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Ranking tasks

Group discussion (in Māori) of a list of items to rank.


A ranking task may have one of these goals:

  • to build speaking fluency
  • to practise or learn specific vocabulary
  • to practise or learn language functions such as expressing opinions, giving reasons, persuasion, disagreement


  • Student arrangement – mainly a group activity, but may go through a sequence from individual to pairs to groups to whole class for more repetition
  • Information distribution – all students have the same information (but see variations)
  • Student focus – on meaning
  • Language modes – speaking (and listening to other students). Reading may be included by giving background texts to students to prepare for it
  • Challenge – to communicate ideas effectively in Māori



Give students:

  • a description of a problem or situation (for example, they are going to produce a magazine for their age group)
  • a list of (about 10) items they need to rank in relation to the situation (for example, a list of magazine features that could be included)
  • a criterion for ranking the items (for example, which ones have the widest appeal).

Ask students to rank the items individually. Group students in pairs or small groups. Students tell each other their individual rankings, discuss reasons for their choices, and try to come to an agreement on a joint ranking. (This can take up to 30 minutes.)

Bring pairs or groups together to try and reach an agreement in a larger unit or to compare rankings.

Teacher considerations

Do not put numbers next to the items to be ranked. (If you do, students will just refer to the numbers in their discussion rather than using the words.)

If you want students to practise specific vocabulary, make sure that you include these words in the items that are most likely to cause discussion (in other words, not in an item that students will quickly all agree on a ranking for). (Newton, 1993, as cited in Nation, 1995, p. 145)

Make sure that all the items in the list are similar in nature and can be compared sensibly. (Nation, 1995, p. 144)

It is not important whether the groups reach an agreement in the time given, because the main aim is for them to engage in genuine communication in Māori.

Choose a student arrangement sequence (individual to pairs to groups, or individual straight to groups, etc) according to how much repetition you want your students to have. Asking them to rank individually first is important, as it means that they bring a definite opinion to the discussion.

Students should not be allowed to take shortcuts such as majority voting or doing deals (for example, you can have ‘x’ at no. 2 if I can have ‘y’ at no. 3). The aim is to practise persuasive speaking skills.

It can be useful for the teacher to join groups as a participant in order to ask clarification questions, model useful phrases for expressing opinions, etc, and model strategies to guide the discussion in useful directions.


Ask students to rank the top three and the bottom one only.

Ask students to choose a subset from the list and then rank these.

Ask students to come up with the items to be ranked (for example, elicit from the class different ways to spend a lotto win, agree on a list of 10 or so, and then move on to the ranking task).

Use ranking to study a written text by ranking the importance of the ideas in each paragraph.

Give students some background reading before the task.

Follow up with a writing task where students give their reasons for ranking the items as they did.

Make this into a combining task by assigning two or three of the items to each member of the group to rank. They can become experts on these by reading (by their own research or by texts provided by the teacher) and/or by talking to others who have the same items. If the ranking task contains new language, the students can also be responsible for finding out the meaning of new words and teaching others.

Repeat the same ranking task a week later. The goal would change from language (the first time they do it) to fluency.

Ask students to read background information between the first and second time they do the ranking task in class.


Level 3 – Rank the best way to get to school with a list of transport options in a fictional scenario (Achievement objective 3.4 – communicate about how people travel). Refer to Te haere ki te kura in the Ranking tasks (Word, 55 kB)document.

Level 4 – Rank the most important ways to contribute to your home, community or school (AO 4.3 – communicate about obligations and responsibilities).

Level 5 – A sporting scenario. Refer to Whakakorea te kēmu in the Ranking tasks (Word, 55 kB)document.

Level 6 – Rank the importance of famous Māori people; or the importance of factors that affect Māori health.

Level 7 – Rank reasons for studying te reo; or the importance of various factors in finding work (AO 7.3 – express and respond to approval and disapproval, agreement and disagreement; AO 7.4 – offer and respond to information and opinions, giving reasons). Refer to Te hopuni ā-kura in the Ranking tasks (Word, 55 kB) document.

Level 8 – Rank best ways to help the environment (AO 8.1 – communicate about certainty and uncertainty, possibility and probability; AO 8.2 – develop an argument or point of view, with reasons).


A ranking activity challenges students to use language persuasively and gives them lots of practice at genuine communication.

Evaluation of the task

As a cooperative task (in contrast to a combining task), the task itself does not require all students to participate equally. Therefore you need to check:

  • Are all students participating?
    If not, you might want to introduce roles for each student in the group (for example, one to make sure all are contributing; one to take notes on decisions; one to summarise reasons for decisions, etc).
  • Does each group have a good balance of students that can guide the discussion, help others, etc?
  • Are students giving reasons for their opinions?
  • Are students asking each other questions to clarify what is being said?
  • Are the groups using appropriate strategies to conduct an effective discussion?
    If not, you may want to do some strategy training – discuss weaknesses you’ve observed in some groups, develop a good procedure with the class and then give them more practice with ranking tasks.


  • Nation, I. S. P. & Thomas, G. I. (1988). Communication Activities. English Language Institute Occasional Publication No. 13. (pp. 5, 8).
  • Nation, I. S. P. (1989). Language Teaching Techniques. English Language Institute Occasional Publication No. 2. (p. 55).
  • Nation, I. S. P. (1995). Teaching Listening and Speaking. English Language Institute Occasional Publication No. 14. (pp. 30, 140–152).
  • Nation, I. S. P. & Thomas, G. I. (1979). Communication through the ordering exercise. Guidelines, 1, (pp. 68–75).

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