Learning Portuguese while cooking pastéis de nata: A TBLT class for teaching commands in Portuguese

“It’s always wonderful to hear about teachers’ ways of making links between theory and practice. Teresa Valdez’s post is a case in point – a lovely example of how theory can inform practice and how practitioners can reflect on their practice soundly, resorting to theoretical constructs. A full cycle of theory in practice. And a delicious one, as well!”

Denise Santos
Pastéis de nata made by students ©Teresa Valdez 2020

The idea behind a class in a kitchen is not totally new and there are studies of language courses fully designed around this space (e.g. Seedhouse et al., 2013). Luckily at the University of Rochester in New York state, there is a fully equipped kitchen that includes recording, projection options and offers seating for 24 people.

The inclusion of spaces such as a kitchen brings a new context of teaching and learning a foreign language that it is in its core an authentic space of interaction. The existence of a kitchen is a unique opportunity for learners to participate in meaningful interactions, and not just the process of learning another language (Fotos & Ellis, 1991). Moreover, it offers a teaching environment where learners connect simultaneously to a new language feature and cultural content. This article will illustrate this claim by showing how this connection can occur while teaching commands and instructions in Portuguese and cooking pastéis de nata.

The possibility of using a fully equipped kitchen in one of the Portuguese classes offered at the University of Rochester was a motivation to explore which approaches could be used to create a well-designed lesson plan where both the communicative approach was present and where students could make use of their own strategies to practice another structure in Portuguese. If the kitchen is indeed a space that can be used with a teaching purpose, it can offer students the opportunity to complete a task while learning a new grammatical feature, and this idea lies at the heart of of task-based language teaching (TBLT) approach.

The TBLT approach gained popularity in the last decade of the 20th century with the Bangalore project (Prabhu, 1987). For Prabhu, TBLT doesn’t provide learners with previously organized language materials; rather, with this approach learners are expected to learn while performing a task that requires communication. Prabhu (1987) argues that acquisition will have a delay but will be achieved subconsciously. For Ellis (2000) and Skehan (1998, 2003) this approach prompts learning through the completion of a task. Littlewood (2004) defines TBLT as an approach that proposes ways to offer communicative language teaching at the syllabus development and at the methodological level. All authors agree that this approach offers learners opportunities to experience communication strategies, including by noticing how others express similar meanings.

However, if the pedagogical benefits of this approach seem to be well delineated, the question of how to define a task has prompted several discussions and understandings of its meaning. For Prabhu (1987) a task is an instrument for organizing the content and methodology of language teaching. In his seminal article, Ellis (2000) defines task as a “workplan”, which means that a task takes the form of materials for researching or teaching language, and he adopts the term “exercise” to refer to an activity where no communication is expected. For the purpose of this article, Ellis’s definition of task is adopted, and the main goal of the activity to ensure that at the end of the post-activity stage, students have a clear understanding on how and when to use the Imperative.

In sum, the classroom activity described in this article, students are exposed to a contextualized real-world situation where they will need to communicate in order to negotiate the meaning. The goal is for students to acquire a new speaking strategy as well as a new grammatical construction in the Portuguese language.


The activity was designed for an Intermediate Portuguese class (B1 level), during the fall semester of 2018. Each class was 75 minutes long and was based on chapter 9, “O trabalho e os negócios”, from Ponto de Encontro. Following Skehan’s (1998) framework, the task was divided into pre-activity, activity, and post-activity, which led the lesson plan to be extended over the course of three classes.


The proposed pre-activity consisted in reading an authentic job ad, sending a resumé and learning more about the prospective employer. This task was given as homework from the previous class and students exchanged information at the beginning of the class. This task took approximately 10 minutes.

The job ad was the following:

O Grupo José Avillez, uma das referências na área da restauração em Portugal, é formado por vários restaurantes, cada um deles com um conceito único: o Belcanto – distinguido com duas estrelas Michelin e considerado um dos 100 melhores restaurantes do mundo – o Bairro do Avillez, com diferentes conceitos de restauração (Taberna, Páteo, Beco Cabaret Gourmet e Cantina Peruana), o Mini Bar em Lisboa e no Porto, o Cantinho do Avillez em Lisboa e no Porto, o Café Lisboa, a Pizzaria Lisboa, a Pitaria e a Cantina Zé Avillez.

