Language drills produce the maximum amount of language by the maximum amount of students in a concentrated time. Thus it is the most efficient, effective means of initially practising target language while producing confidence and competence in students.

Language drills do not have to be a dry or static stage of the lesson, employing mere parrot-fashion repetition. Instead, by utilising a variety of drills, and using thought and imagination, it should be fun.

The practise stage of a lesson should be a gradual progression from controlled teacher-student drills to freer student-teacher drills that give them a chance to get to grips with the language being developed and really internalise it. Then students can move on to even freer drills – student-student, students-teacher, or students-student – that enable the students to interact with each other and rely less on the teacher. Essentially, language drills provide a clear model for the students and will thus enable them to use the language both accurately and with confidence. Therefore, think carefully when planning a lesson about what drills to employ (in relation to the demands of the target language) and in what order. Also, remember to always drill both the answer and question forms before combining them together.

Note: Most of the drills outlined below can be adapted so as to change the interaction patterns. They can also change the role of the teacher, or whether the activity is used to practice the vocabulary, answer form, question form, or question and answer form.

These drills are ideal for the practise phase of the PPP method.

Triple Drill

The students chant the target language chorally, repeating the teacher’s model three times. The teacher carefully monitors the group (remembering not to chant with them, but listening instead!)

Individual Drill

The teacher isolates individuals through gestures. The student then repeats the teacher’s model on their own. This is especially useful for picking out those students with pronunciation problems. Try not to go around the class in a circle; instead pick students in an unpredictable, random order. It is also often preferable to isolate stronger students first before concentrating on those with any problems, bearing in mind sensitivities regarding ability and confidence.

High/Low/Quiet/Loud Drills

  1. The teacher holds a flashcard (or other prompt) high in the air to get the class to repeat in a high voice.
  2. The teacher holds the prompt low to the ground, and the class repeats in a low voice.
  3. The prompt is now held close to the teacher’s body and the target language is repeated in a quiet voice.
  4. The prompt is held out towards the students and they repeat in a loud voice. The four drills can then be used together, with the teacher orchestrating the type of drill with the position of the prompt.

Variation: Actions can be chosen to go with the high, low, loud and soft voices.  The students stand up with the high voice, sit down with the low voice, run to the back of the room with the loud voice, and run to the front of the room with the soft voice. Alternatively, think up your own ‘moves’.

Pogo Drill

For this drill, the students line up in single file in front of the board, which is divided into vertical ‘strips’. Each strips contains different language prompts. The teacher will supply the model that the class must chant chorally as they jump in unison however many places to the left or right in order to face the corresponding prompt.

Finger Drilling

This is very useful for students who are having problems pronouncing long words. The teacher holds up a certain number of fingers, relating to the number of syllables in the word (e.g. four fingers for ‘recreation’). Then he or she will isolate each syllable sound, linking it to each finger (‘re-cre-a-tion’), and build up the word, either from the first syllable onwards, or from the last syllable backwards (Always remember to consider the students’ location, and so move along your fingers from your right to left, which is their left to right – unless, of course, you are moving back from the end of the word). In a similar vein, younger learners often respond well to a certain ‘dance move’ being linked to each syllable, producing a fun dance routine tied intrinsically to the item of vocab, often helping with intonation and rhythm.

Back Chaining

This technique is useful for long sentences or sentences that the students may be having trouble with. Write the sentence on the board. When drilling the sentence, move from the end of the sentence and build it up word by word until you get to the beginning.

For example: “Yesterday, I went to the zoo and I saw some monkeys, lions and some penguins.” You would start with penguins then some penguins; then and some penguins; and then lions and some penguins etc until you get to the beginning of the sentence.

Generally, it’s a good idea to start wiping the words off the board as you go along. The reason for doing this is because your ultimate aim is to turn it back into an oral drill.

Stand-up/Sit-down Drill

This can be particularly useful to encourage the elimination of superfluous vowel sounds at the end of words (e.g. ‘orange-ee’, ‘book-er’) These are common in some regions as hold-overs from students’ mother tongue, especially Mandarin speakers.

The students stand in front of their chairs. The teacher gives them a prompt (such as a flash card), and the students repeat – or say – the target language three times and then quickly sit down. The last student to sit down loses a point for their team (or must answer a penalty question).

If the students tend to garble the language in their haste to sit down, the teacher can orchestrate the speed of the drill through gesture: the teacher prompts the target language and holds up one finger, prompts the students say the item, and this continues with two then three fingers. Finally, the teacher holds his/her hands up, with the palms down, and drops them downwards indicating that the students can sit.

Hammer Slap Drill

You need two teams, two hammers, and two sets of flashcards for the target language. Number the students in each team. Put one set of flashcards on the floor between the two teams.  Put one hammer on the floor near each team.  Hold up a flashcard from the second set and elicit the target language from the students.  The students then drill the language.  They continue to repeat the language as a group, until the teacher is happy with the drilling.

The teacher then shouts out a number.  The student from each team with this number then races to pick up the hammer and whack the appropriate flash card.  The winner’s team produces the target language and then is awarded a point.

Substitution Drills

The students chant one item of the target language until the teacher gives a prompt (e.g. a new keyword or flashcard) and they must change what they are saying to incorporate the new language item. This could entail subject or possessive pronouns (or both), for example:

      What do you have in your bag?

St.s       What does he have in his bag?

St.s       What do they have in their bag?

St.s       What does she have in her bag?    etc.

Or perhaps different items of vocab:

Teacher: *holds up ‘chicken’ flashcard*
St.s       His favourite food is chicken

Teacher: *holds up ‘pizza’ flashcard
St.s       His favourite food is pizza.

Teacher: *holds up ‘chocolate’ flashcard*
St.s       His favourite food is chocolate.    etc.

This drill is especially valuable for practising language with complicated grammatical or gender-based demands.

Dice Drill

The teacher puts flashcards or keyword cards on the board prompting target language to be drilled and numbers them from 1 to 6 (or 2 to 12 if two dice are used). He/she then gives one of the students a die, which is rolled so that the number that comes up dictates which item is to be drilled. Then another student rolls the die to dictate how many times the word is drilled. It is often fun to accompany this kind of drilling with total physical response (TPR).

Dice Drill with Scoring

This is an adaptation of the dice drill. Number some flashcards or prompts for the target language 1-6. One team throws a dice. If they throw a 4, then they have to drill the language for the fourth flashcard. The second team throws another dice.  If for example a 5 is thrown, then the first team would have to say the language for the fourth flashcard five times.

If the students have to say the target language 5 times, they can be awarded 5 points for this.  Have a target number of points to reach, say 25.  When a team reaches or passes this point, they are the winner.

Looking for more class activities? Check more out here or here.

A version of this article originally appeared in Shane English School’s Teaching English to Young Learners (TEYL) program, which is part of new teachers’ orientation.

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