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TEFL Program - Making drilling fun

Page history last edited by Chris Moore 12 years, 1 month ago

TEFL Program - Making drilling fun



In this unit you will be introduced to the idea of drilling and how to make it a fun activity for your students. We’ll find out why it is an important part of English language teaching and we'll see how you can make use of drilling activities to consolidate skills such as pronunciation and use of correct grammar structures



repeat                          to say something again and again

substitute                      to put something in place of something else

common adjacency        phrases which often go together e.g

pairs                             Hello, how are you?   Fine, thanks

homophone                   a word which has the same sound as another word but not necessarily the same spelling e.g sore,saw

brainstorming                a method of group discussion to find as many ideas on a theme as possible)


Think About It



1. Write down what 'drilling' means to you in a teaching situation?








Here are some of our suggestions:

  • Students repeating single words or expressions as a pronunciation exercise
  • Practicing a dialogue which can be used as a role play
  • Song-like chanting of words or expressions
  • Call and response chants e.g between two students or two groups of students.


Drills are often used to reinforce language, especially pronunciation and grammar. The idea is that students will start to use language automatically rather than think too carefully about grammar structures.


For example, this drill is a repetition drill to practise pronunciation:


Teacher: I went to the shop to buy some bread.

Student: I went to the shop to buy some bread.


The student repeats the teacher’s words exactly, mirroring the pronuniciation and the intonation (how the sentence is said).



2. Do you use drilling in your class?  If so, what kind of drills do you use?









Here are some of our suggestions


There are a few different types of drills you can use in your lessons


A. Repetition drills


Learners listen to the teacher model a phrase or sentence and then repeat it. The teacher often models new language e.g a grammatical function –I’m going to read a book.


Teacher: I’m going to read a book

Class:      I’m going to read a book.

Teacher:  I’m going to listen to music

Class:      I’m going to listen to music


This type of drill is useful for getting students used to new language, and how it fits into sentences. It is important to use realistic sentences, by which we mean language that would be used outside the classroom and relates to your and your students’ lives.


B. Substitution drills


Learners listen to a prompt, such as  a phrase or sentence. Learners then substitute an alternative word before repeating the phrase. This could be a verb form, a word, or a promoun, for example.


Substitution drills can be used to practise different structures or new vocabulary. For example,


        Prompt:      I’m going to watch a movie. He?...

        Response:   He’s going to watch a movie.


This kind of drill is useful for showing differences in grammar, such as in the above example, or practising sets of vocabulary.


Other examples might be:


                Prompt:               I go to the shops every Saturday. Past?

                Response:           I went to the shops last Saturday.


                Prompt:               Every Saturday, I play football.

                Response 1:       Every Sunday, I play tennis.

                Response 2:       Every Monday, I play cricket.

                Response 3:       Every Tuesday, I play basketball.


C. Question and Answer drills


This type of drill provides a prompt in the form of a question. Learners respond with the answer. Q&A drills are used to practise the sort of phrases which ‘go together’ – called ‘common adjacency pairs’. For example:


Teacher:  What's the matter?

Student:  'I've got a headache (toothache, backache…)


Additional words can be given e.g ‘toothache’, ‘backache’, to reinforce to students that the same structure can be used for several situations.


This type of drill is excellent for practising common dialogues. It also allows students to give answers that they think of, rather than repeating words from a book or you. These can be answers from their lives and experience.


Teacher:             What did you do last night?

Student 1:           I cooked dinner for my family.

Student 2:           I did my homework.

Student 3:           I watched TV.



3. What are some of the advantages of drilling? Write down your thoughts here:







Here are some of our ideas:

  • Familiarisation with the target language: students practise using common functional language automatically by following the drill
  • Pronunciation practice:  Drilling allows for intensive practice of the pronunciation of difficult words or easily confused words such as near homophones. This is important in raising the awareness of words or phrases which may sound similar but mean something quite different.
  • Promotes student accuracy: students follow the template of the drill to produce accurate language responses. This may also help with fluency.
  • Drills can be a fun activity especially for the end of the day. Drills also provide a safe environment for learners to experiment with producing the language, such as in substitution drills and question & answer drills. This is especially useful for learners who are not risk-takers.
  • Drills allow the teacher to give learners immediate feedback on the accuracy of their delivery of target language. Learners often express the need for feedback on their progress and many also feel confident with teachers who use drilling in the classroom.
  • Drilling appeals to auditory learners who find drills useful in chunking information for memorisation. This means they are able to remember and then use language learnt in sentences and phrases, rather than as individual words.



4. What are the disadvantages of using drills in the classroom? Write down your thoughts here:










  • Drills can be meaningless to students if they are only repeating language without understanding it.
  • The language used in the drills might be meaningless - ie. not the sort of language a student may use in practice. For example,  ‘I went to Warwick to buy a pig’ (practises the ‘w’ sound but the town of Warwick may have little meaning to students outside England!)
  • Easy drills can be boring – students may ‘switch off’ and lose concentration
  • Challenging or difficult drills can be confusing and students may lose concentration




Drilling and Behaviourism


Historically, drilling was a technique which was often used to practice repeating language structures as an aid to memorisation. It was based on the psychology of Behaviourism, which states that learning and mastering a foreign language is a matter of forming correct habits by repeating phrases and words over and over.


These days, any methods which rely on repeating phrases out of context are not in favour, as we have a better understanding of how learners learn another language. Today, English lessons typically follow Communicative methodology, which emphasises students using the language in meaningful situations. See other units for a full explanation and practical examples.