Integrado nas equipas de Pastelaria, o profissional a admitir terá como principais responsabilidades, armazenar, preparar, confecionar e empratar alimentos, cumprindo os requisitos de qualidade predefinido, assegurando o cumprimento das regras de HACCP aplicáveis. Perfil do candidato:
• Formação académica mínima de 12º Ano e/ou curso técnico profissional;
• Experiência profissional anterior mínima de 1 ano em funções similares (preferencial);
• Excelente relacionamento interpessoal e espírito de equipa;
• Criatividade e Inovação;
• Capacidade de trabalhar sob pressão;
• Elevado sentido de responsabilidade;
• Bons conhecimentos de Inglês (preferencial); Uma excelente oportunidade de integração numa empresa em crescimento que quer cada vez fazer mais e melhor e que lhe proporcionará crescimento pessoal e profissional.
Envie o seu CV, indicando a referência JA01/0232
Todas as candidaturas serão tratadas com confidencialidade. Ver Oferta de Emprego: http://www.net-empregos.com/4116342/pasteleiro-m-f-lisboa/#.W7vgdXnQZC8#ixzz5TNoudoRR

After the pre-activity the group was finally ready to move to the activity itself.


Students are informed that Chef Avilez selected them to a very special and hands-on interview. Chef Avilez invited them to prepare one of the most traditional Portuguese desserts, pastéis de nata. And, for a better understanding, students are given the rationale behind this special interview, that is, that Chef Avilez was looking for someone that was an exceptional baker but that had the skills to be a leader and a team player. Each student receives the following guidelines:

  • O Grupo Avilez recebeu a sua candidatura para o lugar de Pasteleiro e entra em contato consigo para uma entrevista;
  • Mas esta não é uma entrevista qualquer, afinal de contas estamos a falar de um Chef que tem já estrelas Michelin.
  • Prepare-se para uma entrevista única na cozinha do Chef Avilez, onde irá preparar os famosos Pastéis de Nata.

Dinâmicas durante a entrevista:

  • Dois candidatos a Pasteleiro preparam a massa folhada e as formas;
    • Um candidato a Pasteleiro prepara os ingredientes para o creme;
    • Um candidato a Pasteleiro prepara o sistema de banho-maria (coloca água numa panela e noutra a boiar na água coloca o recipiente onde se vai cozinhar o creme);
    • Um candidato a Pasteleiro cozinha o creme até este estar pronto;
    • Um candidato a Pasteleiro deita o creme morno dentro das formas;
    • Um candidato a Pasteleiro prepara o forno, insere as formas com os pastéis e monitoriza o tempo de cozedura;
    • Um candidato a Pasteleiro desenforma os pastéis de nata, polvilha com canela e açúcar em pó e serve.

Students also received the detailed recipe of all components to the dessert.


By using an authentic space such as a kitchen, we are bringing to the context of teaching a foreign language an extremely important and relevant element of the cultures associated with the Portuguese language. The kitchen is one of the spaces in any house across the Lusophone world where people come together to perform a task that is simultaneously an invitation to speak, which represents what task-based activities list as one of the necessary steps for the success of this approach.

The inclusion of a long and detailed pre-activity is motivated by the fact that the chapter in which this activity is inserted is a chapter where students learn more about the process of applying for a job and the skills that one must possess to be a successful candidate. This process is made authentic and relevant by bringing to the classroom a job opportunity that is an authentic material and by inviting the participants to discover more about the employer and then apply to the position. 

As stated at the beginning of this article, the goal of such activity is to offer students a real communicative situation where they will have to negotiate meaning by working with a recipe, which provides many opportunities to give instructions. This type of activity represents a great example of what TBLT defines as a task that provides students with the ability to interact and practice a new linguistic feature while performing a task.

At the end of the activity the participants were invited to give one piece of advice to Chef Avilez for the next time he prepares pastéis de nata. Although Prabhu (1987) predicts a delay in the assimilation of new structures, students were able to use the target grammatical structure without showing hesitation.


As a follow-up and during the first 20 minutes of the following class, students went back to the detailed recipe (see above) and were invited to talk about the structure of the text. As a group they listed all verbs in the recipe, followed by its presentation. As a class all verbs were analyzed, and students than concluded that the verbs listed were presented differently to what they knew.

