Module 1| Background to Language Teaching | Types of activities and tasks for language and skills development : Part One


Types of activities and their role in language learning

Practice activities and tasks are designed in order to give students chances to practice and broaden their language use. For example, new vocabulary, functional exponents or grammatical structures, or the subskills of reading, listening, speaking or writing. There are a great deal of different kinds of activities and tasks with names and uses which are dissimilar.

Given in the tables below are two different writing activities. See if you can find three teaching differences between these activities.

Activity one

Complete these sentences about yourself with can or can’t.

  1. I …………… swim.
  2. I …………… speak Japanese.
  3. I …………… play the piano.
  4. I …………… use a computer.
  5. I …………… run very quickly.

Activity two

Write an invitation inviting your friends to your birthday party.

  • Invite them.
  • Tell them:

The date

The time

The venue

Activity 1:

  • Is a controlled/restricted practice activity because students can use only specific items of language.
  • Concentrates on proper and accurate language use
  • Is a gap-fill exercise.

Activity 2

  • Is a less controlled/freer practice activity because the language the students will be using is not carefully limited or controlled.
  • Concentrates on conveying a message
  • Is a task

As we can see, both these activities give the students a chance to use language in different ways.

The focus of the activities


Differences similar to these can be seen in other activities for speaking, writing and learning new language as well. Some examples of  controlled practice activities are drills (guided repetitions), copying words or sentences, jazz chants, dictation and reading aloud. In freer activities the students language use is not limited by the teacher or materials. For example:

  • Discussions
  • solving problems by exchanging opinions
  • sharing or comparing ideas, experiences or information
  • writing emails, stories, letters, invitations or compositions.

Here in the table are six more activites. Have a look at them and decide what skill/subskill/language they focus on. What is the name of the activity type?

1.      Read the story. Then answer these questions:

a.       How old is the girl?

b.      Where does she live?

c.       What is her friend’s name?


2.      Listen to the tape and choose the best answer:

The children’s school is:

a.       Near their house

b.      Near the shops

c.       Opposite the post office

Now listen again. Are these true or false?

a.       The school is new.

b.      The classroom is big.

c.       The library has many books.


3.      Look at these pictures and then read the story. Put the pictures in the correct order. Write the correct number 1-6 under each picture.

4.      Listen to the tape, and in pairs fill in this form:

Girl’s name:……………………………….

Girl’s address: ……………………………

Name of girl’s friend:……………………..


5.      Work in pairs. Each of you should use one of these role cards.

A.     Your friend has a problem. Give him/her the best advice you can.

B.     You have a problem. You want to go to university, but you find studying very difficult. Ask your friend for advice.


6.      Get into groups of four. Find out which food your friends like and dislike most.


Which food do you like most?

Which food do you dislike most?


In the following table are the answers to the questions given above.



Type of activity


Reading for specific information

Wh-questions (questions beginning with question words: e.g. which/what/how/when/why) for comprehension


Listening for specific information

A.     Multiple-choice questions (an activity in which you choose the best answer from three or more possible answers)

B.     True/false questions (an activity in which you decide whether statements are correct or incorrect)


Reading for details



listening for specific information

Form filling


Fluency in speaking/freer practice of new language

role-play (an activity in which you imagine that you are someone else in a specific situation)


Accuracy in speaking/controlled practice of new language

Survey (finding out the opinions of a group on one topic)


As we can see, there are a number of ways in which activities can differ. These are for example, the skill or subskill which the activity focuses on, what type of activities they are and what interaction patterns they use. The language the activities focus on or the kinds of skills as well as the interaction patterns which they use are not fixed ones. Here is an example: multiple-choice questions can be used for activities on reading, listening or grammar. They can be done individually, in groups or in pairs. In the same way, for reading, listening or grammar practice, form-filling can be used. It can also be done individually or in pairs or groups, like the multiple-choice questions.

