On the peculiarities of team-based learning and its stages

What is Team-based learning: stages step by step

What is Team-based learning: stages step by step


  • Teaching qualifications
  • Activities
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Do you feel like your lessons are not that engaging? Do you want to break the ice between the students and make your classroom more friendly? Do you struggle with making your students collaborate and work as a team? 

Don’t worry, all of these issues might be solved with team-based learning which we are going to discover in this article!

How to use tasks effectively?

How to define a TBL?

TBL, also known as team-based learning, is a teaching strategy that puts emphasis on group collaboration and application of the obtained knowledge in meaningful group activities.

The original goal of team-based learning was to increase learning outcomes by encouraging dialogue between teams and individual students. 

It has developed into a system that has been implemented by reputable colleges, businesses, and governmental organizations to improve student engagement, retention of information, and capacity to apply concepts outside of the classroom.

Principles of TBL

To make team-based learning work, an ESL teacher has to be aware of certain important principles, among which there are the following:

  1. Create as diverse teams as possible.
  2. Teams should stay the same for a rather long period of time.
  3. Avoid groups inside the group you have created.
  4. Students have to still stay responsible for their work.
  5. Students have to be prepared. Otherwise, the whole team will struggle.
  6. Students need a lot of feedback.

TBL made easy

Take a course in TBL

Stages of Team-based learning

As any other form of class organization, team-based learning works according to its specific strategy and scheme

There are six stages of the team-based learning process that every ESL teacher has to follow. They are:

  1. Pre-work
  2. Individual readiness assurance test
  3. Team readiness assurance test
  4. Clarification
  5. Application cases
  6. Peer evaluation

Further, we are going to discuss each step in detail.

Practise Conditionals with tasks

Stage 1: Pre-work

What pre-work means is that your students arrive at the class prepared.

They are assigned to read, listen or look through certain materials that will help them to understand the classroom material better and move on to its practical use quicker.

Right from the start of the course, it is important to explain to your students how crucial it is to be prepared beforehand.

It is always better to clarify it at the beginning, as all the students may come from different educational backgrounds and the concept of pre-work might be new and unclear for them.

Stage 2: IRAT

Students take the Individual Readiness Assurance Test (IRAT) as soon as they get to class. Students’ understanding of the pre-work is assessed by a series of multiple-choice questions.

Ensuring that the students are acquainted with the material is crucial because if they arrive unprepared, they will fail to proceed throughout the lesson. 

The first testing might seem shocking to them. However, this is a crucial stage that guarantees further understanding and has nothing to do with marks.

The test is meant to check general understanding not evaluate the success – this is something your students should be aware of not to be put under pressure at the beginning of every class.

How to conduct entry testing?

Stage 3: TRAT

The questions on the TRAT, or Team Readiness Assurance Test, are pretty similar to those on the IRAT and are given thereafter. The test is taken in groups this time, which is the biggest difference.

Students are supposed to respond to all the multiple-choice questions debating on the correct answers and ideas they believe are true. TRAT doesn’t mean that “the smartest” student gets the chance to complete all the tasks. 

At this point, students learn useful soft skills like communication and collaboration through conversation.

Stage 4: Clarification

After completing the TRAT, students are encouraged to ask for clarification of the questions they haven’t completed or understood.

However, even here it is not the time for an ESL teacher to interfere.

You can ask the representatives of other teams to explain certain concepts and questions rather than simply give answers yourself.

At the clarification stage, the teacher’s task is to moderate the discussion, giving the prompts, and summarizing the collective discoveries.

That is why you have to stay calm and attentive as well as do your best to facilitate the students to speak and express their ideas as freely as possible.

Test-teach-test approach

Stage 5: Application Cases

The next step within TBL is working on application cases. Its main goal is to apply the knowledge they have gained at the previous stages.

Application cases are made up of multiple-choice questions meant to help students decide how to approach a particular real-world issue. This phase is especially important for advancing the soft skills used to solve some particular issues that students may face in the future.

At this point, an ESL teacher has to be attentive to the individual progress of students and their role within the group to see who struggles to keep up with the peers and needs some additional help.

Stage 6: Peer Evaluation

Peer review happens several times in the course.

Students evaluate one another, while an ESL teacher is supposed to compile this data to create a "peer score" that may be used to modify a student's final grade.

There are a lot of peer evaluations techniques, so you’d better pick up the one that will suit your classroom the most.

What are the reasons for implementing TBL?

There are the following advantages of using TBL in your ESL classroom:

  • Students are more engaged in the learning process
  • They cooperate and communicate more
  • It is easier to overcome a language barrier
  • The teacher talking time is reduced
  • The variety of tasks you can assign is bigger and the tasks are more diverse
  • There is a promotion of creative and critical thinking
  • The tasks are likely to imitate real-life situations and generally be closer to life
  • It is easier for students to apply the learnt concepts outside the classroom
  • The level of retention is much higher
  • The atmosphere in the ESL classroom gets more friendly

6 great self-assessment tasks

How about some extra tips?

Finally, there are a few more things an ESL teacher who is considering using TBL should take into account:

  1. Make sure everyone is equal. If one student takes a leading role and another stays silent all the time, TBL is not going to work as it should.
  2. Ensure that IRAT really checks the readiness. The questions should be based solely on the assigned materials. Otherwise, students will feel unmotivated to prepare. 
  3. Assign students with manageable tasks and set realistic expectations. Students are not supposed to master the whole topic at home, and the preparation materials should reflect that.


To sum up, TBL can become an exciting practice and a breath of fresh air in your ESL class if it is managed properly. 

Moreover, the correctly organized TBL can also lead to some long-term consequences like networking between students. The advantages are numerous. So, if you were waiting for a sign to try TBL out, here it is. 

TBL does require thorough preparation, and this is where Grade University is always ready to help with a professional piece of advice.

Is it crucial for the students to come prepared for the lesson?

Does the teacher answer all the questions on their own?

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS



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