Despite this, there is still a place for drills in your classroom as a way to introduce and practise new language in a controlled way, to practise and reinforce language which has already been learnt, and to practise pronunciation.


Some ways of making Drills interesting


Drills can be boring for students, and they can ‘switch off’ quickly.


It’s therefore vital to make them interesting. The language used should be relevant to their need and provide a reasonable challenge (so not too easy ot too difficult).


They should also be fun. Here are some ways of making them more engaging and motivating for your students:


  • ·                     the whole class
  • ·                     half the class
  • ·                    
  • ·                     boys only
  • ·                     girls only
  • ·                    
  • ·                    
  • ·                     individuals


  • ·                     speak at a normal speed / quickly / slowly
  • ·                     speak in a whisper – useful for quietening down a rowdy class
  • ·                    
  • ·                    




There are several ways which change a drill to a meaningful exchange. Be careful to prepare students for these drills first. Students may need to review vocabulary before they can change the drill. Look at the following examples.


Here are some examples of drills you may like to try in your classroom.

Substitution 1: ‘transport’




Teacher Preparation: Make some cards with the letters ‘C’, ‘B’, ‘T’ and ‘M’ on them language




Before you start, review the names of vehicles which students will need to know. Remind students that you will hold up the first letter of the vehicle before their turn.

C - car       B - bus    T - taxi    M - motorbike 


Model the drill,

The teacher shows the class the card with a letter ‘C’ on it and says:

Teacher (T): He's going to go by car

Now, T holds up a card with a ‘B’ on it. Ask Student 1 to respond:  

Student (S1): He's going to go by bus.

Now, T holds up a card with a ‘M’ on it. Ask Student 1 to respond: 

Student (S1): He's going to go by motorbike.

And so on



Substitution 2

This drill practises the vocabulary used around the theme ‘Eating and drinking’.




Teacher preparation: Make a selection of cards with the target words you are going to practise and/ or with pictures of the target language. For example:




Before you start, review the structures of ‘eat the cake, sandwich, cheese, apple’ and ‘drink the coffee, tea, lemonade..’


Model the drill. Hold up the card with the word ‘cake’ (or the picture of a cake) and shows the class. Say:

T: He's going to eat the cake

The students repeat:

S: He's going to eat the cake

Now, hold up a card with the word ‘coffee’ on it (or a picture of a cup of coffee)

T:  He’s going to drink the coffee

S: He's going to drink the coffee


Now,  follow this drill by using the card only as the prompt. Place students in pairs. Make one of them ‘student 1’ and the other ‘student 2’. Now model the drill with one pair of students, so the others can see what to do.

Holds up a card with a word or picture on it e.g ‘sandwich’. Student 1 starts the drill by saying:

S1: I’m going to eat the sandwich.

Then S2 repeats:

S2: I’m going to eat the sandwich.

Now, ask students to swap roles. Hold up another word or picture: This time S2 models the phrase first and S1 repeats it.


Now make sure all the class understand what to do. Then hold up another word or picture. Ask all student 1s to say the first sentence, ‘I’m going to…’ and all student 2s to repeat. Then switch roles.


Carry on like this for  the remainder of the cards.


Dialogue building drills

These drills aim to build up the phrases needed to develop a short dialogue. Use prompt cards or pictures to set the scene and elicit the dialogue.


Dialogue drill 1: ‘What’s he going to do?’

Teacher preparation:


phone book


open/water bottle

Prepare some prompt cards for activities, e.g.                                                     



Walk/ town






Before you start, elicit from students why a person might do these activities.  For example,

Open drink bottle – he’s going to drink some water

Look in phone book – he’s going to find a phone number

Walk to town – he’s going to buy some food


Here you can  reinforce the target language i.e ‘going to’ and ‘some’

Model the drill. The teacher holds up the card ‘Open / water bottle’ and says:

Teacher:                He's opening the water bottle

Student response: He's going to drink some water


Then ask students to go into pairs and run the drill in the same way as Substitution 2


Dialogue drill 2:

The girl is standing by the pool….

How long can students keep the drill going? The teacher starts the drill and students carry on with all the possible actions of the girl after she stands by the pool. You can divide the class into two groups. The group who has the final suggestion wins. Warn students that nonsense answers don’t count!


Before you start, place the class into two groups. Give the groups 5 minutes to brainstorm reasons why the girl might be standing by the pool.


Model the drill by saying:

T: She’s standing by the pool

T: She’s going to have a swim


Now ask the 2 groupsto say what they think she’s going to do:

Group 1: She's going to dive in.

Group 2. She’s going to fall in.

G1: She’s going to watch her son swim.

G2: She’s going to look for her lost earring.



Dialogue drill 3: Talking about a process or telling a story As in the previous example, Dialogue Drill 2, students carry on the story until a conclusion.

T: Mr Zeehan's packing his suitcase

S1: He's going on holiday

S2: He’s going to catch a taxi to the airport

S4: He’s going to check his bags in



Dialogue drill: 4 ‘True Sentences’

These can be used to practise reported speech. For example,

T: What are you going to do this afternoon?

S1: I'm going to watch a movie on TV.

T: What’s S1 going to do tonight?

S2: He’s going to watch a movie on TV (simple version) or      He said he was going to watch a movie on TV( more advanced)





Drills can be a useful tool to help students to speak without too much thought or fear of making mistakes. Drills are by their nature repetitive so care must be taken to make sure they are meaningful and have an identifiable context.


So, keep the language relevant and realistic. Use different types of drills, and vary how you present them in your lessons. And have fun.

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