Drills for Learning English – Part Two by Hall Houston

I have a few suggestions and several sample activities for teachers who want to add drilling to their repertoire of teaching techniques, and go beyond the basic drill.


First a few tips for keeping drilling interesting.


  • Keep it short – Don’t let the drilling go on for too long. A few minutes should be enough.
  • Think about what you want to drill – Do you want to focus on a grammar point or some new vocabulary? What do you think would benefit your students most?
  • Give it some energy – Do the drill with a lively voice, not a monotone. Also, move around the class a little as you are drilling. Also, throw in unusual, funny sentences from time to time.
  • Mix it up – Use 2 or 3 different types of drilling (see Part One of this article) in one drilling session.
  • Vary who you ask to repeat the sentences – For example, you could ask one student to repeat, then another, then another. Or ask one half of the class to repeat the first time, then the other half to repeat the second time. Or ask students in the first row to repeat, then the second row...
  • Get a student to take your place – Choose an outgoing, vivacious student with exceptional pronunciation to lead a drill.
  • Give students feedback – If you hear mispronounced words or incorrect intonation, point this out to the class.


Drilling with images


Carry out a substitution drill, but instead of saying the word, show them an image. For example,


Teacher: I like to play basketball.

Students: I like to play basketball.

Teacher: (holds up a picture of baseball player)

Students: I like to play baseball. etc.


A Google Image search can provide an endless supply of useful images for such a drill.


Drilling with mime


Similar to drilling with images, but you mime the word you want them to put in the sentence.


Correct the teacher


Read out the sentences with errors in them, and get students to read the sentence back in its correct form.


Emotional drill


You can make drilling more dramatic by asking students to say a sentence in an emotional way.


Teacher: What time is it? – say it in an angry way.

Students: WHAT TIME IS IT!!!!?

Teacher: What time is it? – say it in a friendly way. etc.


Repeat only if it’s true


Prepare some personal statements, such as I have two brothers, I like jazz, or I’m hungry. Ask students to repeat ONLY if the sentence is true for them.


Translation drill


Read the sentences in the students’ first language, and have them say them in English.


The students’ sentences


Pass out slips of paper. Ask students to write sentences using the language point you are currently working on. After they turn them in to you, select a few sentences to drill together with the class.


Some additional reading about drills:


Minimal Resources: Drilling by Phillip Kerr – One Stop English



D is for Drills - An A to Z of ELT (Scott Thornbury’s blog)




Hall Houston teaches at Kainan University in Taoyuan County, Taiwan. His articles have been published in periodicals such as It's for Teachers, Modern English Teacher and English Teaching Professional. He has written 3 books: The Creative Classroom: Teaching Languages Outside the Box, Provoking Thought: Memory and Thinking in ELT, and The ELT Daily Journal: Learning to Teach ESL/EFL

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