In activities 5 and 6 of the above table, students have to talk to each other and exchange information with which they are not familiar. They will be talking in order to communicate with each other and not only to practice language they have learnt. If the activity is one in which students exchange information that only one of the students has, it is called an information gap or a communicative activity.

Activities focus on many things. An activity may concentrate on accuracy or communication. This depends on how the activitiy is introduced and presented to the students by the teacher. It also depends on the materials that the teacher uses. For example, the above survey concentrates on accuracy. This is because it limits the language that students use in order to ask and answer two particular questions. If the activity instructions are something like ‘Find out about your friends’’likes and dislikes in food’, the student’s language choice would not be restricted. The activity would concentrate on communication.


In part two, we will discuss different language teaching approaches in detail.

The nerd baby says ...

  • When a teacher is choosing activities for practise language or the speaking/writing skills, he/she must be able to decide whether to do a controlled practice activity or a freer practic activity (an activity which concentrates on improving accuracy or communication).
  • When the teacher is selecting activities for development of skills, she/he needs to decide which skill or subskill should be focussed on.
  • There are usually a series of linked activities in lessons and there are a number of dissimilar ways to link activities in lessons. Given below are a few of them.
  1. PPP: presentation controlled practice activities     freer practice activities
  2. TBL: Discussion tasks     presentation     focus on form
  3. Skills-based lessons: warmer and lead-in comprehension tasks     post-task activities

Example 1: A lesson on listening skills

Lead-in: a discussion on the topic of the listening. Learning any new vocabulary that may be important    Comprehension tasks: listening to a conversation that has been recorded and answering multiple choice questions that have been given on the conversation. Listening to the conversation once more and filling in a form with particular information on it .    Post-task activities: a brief discussion about the topic of the conversation.  

As you can see, the comprehension activities for listening or reading start by concentrating on general levels of comprehension and later move on to subskills that require more specific attention to the text.

Example 2: A topic-based lesson designed to develop a number of different skills.

Lead-in: talking to one another about the topic and doing language work which is related to the topic tasks. Listening to a recording which has been made on the topic. Reading a text on the topic. Post-task activities: having a discussion on the topic and/or concentrating on the language of the topic. Writing a composition on the topic.


Test your knowledge

Listed from A-K are some activities. What do they aim to develop? Put the activities into the correct column in the table.







  1. A gap-fill exercise
  2. Discussions
  3. Dictation
  4. Role-play
  5. Story writing
  6. Repeating new words
  7. Choral drilling of pronunciation
  8. Problem solving
  9. Learning conversations by heart
  10. Describing pictures
  11. Copying words

To develop which skills could the following activities be used?

  1. Story completion
  2. Role-play
  3. Information gap
  4. Form-filling
  5. True/false questions

Given below are students’comments on learning activities. Have a look at them and give your opinions.

  1. I don’t like to do a number of various activities because it is confusing.
  2. I enjoy doing various activities, some of which concentrate on improving accuracy and fluency. I feel it really helps me to learn the language well.

Read questions 1-7 and then match the descriptions with the teaching activities given in the box. There is one extra one that does not need to be used.


Teaching activities

A.     Problem solving

B.     a survey

C.     project work

D.     labelling

E.      choral drilling

F.      a game

G.     project work

H.     a role-play


  1. The teacher tells the students a word and asks them to repeat it all together.
  2. The teacher puts the students into pairs. Then she asks one of the students to pretend to act as a tourist who is lost and is asking the way home and she asks the other student to act as a local person who is giving the tourist directions.
  3. The students are given a map to use to figure out the best route to get from X to Y.
  4. The students are told to listen to a tape and fill in a timetable.
  5. The students have to interview all their classmates about their opinion on something and then make a note of it.
  6. The students make a trip to the local museum, the library and search on the Internet to find out everything they can about dinosaurs. Then, they make posters to put on the wall about the dinosaurs and make an exhibition of them.
  7. The students are given a list of names of objects from which they have to choose some names and write them under the pictures of the objects.