Implementing Input-based TBLT at Elementary Level Through ‘Puzzle Rooms’

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Martyn McGettigan, Hiroshima Shudo University

Task-based language teaching (TBLT) is arguably an effective method of English teaching (Ellis et al., 2019). Students learning under a TLBT approach complete tasks that focus on meaning rather than grammatical form, and the goal is something more than just getting the right answer. However, the question of how to implement such meaning-focused tasks with students who are at a very low level has been difficult to answer. One possible solution is to focus on input-based tasks, where students focus on reading and listening in a meaning-focused way. The following activity (see Figure 1) is one idea that I have used to implement this sort of task in elementary classrooms using ICT facilities that are widely available in many schools.

Creating Your Puzzle Room

This task requires you to create a puzzle room with various English hints scattered around it that students can use to discover a secret code or password (see Figure 1). Students can use these to solve a puzzle to complete the task, such as for opening a treasure box. The puzzle rooms are built using various elements of the freely available Google Suite, in particular Google Slides and Google Sites. I made my first one by following a tutorial I found on YouTube (Dill, 2020). The tutorial is for making escape rooms, but the principle is very similar. The room is made using a single slide in Google Slides. You can find a picture that is licensed as free to use online, or take a photograph of a real room and use that as I did. This slide is then embedded on the homepage of a Google Site by clicking embed and adding the URL of the slide. An important point here is to change the word edit in the URL to “preview,” as this ensures that the slide will be full screen when accessed.

Links to different pages on the same site are then attached to the various objects in the room (see Figure 2). These should contain clues to help students find the code to open the box. There can be other pictures inserted into the main one, or shapes that you insert to cover features in the picture, made clickable by using “fill color” and “transparent”. You then click the add link button on the toolbar while these objects are selected, and these links will be inserted as additional pages on the Google Site that you have made (Figure 3).

You can also add sound files for listening hints. To do this, click insert and audio and upload your chosen file. Finally, entering the code to open the box requires a link to a Google Form set up to accept only one answer. To do this, make a form with only one question. You have to click on the three dots next to your question and select response validation (see Figure 4). This allows you to choose one correct answer. You then click add section and add another section with a victory message (and perhaps a picture of an opened treasure box), which students will automatically move to after entering the correct code.

The key difference from the YouTube tutorial referenced above is that you are making an EFL exercise—specifically, a task-based one. The exact hints you set will depend on your students’ level, but they should not all practice a single grammar form. They should be varied and challenging for your students, requiring them to read or listen more than once and engage with the actual meaning of the hints for them to succeed. In this way, even though there is little in the way of meaningful output, the activity still qualifies as a true task according to generally accepted definitions (Ellis et al., 2019).

Implementation in Class

If you have a device for each student, they can work on it individually. However, the task works well in pairs or small groups. You can demonstrate the task by showing how to click on the box and entering a false code. You could also open a single hint to give them an idea of what they are looking for, but students should endeavor to discover things for themselves. For added motivation, you can also make the task competitive to see which student/pair/group finishes first. Those that have finished can then help any classmates that are struggling. While students are solving the puzzles, you can monitor them to see which hints students find the most challenging. Then, at the end of the task, you can focus on those hints and go through the form and meaning so that everyone understands.


I have found this method to be a very effective way of introducing task-based learning into a low-level, elementary school context. The students all seem to find the task highly enjoyable and engaging. When on task, they are clearly engaging with the hints in a meaning-focused way. As such, I believe it is very effective as part of their English learning.


Dill, A. [The Skeptical Educator]. (2020, May 18). Google slides bitmoji escape room tutorial [Video]. YouTube.

Ellis, R., Skehan, P., Li, S., Shintani, N., & Lambert, C. (2019). Task-based language teaching: Theory and practice. Cambridge University Press.