PanSIG 2021 Plenary Speaker: Jane Willis

Task-based teaching -- but what about the grammar?

(Click here to access this session online)

Photo of Jane WillisHow did the world’s bi-lingual and plurilingual people learn the languages they speak? Were they taught or did they acquire them naturally? And how can task-based teaching help? I will show (by demonstrating a task in action) how a pre-task preparation phase and a three part task-based cycle (Task, Planning, Report) can enhance essential conditions for natural language learning both inside and outside the classroom.

Interestingly, explicit grammar instruction is not an essential condition, but it has been shown that some focus on language form can help enhance learning. But what do we mean by grammar? We used to see Grammar and Vocabulary as fairly separate entities. But insights gained from Corpus Linguistics reveal that the relationship is more of a cline, from word to phrase (fixed and partially fixed), collocation, pattern, class and structure. Communication is largely lexically-driven; after all, it is words and phrases that carry the meanings that learners will need to understand and express in order to become confident speakers. Knowledge of grammar can help them fine-tune if there is time and a need to do so.

How to incorporate these insights into task-based teaching? I will show how the meaning-focussed text-based task cycle we began earlier can be followed by a range of different form-focussed activities that highlight and explore multiple aspects of grammar occurring in the texts and the task recordings that form the learner's 'pedagogic corpus'. Activities involve consciousness-raising, recall, extension, correction and consolidation. I will demonstrate various starting points: a single word or phrase, or a semantic field (e.g. topic-related phrases) that can help learners identify useful forms, build on them and extend their use into their personal repertoire of language appropriate for global communication.

Bio: Writer of several prize-winning books, Jane Willis worked extensively overseas as an English teacher and trainer before moving to Aston University’s Masters in TESOL programs. Now retired, she lives in the English Lake District and enjoys fell walking. She also teaches tai chi and is still quite active on the TBLT scene. See

The plenary session is sponsored by the Task-Based Learning SIG of JALT.