are considered the most boring by my students but it’s surprising how an analysis of text, a guided exposure to texts or the use of restricted or “closed” post task activities can ride of the wave of post play fun. To be as flowing as possible these post-play tasks should be considered at the pre-gaming stage.
And that folks is how I see Task Based Gaming. So get online now and find a game, play the game, assess the language potential and finally adapt it for one of your classes. Hope you have as much fun as I’m sure your learners will.