This is the second part of an article on drilling, a technique that has been used in foreign language classrooms for many years. It was a key feature of audio lingual approaches to language teaching which placed emphasis on repeating structural patterns through oral practice.

Julie Tice, Teacher, Trainer, Writer, British Council Lisbon

In the first part of this article, Drilling 1, I focused on:

  • What drilling is
  • What drills can be useful for
  • What we should drill
  • When we should drill

This second part will focus on how we drill. Here are some ideas for using drilling effectively in the classroom.

  • Repetition drills
  • Guessing games
  • Disappearing text
  • Dialogue building
  • Mingle activities
  • Information gaps
  • Songs, rhymes and chants
  • Conclusion

Repetition drills
When learners are getting used to the sounds of English it may be easier for them not to see the language written down before they practise saying it, so get them to listen to your model and then repeat.

  • Make sure you give clear, natural sounding and consistent models.
  • Use hand movements to indicate intonation, use your fist to beat the stress, and join or separate fingers to show word boundaries and where linking occurs in phrases. This kind of gesturing may in particular help visual learners since it helps them visualise the language they are practising.
  • Back chaining helps learners focus on correct pronunciation and intonation and is also attention-grabbing. For example, when you are modelling a phrase, start at the end, getting the learners to repeat after each chunk you give them. For example: yesterday / get up yesterday / did you get up yesterday / What time did you get up yesterday?

You can vary the drill in terms of who repeats - whole class, half the class, boys only, girls only, individuals. Make sure drilling is done at a snappy pace. You can also try:

  • Whisper drills (for quietening down a rowdy class)
  • Shouting drills (for livening them up)

These ideas work particularly well with young learners. Or you can liven drills up by saying things in different ways. For example, sound very happy, very sad, very bored, very excited with a facial expression to match as you model the language and get the learners to do the same. Putting expression into it and exaggerating the intonation helps make the language more memorable.

Guessing games
Simple guessing games which require lots of repetition of the target language are ideal for practising language items at low levels and are in fact a form of drill.

  • After you have used pictures to introduce vocabulary or phrases stick the pictures on the board back to front so they can't be seen. Students try to guess which picture is which.
  • Pick out one picture and don't show it. Students guess which one it is. If you're using real objects you can use the same principle by hiding the objects under a cloth or in a bag and getting them to guess which object you're holding.
  • For practising 'Is it...?' questions, classroom objects and describing location with children, hide a plastic spider somewhere in the room and get the children to guess where it is. 'Is it under the teacher's desk?', 'Is it behind Jose's chair?'

Disappearing text
This can be done with a list of vocabulary items or phrases, a short text or a dialogue at any level.

  • Write up the text on the board. Read out the text and drill.
  • Rub off a small part of it. Students have to say the whole text again.
  • Gradually rub off more and more in bits and each time get the students to say the whole text.

This provides intensive drilling practice as the students have to repeat it so many times. However, the game factor also increases motivation to get it right and that gets more challenging as the activity continues.

Dialogue building
This is useful particularly for low level students to build confidence in speaking and to learn useful chunks of language. Use pictures to set a scene and elicit a dialogue.


  • Have you got a pet?
  • Yes, I've got a cat.
  • Oh, what's its name?
  • It's called Fred.

Drill each line as you elicit the dialogue.

Rather than writing the whole dialogue on the board as you go, you can just write one or two words to help them remember each line.


  • Have/pet?
  • Yes/
  • /name?
  • /Fred.

Then let the students choose different pets and make up similar dialogues in pairs. Aim for not more than eight lines or so in the dialogue or it may become difficult to memorise.

Mingle activities
With smaller classes, mingle activities work well and provide opportunities for lots of repetition of target language. A simple example of this for low level learners is 'Say and swap'.

  • Learners are given flashcards or small pictures of target vocabulary items or phrases.
  • They mingle and swap their pictures but as they swap they have to say the word on the picture they have. Alternatively this can be done as a more stationary chain drill: students pass the flashcards or pictures around the whole class and again say the word each time they pass it on.
  • Another example is 'Find Someone Who' which can be adapted to any level. Students have a list of people to find.
    Example: Find someone who
    • gets up before 7.00.
    • watches TV in the morning.
    • eats toast for breakfast, etc.

Students go around asking the question. In this example the language practised is 'Do you…?' and the topic daily routines. This activity generates lots of repetition of this pattern as well as providing opportunities for freer responses if the learners develop the conversation. In larger classes it can be done as a stationary group work activity.

Information gaps
Information gap activities are often designed to provide highly controlled practice of particular structures. By swapping information which requires use of a particular language pattern, the students have to solve a problem. This problem solving provides a communicative purpose to what is essentially a drill.


  • The students have a shopping list of fruit they need to buy (six oranges, 1 kilo of apples, etc.)
  • Student A has the prices of various fruits in one shop, student B has the prices in another shop.
  • They have to ask each other and answer about the prices and complete a grid with the information.
  • The task is then to decide which shop will be the cheaper one for them to buy their fruit in.

Songs, rhymes and chants
Many primary aged learners respond very well to songs, games and chants. These young learners can find it very difficult to remember how to say complete phrases in a foreign language when they are first learning, but they remember whole songs and chants with ease. Action songs like 'Head, shoulders, knees and toes' provide fun drills of language for parts of the body. Or you can make up your own action songs by putting target language to a well known tune and getting the children to do actions. For example, as you sing this to the tune of 'Frere Jacques', do actions of putting on all the clothes mentioned:

  • Shorts and T-shirt
    Shorts and T-shirt
    Shoes and socks
    Shoes and socks
    Jumper hat and trousers
    Jumper hat and trousers
    Skirt and dress
    What a mess!

When accompanied by gestures and actions, songs and chants appeal to different learning styles such as aural and kinaesthetic. Older learners may be self conscious about singing but chants and raps can still work well and, once again, involve lots of repetition.

Drilling is not a new or a fashionable classroom technique, but, used appropriately in the classroom, it can be of great value to our learners.

  • Only drill language that will benefit from being drilled (for example if it causes pronunciation problems or if it is a useful chunk of language to be memorised).
  • Don't drill too much and keep drilling stages lively.
  • Respond to your learners' needs - drill if you, or they, think it will help them pronounce or memorise words or language chunks.
  • Vary the way in which you do drills to help make the language more memorable.

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