After talking and associating the ways a recipe is presented in Portuguese and their knowledge of this sort of text in their language students rapidly associated these highlighted verbs with those indicating the tasks they needed to perform, and for that reason as instructions. The class as a group then reviewed this grammatical structure and with the support of the textbook students were exposed to an explicit instruction on how to use the Imperative and how it is formed in Portuguese.


The inclusion of TBLT activities in a foreign language classroom brings benefits to the participants such as the negotiation of meaning and the acquisition of a new structure by the completion of a task that is given in context and reflects the real uses of the language.

This activity, besides requiring a specific location such as the kitchen – and that are so lucky to have at the University of Rochester -, is without a question time consuming for the instructor while planning it and also in terms of class time.

The planning phase must take into consideration interactions between the topics and activities proposed by the textbook adopted, the inclusion and selection of authentic materials, and also students’ interests . However, adaptations may be possible, such as the adaptation of the job ads included in the textbooks to those that available in the search engines; the selection of another recipe that does not require a fully equipped kitchen or an oven; or even by offering students a task-based approach activity that focus in the interview process in a most traditional approach, for example.

After the activity it was clear that the use of such authentic communicative situation was productive for the participants. The inclusion of a detailed pre-activity followed by a task offered the students an opportunity to participate in meaningful interactions among themselves but also with the instructor. As instructors we must take into consideration that task-based activities cannot be dissociated from the communicative approach (Prabhu, 1987; Ellis, 2000; Littlewood, 2004; Sánchez, 2004; Nunan, 2004; Willis, D., Willis, J., 2007), and this activity is a good example of such premise.

For the future and to ensure the inclusion of task-based approach activities in spaces such as the kitchen, it will be beneficial that students have two full classes of 75 minutes and that the core of the pre-activity is not given as homework. This will increase students’ interactions and the need for the negotiation of meaning that will then be reflected in their interactions while performing the task. Also important will be the inclusion of a pre-test focusing on the structure, as well as a delayed post-test to verify if the target grammatical feature was fully acquired, had a noticeable delayed acquisition, or if a reinforcement of the instruction might be needed.

In conclusion, this approach and the existence of authentic spaces such as a kitchen are real boosters to students’ understanding of language structures and cultural behaviors in such spaces. TBLT is an approach that offers students the tools to explore the target language in contextualized and meaningful situations while performing a real task and not a mere drill. If we look to improve students’ knowledge of the sociocultural behaviors connected to the Portuguese language, the kitchen is indeed a space that we should use more often while preparing classroom activities that focus on topics as those presented here.

Works Cited

Ellis, R. (2000). Task-based research and language pedagogy. Language teaching research, 4(3), 193-220.

Fotos, S., & Ellis, R. (1991). Communicating about Grammar: A Task-based approach. TESOL Quarterly, 25(4), 605-628.

Littlewood, W. (2004). Task-based learning of grammar. ELT Journal, 58(4), 319-326.

Nunan, D. (2004). Task-based language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Prabhu, N. (1987). Second language pedagogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sánchez, A. (2009). The task-based approach in language teaching. International Journal of English Studies, 4(1), 39-71.

Seedhouse, P., Heslop, P., Preston, A., Ploetz, T., Olivier, P., Balaam, M., Jackson, D., & Ali, S. (2013). The French digital kitchen: Implementing task-based language teaching beyond the classroom. International Journal of Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Teaching, 3(1), 50-72.

Skehan, P. (1998). A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford: Oxford Unievrsity Press.

Willis, D. & Willis, J. (2007). Doing task-based teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Maria Teresa Valdez doutorada em Luso-Afro-Brazilian Studies and Theory pela Universidade de Massachusetts Dartmouth, EUA (2014), e com mestrado e licenciatura pela Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa em Língua e Cultura Portuguesa (PL2, PLE). É diretora do Centro de Línguas e Professora responsável pelo programa de Português na Universidade de Rochester, onde coordena todos os programas de língua estrangeira. Além de ensinar cursos de língua portuguesa, é responsável por seminários em Ensino e Aprendizagem de Línguas a nível dos cursos de mestrando, preparando Professores Assistentes em programa de intercâmbio para o ensino de línguas estrangeiras. Os seus interesses de pesquisa incluem o desenvolvimento de manuais para língua de herança e língua estrangeira, aquisição de língua de herança, formas de tratamento em português, usos de ferramentas e aplicações online para o desenvolvimento da proficiência linguística.

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