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Combining tasks

(Other names: split information, information gap, dycomms, jigsaw tasks, barrier tasks)

Students must combine their information by communicating with each other to complete the task.


A combining task may have one of three goals:

  • to learn new language items
  • to build fluency with previously studied language items
  • to practise communication strategies


  • Information distribution – each learner has unique essential information
  • Student arrangement – pairs or groups
  • Student focus – achieving the outcome of the task, that is, the physical result (for example, completed chart), which should be the same for each student (They may also have an explicit focus on vocabulary learning or using communication strategies, depending on the learning goal of the task)
  • Language mode – speaking, but any language mode can be used (depending on the design)
  • Challenge – students need to use Māori communicatively to do the task


There are many different combining tasks. Here are some examples:

Teacher considerations

Students must not look at each other’s information, but rely on speaking and listening (or writing in some variations). This may require some kind of barrier between them (this could be a cardboard stand), or for students to memorise their information before working together.

Students need to be seated opposite each other (if in pairs) or in a circle (for a group).

Pair or group members need to be equals, so the teacher should not normally be a member of a group.

You need to clearly think out your learning goal for the task and design the activity so that it achieves this. For example, if the goal is to learn new vocabulary, design a “Same or different” or “Complete the map” task where the students need to use the words. If the goal is communication practice, make sure all the language is familiar.

The task should have a clear outcome, for example, a completed drawing or chart or story. The outcome is the physical result of the task which should be the same for each student. (This is different from the goal of the task, which is in terms of language learning.)

A possible problem to look out for (and discourage) is students just spelling out words to each other.


Make the task easier by adding a “help and rehearse” step before the students combine their information. Students with the same information work together first in an ‘expert’ group. This stage is cooperative as they practise what they will need to say in the next stage. They then regroup so that each student has different information and presents the information practised in their expert groups. (Nation, 1988, pp. 74–75)

Instead of asking students to combine information by speaking, secondary students especially could be asked to communicate in Māori by email or messaging programmes to complete a task for homework, or in class.

Evaluation of the task (adapted from Nation, 2000):

Is the information split equally?

Is each learner’s information essential to the task or could the activity be done without combining?

Do the learners have to think deeply to do the activity?

What is the learning goal of the activity?

Benefits of this technique

The fact that each learner has unique essential information gives them a reason to participate. (Unequal participation can otherwise be a problem in some pair or group work.)

It is also important for each student to be able to understand the others, which encourages them to focus on making themselves understood.

It develops a strong group feeling which leads to a positive environment, conducive to good language learning.

Students have to negotiate meaning with each other (Long & Porter, 1985) which has been shown to be a good way to learn language.


  • Long, M. H. & Porter, P. A. (1985). Group work, interlanguage talk, and second language acquisition. TESOL Quarterly, 19 (2), 207–228.
  • Nation, I. S. P. (1988). Communication Activities. English Language Institute Occasional Publication No. 13 (pp. 29–37).
  • Nation, I. S. P. (2000). Creating, Adapting and Using Language Teaching Techniques. English Language Institute Occasional Publication No. 20 (pp. 16–18).

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