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Examples of second language learning tasks

Introduction: Second language task types for teaching Māori

(Note: much of this material is based on the work of I. S. P. Nation, references for which are in the Bibliography for teachers.)


The task types presented here aim to create good conditions for language learning. In addition to direct teaching of language, conditions where students can learn language are when the language is used, and:

  • the learners understand what is being said
  • they meet and notice some language material beyond their present level
  • they are interested in what is being said and the purpose for which it is said
  • they do not feel under a lot of stress. (Nation, 1995, p. 138)

There are many different teaching methods that can achieve this.

 Get to know a range of techniques

 You need to know a good range of techniques (at least 10) so that you can:

  • have variety in your class
  • enable the necessary repetition of language without students getting bored
  • choose appropriate techniques to tailor your teaching to your class.

 (Nation, 2000, pp. 1–3)

 Is it a good technique?

 A language teaching technique is a good one if:

  • learning happens
  • learners have to think to do it
  • it can be adapted to any level
  • a small amount of teacher preparation results in a lot of learner activity
  • it is fun!

 (Nation, 2000, pp. 1–3)

 How effective is the technique?

  • How will the language items learned today help with tomorrow’s language use?
  • Is the information presented in the activity useful?
  • How much control do the learners have over the learning?

 (Nation, 1989, p. 62)

 Classification of techniques

 One way to classify teaching techniques is by how the students work together:

Individual – students work individually
Combining – students work together, each with different information to exchange
Cooperating – students work together with shared information
Superior/Inferior – one or more students or the teacher has information that the others need

You will see these symbols on the following sample techniques.

Varying techniques

You can vary these techniques in the following ways (Nation, 2000):

  • change the roles of each learner
  • change the outcome of the task
  • change the procedure, that is, the steps involved (for example: after working in pairs, combine to repeat in groups of four)
  • introduce an added challenge (for example: a time restriction or some element of competition)
  • split the information.

“Most techniques require the teacher to adapt material or to make exercises to accompany it. This is particularly true for techniques that can be used over and over again. Usually the first attempts … are not a great success, but a little practice results in a high level of skill.” (Nation, 2000, p. 64)


  • Nation, I. S. P. (1989). Language Teaching Techniques. English Language Institute Occasional Publication No. 2.
  • Nation, I. S. P. (1995). Teaching Listening and Speaking. English Language Institute Occasional Publication No. 14.
  • Nation, I. S. P. (2000). Creating, Adapting and Using Language Teaching Techniques. English Language Institute Occasional Publication No. 20.

Here is a range of techniques that you can use:

  1. Information transfer
  2. 4/3/2
  3. Dictocomp
  4. Combining tasks
  5. Ranking tasks
  6. ‘Say it!’
  7. ‘What is it?’
  8. Ask and answer
  9. Listening to pictures
  10. Guess the questions
  11. Cloze

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