What is the Action-Oriented Approach?

The action-oriented approach (AOA) is one of the pillars of The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR). The AOA builds upon other perspectives, including the communicative approach, and encompasses theories such as the socio-constructivist and complexity theories. A theoretical framework of the AOA was released by Piccardo & North in 2019.

Key Concepts and Implications for Language Education

Social Agents

At the heart of the AOA is the innovative vision of the user/learner as a “social agent,” meaning someone who exerts agency, or more simply put, acts with intentionality to accomplish tasks (Bandura, 2001) within a social context. This signalled a major shift in language education, moving it away from a linear process focused mainly on language structures to one organized around completing real-life, collaborative tasks whose primary focus is not language (Council of Europe, 2020). With the AOA, users/learners don’t merely learn about the language, they live the language.

Seeing users/learners as “social agents” puts them at the centre of learning. It implies actively involving them in the learning process and allowing them to use all their resources to accomplish the task. It also requires recognizing the social nature of language use, in which meaning is co-constructed, and the interaction that occurs between the social and individual dimensions in the learning process (Council of Europe, 2020).

Descriptive Scheme

The AOA brings the descriptive scheme of the CEFR to life.

The descriptive scheme provides a common language to talk about overall language proficiency, outlining what is present in real-life communication. In a communicative situation, general competences are combined with communicative language competences (i.e., linguistic, sociolinguistic, and pragmatic). Users/learners draw upon their competences under various conditions and constraints to engage in language activities while using strategies to accomplish tasks (Council of Europe, 2020). Language activities and strategies are presented under four modes of communication in the CEFR: reception, production, interaction, and mediation.

Illustrative Descriptors

Each of the modes of communication – reception, production, interaction, and mediation – has illustrative descriptors organized into scales. These descriptors exemplify what a user/learner can typically do at the different levels of the CEFR (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2), thus bringing an asset lens to language education. For this reason, descriptors are often referred to as “can-do” descriptors. They are open-ended and incomplete examples and are not meant to be mandatory nor to provide an exhaustive list.

Descriptors are central to the creation of a task, serving as a reference point for building content.


As described above, in the AOA, users/learners act (i.e., take action) to complete tasks. Below are key elements found in an AOA task:

  • Learners are seen as “social agents” acting in real-life, authentic, meaningful learning situations
  • Action is purposeful, with real-life application
  • There is a final product or artifact
  • Learners process authentic, real-life texts and experiences
  • There are conditions and constraints
  • There is collaboration
  • Learners draw upon and develop all of their resources
  • Learners make choices, thinking and acting strategically (Hunter et al., 2019)

Planning and Assessment

Using an AOA when planning involves starting with the end goal in mind – the completion of the real-life task – and working backwards through a needs analysis to help learners build the competences required to accomplish the task. The entire process of presenting the task to learners, working through scaffolded sub-tasks to build the competences needed to complete it, and performing the task is called a scenario. The scenario becomes the blueprint for the task, bringing coherence to learning. When planning the steps of a scenario, it is important to reflect on how they also contribute to learners’ “[…] sensibilization to the plurilingual dimension and to the mediational aspects of any learning” (Piccardo & North, 2019).

Planning and assessment go together. The descriptors that guided the development of the task are the same descriptors that are used transparently throughout the assessment process. Descriptors can be used in many ways, such as:

  • In “signposting” success criteria so learners know where they are going
  • To identify strengths and areas for improvement
  • To monitor progress
  • To create observation checklists
  • To provide timely descriptive feedback while preparing for the task, and
  • To build the criteria of the summative assessment

In the AOA, educators take on a coaching role, guiding learners so that they may use all of their resources and strategies to accomplish the task. With the AOA, both users/learners and the teacher are in constant control.

Find Out More About the AOA

For more information about the AOA, explore the following resources:

Website for the Council of Europe’s CEFR: https://www.coe.int/en/web/common-european-framework-reference-languages 

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment – Companion Volume (2020 edition), Council of Europe, available at https://rm.coe.int/common-european-framework-of-reference-for-languages-learning-teaching/16809ea0d4

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (2001 edition), Council of Europe, available at https://rm.coe.int/1680459f97

Action-Oriented Approach Handbook, CASLT, available at https://www.caslt.org/en/boutique-en/aoa-handbook-en-dwnld

From Communicative to Action-oriented: Illuminating the Approaches, Transforming FSL, available at https://transformingfsl.ca/en/resources/from-communicative-to-action-oriented-illuminating-the-approaches/

Synergies: Settlement, Integration and Language Learning, Durham Continuing Education, available at https://www.dce.ca/en/student-services/community-resources.aspx#Synergies-Settlement-Integration-and-Language-Learning

LINCDIRE – Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Reinvented, available at https://lite.lincdireproject.org/all-scenarios-2/

FIDE, available at https://fide-info.ch/fr/ressources-didactiques/scenarios


Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 1-26. https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/Bandura2001ARPr.pdf

Council of Europe (2020). The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning,

Teaching, Assessment – Companion Volume. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. https://rm.coe.int/common-european-framework-of-reference-for-languages-learning-teaching/16809ea0d4

Hunter, D., Cousineau, D., Collins, G., and Hook, G. (2019). Action-Oriented Approach Handbook. Otttawa: Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers.

Piccardo, E., & North, B. (2019). The Action-oriented Approach: A Dynamic Vision of Language Education. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.



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