Experiences of an English Language Teacher

Drilling and Repetition in the ELT Classroom

Circle Drilling in action at the BC Bucharest

Since starting my teaching career in Korea, I was introduced to the importance of drills in the classroom to introduce vocabulary and develop pronunciation based on various drills.  We all know the nominated drilling, choral drills or substitutional drills but how else could drills be livened up a bit more?  Recently, I thought of the following activities to jazz up the use drills in the classroom.

Silent Dialogues

This is by far my favourite activity with young learners or adults.  What you need to do is prepare a dialogue or think of a situation that you wish to cover in the classroom (at the post office, booking cinema tickets, etc) and think through a functional dialogue between two people.  You start the activity by speaking silently and overacting body language or simulating sounds using your mouth.  This will get learners to try to decode what is being said (silently) and focus on pronunciation and vowel sounds based upon the varying positions of the mouth.  You encourage learners with thumbs up during the process and then get learners to re-do the dialogue in pairs or groups.  This activity will develop learner memorisation, focus on pronunciation as well as provide a lively and interactive element to any possible drill.

Circle Drilling

I came across this activity during the TYLEC Course in use during an input session on drilling for young learners.  It is a very engaging activity and I would recommend any YL teacher to incorporate this during lessons.  Prior to the lesson, ensure you have prepared flashcards or vocabulary cards for this activity.  You get learners to sit in a closed circle with the teacher at the front (preferably with the IWB or whiteboard behind you).  You show one flashcard/word card and then tell the class the key vocabulary.  Next, you pass the card to the student on your right and get that learner to say the vocabulary and then you continue with the student passing the card around the circle of students.  Once you have gone through a number of flashcards/word cards, you then start to speed up the process and hand out the cards to the students on your right as well as your left and put on the pressure for learners to receive a card (from either their left or right) and then have to say the key vocabulary.  It is quite a lively activity which is sure to get YLs jumping around and engaged in the lesson.

Emotional Drilling

For this activity, you need to prepare two separate groups of flashcards: one with key vocabulary and the other with pictures of emotions (happy, sad, bored, etc).  You drill vocabulary as normal (either choral or nominated) and then you have to combine emotion flashcards with vocabulary and learners have to say the word in the relevant emotion.  You could either get this completed in a competitive format by getting learners standing up and then nominating learners to say the corresponding word in the correct emotion.  If pronounced incorrectly, then the learner sits down.  The winner is the remaining person standing.

Volume Controlled Drills

This was an activity inspired from a teacher that I work with at LTC Eastbourne.  I was observing his class and he was doing some drilling with his young learners but used various volumes to get vocabulary pronounced correctly.  He started off quite quiet and then built up to an ear-shattering volume.  It was very interesting to observe and very interesting to see how the learners were motivated by this activity.  This activity can be incorporated into any type of drills with young learners or adults.

Drilling Through Music

The last activity which could be considered is drilling through music.  This is an activity which can be watched via the TeachingEnglish website and something Rachael Lawson developed with her Asian learners.  I really enjoy incorporating songs and chants into the classroom particularly to introduce and drill vocabulary.
What do you think are your favourite activities when it comes to pronunciation and drilling?  Do you think there is a time and place for drilling?  Would you drill with higher levelled learners or more with lower levelled learners?  Why is this the case?


  1. Jack

    The drill that includes emotions is great; I can easily adapt that for some of my lessons. I used to do something similar to the volume controlled drills and the whole class (including myself) loved it. We had a scale and using my arms as a way to instruct the noise levels, the class had to drill parts of a dialoge at given level. You have to control the highest level a little and explain that they have to continue using the correct intonation and pronunciation.

    Is there meant to be a video? The link isn't working.

  2. If you click on the image for the “Drilling Through Music” Jack, the video will start.

    Is anyone else having trouble with the video?

  3. Jack

    It is working fine now; it must have taken a while to load.

  4. Martin,
    Couple of great ideas here, esp like the circle drilling one (simple but not dawned on me at all!)
    Already had a kernel of a blog posting in my head, so thank you for the prompt! Some people seem to think drilling is old hat & must be boring. If you are wearing an old teaching hat, I guess it could be – like my Latin lessons way back in the day.

    One way I use music http://lunainternational.blogspot.jp/2013/06/of-drilling-and-music-in-yle-classroom.html and a couple of ways we 'share' the performance without generating stage fright (they like to review & redo if they think not good enough!)



  5. Thank you Jim for sharing your own blog post about using music/songs with young learners. Some wonderful ideas. When I was in Bucharest, we used nursery rhymes with the summer programme and got the young learners to expand the songs with a project (creating a poster, making mice, etc). I will be writing more about project work in the YL classroom in the near future so this will be covered soon.

    Finally, I would definitely recommend Genki English (http://genkienglish.net) for the YLs as they include various songs, drills, etc. It is wonderful and I have this to hand for any future primary class which has an IWB.

  6. Ann

    Hi Martin,

    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be making a post about it on today’s TeachingEnglish facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil, if you’d like to check there for likes and comments.


  7. Thank you for letting me know and congratulations on getting your 200,000th group member on the Facebook Group.

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