Lesson 3: Designing Communicative Tasks

Design Principles

Now that we have considered the defining features of real communication and have discussed the difficulties of keeping students on task, we are ready to analyze what makes some communicative tasks succeed and others fail.

We will begin by thinking about the demands that a communicative task places on the student: cognitive, linguistic and communicative. It is important to strike a balance when designing a task (aka "the Goldilocks Principle"—not too hard, not too easy). Next, we will look at the features that most well-designed communicative tasks have in common.

Task Demands

To help judge the difficulty of a task, teachers should consider the following demands placed on the student:

  • Linguistic complexity (vocabulary, grammar, textual/genre conventions)
  • Communicative stress (face-threatening topic or task; number of people involved; relationships of those involved)
  • Cognitive demands (familiarity with topic; memory requirements; processing demands)

Task demands and how to strike a balance.

Duration: 01:01

Task Structure

The way a communicative task is structured (or not) has a great deal to do with its ultimate success in the classroom. When considering how to structure a task, Lee (2000: 35-36) suggests that designers ask themselves these four questions:

  1. What information is supposed to be extracted from the interaction by the learners?
  2. What are the relevant subcomponents of the topic?
  3. What tasks can the learners carry out to explore the subcomponents? (e.g., create lists, fill in charts, etc.)
  4. What linguistic support do the learners need?

Have you ever attempted to teach a communicative task only to find out that your students are lacking the linguistic resources to complete the task? Have you ever come across a task that is too unstructured or too complicated?


Four key principles for structuring communicative tasks.

Duration: 00:45