Tasks and Exercises

What is the difference between a task and an exercise?

The difference between a task and an exercise?

What’s the difference between a task and an exercise? This page will try to answer this question, defining both terms and giving examples.

Task-based approach

One of the most salient characteristics of new methodologies of English language teaching  is the focus on tasks and real-world activities. Syllabus designers are concerned more on how to satisfy learners needs to be able to communicate appropriately in real-world context than on only  insisting on the accurate linguistic use. Most textbooks now include tasks and activities that have a communicative outcome as well as language exercises that yield accurate use of language.

What is the difference between tasks and exercises?

An English language teacher must be able to distinguish between exercises and tasks. They have different purposes and yield different results.


Tasks and Exercises

Tasks and Exercises

A task is a communicative act that does not usually have a restrictive focus on a single grammatical structure and has a non-linguistic outcome. There is also a further distinction between a real-life task and a pedagogical task. The latter is devised mainly for pedagogical purposes within the classroom setting. Real-world tasks, however, are communicative tasks that are achieved through language outside the classroom. The following are the main characteristics of tasks.

  • Tasks are free. Students are given free will to use language for communicative purposes.
  • Focus on multiple skills rather than on one.
  • Tasks are used in context.
  • Tasks are communicative and usually authentic.
  • Tasks are meaningful and focus is on content.
  • Correction of tasks is delayed and  is done through observation and awareness raising.


An exercise usually has a restrictive focus on a single language element, and has a linguistic outcome.

  • A language exercise is guided and controlled by the teacher.
  • An exercise usually has a restrictive focus on a single language element, and has a linguistic outcome.
  • The focus is usually on a single skill.
  • There is no reference to the context.
  • A language  exercise is not communicative and usually not authentic.
  • It is not meaningful and the focus is on form rather than on content.
  • Correction is usually done immediately.

Examples of exercises and tasks

Examples of exercises include, according to Jack C Richards drills, cloze activities, and reading comprehension passages.  Examples of tasks include any type of activity whose outcome is not only linked to learning language but also to do something with the language.

An example of a Language exercise

Fill in the blanks with the simple past form of these verbs: write, go, have, study, buy.

  1. Yesterday, Nancy______to school and ______English.
  2. Last week, Leila________ an interesting book about the history of the United States.
  3. We______a delicious breakfast this morning.
  4. She _______ an email to her pen pal last night.

An example of a task

Pedagogical tasks simulate real-life tasks.

Planning a party. Learners will be asked to do the following:

  • agree on what they need for the preparation,
  • choose the place where the party will be held,
  • prepare for the party,
  • write invitation letters…

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7 Responses

  1. Good comparison of the two, though I would differ in one or two points: I believe exercises to be beneficial – I write online exercises that learners can use to test their language awareness – and I also think it’s up to the teacher to make those exercises as authentic and useful as possible. An online exercise written for an anonymous readership can never attain the degree of practical applicability ofone geared to your specific learners, obviously. In my classes I would also always focus on tasks.

  2. Hi Anne!
    I still use exercises in my classes when I teach grammar or vocabulary… Exercises are still a good way to focus on accuracy. However, the big part of my teaching is allotted to tasks as they are more communicative and related to everyday life!

  3. Maryam Talebi says:

    It was great .thanks a million.

  4. Daniel Rodriguez says:

    The more you use the language in real tasks the more you will be able to use it in the real world.
    Certainly it is important to know how to make a sentence using the verb in the right way, but we can learn doing so by just using the language in the real or pedagogical tasks. These are meaningful experiences that the students appreciate so much than just to learn grammar, spelling or vocabulary in an isolated way.

  5. Cristina Polla says:

    This is a really good explanation of what is the differences between a task and an exercise. I like to use both when teaching English because I believe they are useful for students and teacher, though in different ways.

  6. Boburjon says:


  7. Jamal says:

    A brief and easily understandable explanation between a task and exercise. However, Exercise take less time and tasks take more time to be completed. Tasks require a set of skills and exercises require a specific set of skills

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