Teachers and administrators are often very optimistic about what a group of students in an elementary dual-language program can accomplish. Depending on the grade level, students may spend 80-90% of their day immersed in the target language. But what about students who are in a FLES (foreign language in elementary school) program? They might be getting only one hour per week of class time in the target language. How can that time be used effectively? One option is to use tasks.
Research shows that students who do task work as part of a language program tend to learn more. So what is a task? Tasks have a purpose. We use tasks to learn something about ourselves. Tasks also always have an outcome that is not language. With my adult classes, a common task that I like to use is to take a class survey and then to compare our answers to national averages. During one of the first classes, with the help of the Social Security Administration, we can see if any of us have one of the most common names in America. With this task, students get to use the small amount of language that they have to learn actively, rather than passively listening to a lecture.
For children, a task might take a bit more preparation. For a group of young beginners, a task I did recently was to have the group graph their family members. The resulting graph is shown below with the names blurred out for privacy. Since our topic was family, we used the words for mom, dad, and siblings over and over as we filled in the graph. We also used numbers as we counted the number of moms, dads, elder brothers, elder sisters, etc in the class. The students who did this task are novice beginners, with only a knowledge of maybe 30 words, but they used more than half of those words in completing this task.