Andreas müller-Hartmann | Marita Schocker

Backward planning: How to structure a task  or lesson

Andreas müller-Hartmann | Marita Schocker

Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) has been accepted worldwide as an appropriate approach to teaching languages. It is recommended by European Education Policy and state curricula in all German-speaking countries. Activities qualify as tasks only if they engage learners in meaningful language use through working towards a relevant target task (Müller-Hartmann/Schocker 2011:22). Learners need to know why they do what they do. Therefore clarifying both the focus skill that is at the heart of the target task and the different functional skills that lead to it is essential. This procedure has been termed backward planning and has replaced the lesson planning of more traditional approaches (see box 1
How to produce a task plan
How to produce a task plan
for tips on how to go about drawing up a task plan).
Writing about pets
The task Writing about pets illustrates the idea of backward planning. It considers different functional skills in an integrating approach based on a target task. Teachers may discuss such a task with the learners by presenting the task steps as an advance organizer (e.g. on a poster) so that the purpose of each step is clear to them at any time in the learning process.
Target task
The target task is to Write and publish a text for the website Since 1997, this website has featured a new pet story and photo of what makes a pet special every day. People can send stories and photos of their favourite pet which will then be published. This task qualifies as an authentic task. The focus skill is writing. The text genre is a multimodal informative online-based text. This task was developed by Marita Schocker for a 6th grade in Freiburg.
Task steps and functional skills involved
When starting to work on this task, both the teacher and the learners suggested a number of options for approaching the general topic:
  • making care sheets for pets
  • writing up fact files about a pet etc.
  • presenting a pet to your class (your own, a pet you would like to have, you would never want to live with)
They finally agreed on producing a text for (worksheet 1).
An analysis of the authentic texts found on the website shows that in order to be able to write in this particular genre, learners require a number of functional skills. In the following overview we specify those functional skills for each step of the task sequence, providing an example of a complete sequence of backward planning.
Step 1: Involving learners activating experiences: Revising/introducing relevant language
1.1 Finding out about the teachers pets (picture-guided report)
Teacher: Lets talk about what its like to live with pets.
Task support: Photos of teachers pets on OHP that are gradually uncovered.
Functional skills: Speculating about teachers pets, listening to teachers picture-guided stories, interacting with teacher to get more information about her pets or to ask for clarification.
1.2 Exchanging ideas: Finding out about other learners pets
Teacher: What about you? Do you have any pets? Or would you like to have pets? Which ones? Why? What makes your pet special? What is it like? What are its favourite activities?
Task support: Sentence heads to support language production. (I have a / Id like to have a [budgie, bunny, etc.] because His/her name is His/her favourite food is His/her favourite activities are I dont like to because
1.3 Telling each other about students pets in groups
Task support: Word/picture web (worksheet 2) to collect new words in order to prepare for the subsequent listening comprehension task.
Functional skills: Interacting with peers to share personal stories about pets, collecting and networking language that is activated in the process in a word/picture web.
Step 2: Listening to a rather strange customer at...

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aus: Unterricht Englisch Nr. 164 / 2020

Integrated skills

Friedrich+ Kennzeichnung Methode & Didaktik Schuljahr 5-13