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December 2021 - Year 23 - Issue 6

ISSN 1755-9715

The Curious Case of Teaching Backwards

I mused a lot on the title of this article, thinking it needed to be catchy and attract attention, since I was going to write about TBLT. And then it dawned on me. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was a film I saw with an unusual concept – the story of the film was told in reverse. The principle I will be writing about is also a reverse of the PPP principle (presentation-practice-production) that you know about. Hence the title, “The Curious Case of Teaching Backwards”!

For the beginning, I would like you to imagine you are my third or fourth year students and I give you a set of screenshots from this film showing a sequence of events leading to a certain outcome. My only instruction would be “Pay close attention to the details so you are able to do the task afterwards.” And then, I give you the following verbs to copy and use:

remembered, happened, hadn’t stopped,

been wrapped, had, moved,

would, had gone, have driven

(taken from: Inclassforteachers, (2nd,Feb,2010) Benjamin Button collision course (Video), YouTube


The first task I would be giving you is story writing based on the photos you saw and using the verbs I gave you. The class would be split in pairs and groups with mixed ability students who each have their assignment. In groups, you can do the task and rehearse what you want to say. You are free to use whatever vocabulary and grammar you need and at the end of the activity I would have as many stories as there were pairs or groups working together.  In that abundance you can pick and choose vocabulary or a language item you want to focus on, analyze and practice in detail.

Since TBLT focuses more on fluency then accuracy, I would keep the error correction for the end and then choose the best method of correcting because there are various things you have to consider there. Also, I wouldn’t want to interrupt my student’s chain of thoughts and natural flow of speech, because the emphasis in this method is on the fluency. Think about engaging their peers in error correction and ask them to be on the lookout for mistakes.

However, if you wish to have a specific outcome, you need to add a little bit of spice to the exercise. Tell them to include “IF” in their writing and shyly shift their attention to the desired result and so you will have the conditional sentences at your disposal without having presented beforehand.

If, on the other hand, you have a group of younger students, there is a variation you can do. And that is, for example, a gap fill exercise where they have to use the vocabulary you gave them, after having decided on the language form you want to focus on.

Here is the exercise:

This is the story following the scenes you saw. Please, fill in the blanks with the verbs I gave you.

You give them a time limit within which you expect them to finish the task. Do the first example, so they are sure what they need to do. This is what it should look like:


It would be a good idea to check their understanding of the time reference, whether the events described happen in the present, in the past or the future. Let them raise their hands, vote and explain the correct answer. Anyone with any idea of the conditionals will find this easy and you will be able to continue with the work.

At this point, you can let them see the end of the events in the film just to make a short break from the language work.

(taken from: Inclassforteachers, (2nd,Feb,2010) Benjamin Button collision course (Video), YouTube )             

After this short break, you can go back to the analysis of the language item. Ask them to underline the Past Perfect, circle the linking words and highlight would+have+past participle. It will be clear at this stage that you want to work on the Third Conditional. This would be the analysis stage and based on it you may go back to the practice part and ask them to form sentences of their own by giving them the following instructions.

Imagine yourself in the following situations in the past and finish the sentences using the Third Conditional:

What would you have done if you…

  • had your passport stolen in a foreign country.
  • got caught up in political unrest somewhere abroad.
  • missed your flight .

You can ask your weaker students what they would come up with, just to make sure they understand everything. The stronger ones have, by this stage, already shown their understanding.    

TBLT (Task-Based Language Teaching) has three phases:

  • and POST TASK.


Here is what characterizes each:

  1. PRE-TASK: Teacher introduces the topic and explains the task; students may listen, read or watch.
  2. TASK-CYCLE: Teacher monitors and encourages students while students prepare to report how they did the task and then students report.
  3. POST-TASK: Teacher brings out the specific vocabulary or language patterns (analysis), students produce vocabulary/language patterns, teacher asks students to reflect.

”Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn!” I’ve come across this quote on the Internet too many times, but none of the sites visited offers an assurance on who it belongs to. However, we can agree, from our own experience, that things we have been involved in, remain with us much longer than something we have only read or heard about.

This can also come in handy in these times of the pandemic when we have to teach with masks on. The article that I read How to teach while wearing a mask states the following:

  • Talk less,
  • Model everything,
  • Focus on independence!

To summarize everything, TBLT is:

  •  a reverse to the traditional teaching approach: presentation-practice – production; it is problem – analysis – solution.
  • In a task-based lesson students do tasks while the teacher monitors their performance, identifies what language they need, and focuses on that language in the final stage;
  • It promotes learner centeredness and learner engagement with purposeful real life tasks that emphasize communication and meaning, in the last stage they focus on the form.

If you want to see how TBLT fits into teaching for 21st century skills, please, study the World Economic Forum list of 16 skills that include: foundational literacies, competencies and character qualities that are required in a student:

The competencies that you aim to develop with TBLT are, in fact, critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration and further on they will develop the character qualities jobs of the future will be looking for, such as: curiosity, initiative, persistence, adaptability, leadership and social and cultural awareness.



World Learning. (2018). The basics of task-based language teaching. In "Teaching Grammar Communicatively"[Online course].

Jenny Soffel, What are the 21st-century skills every student needs?, World Economic Forum,, accessed September 27th,2 0


Please check the Pilgrims f2f courses at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Pilgrims online courses at Pilgrims website.

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