Drilling Language Learners

drilling language learners
Drilling language learners is a tough teaching strategy to get right. I always find it a little strange.

How do you approach drilling language learners? All the input sessions/insets I’ve ever been too have always ‘banged on about’ how great drilling is. However, I still find it difficult to drill my students as much as I’ve been told I should, without beginning to feel embarrassed after about the second or third minute. I feel like my students are getting bored, and often it just turns into a drone. I also don’t feel like I get genuine feedback from my adult students as to how effective they find it. Scott Thornbury discusses drilling language learners in a blog post a while ago.

So for this post I’ve gone back to my CELTA material to try to get some inspiration and reacquaint myself with the cornerstones of drilling.

Some things to think about:

  1. Make sure the students are listening
  2. Give a clear model, but say it naturally
  3. Conduct or cue the students
  4. Choral for confidence
  5. To individual
  6. Listen to the students
  7. Keep it snappy
  8. At random
  9. Use good student models
  10. Make it physical and visual
  11. Try backchaining
  12. Manageable chunks
  13. Be demanding – a high standard of pronunciation
  14. Get student to say it like they mean it!
  15. But don’t flog a dead horse!

I got this from my CELTA in Vietnam and it’s useful to remind yourself of these things.

There are also different types of drilling which you could experiment, different students are going to like different styles. There are quite a few different examples starting with simple substitution drills to more complex expansion drills. After reading through the examples I think I would probably use the substitution, expansion, variable substitution and combination drills.


Here’s an example of a an expansion drill

T: Jane’s buying a house. New

Ss: Jane’s buying a new house.

T: Brand

Ss: Jane’s buying a brand new house.

T: Large

SS: Jane’s buying a large, brand, new house


A Progressive substitution drill

T: If John argues, Ill be angry.

T: Mary

Ss: If Mary argues, I’ll be angry.

T: Smoke

Ss: If Mary smokes, I’ll be angry.

T: They

Ss: If Mary smokes, they’ll be angry.


I think these different types of drills would definitely liven up my drilling and keep the students interested and alert due to the changes the students have to think about. As with all things drilling language learners just takes practice and confidence.

Joey has been teaching overseas for more than six years and has experience teaching EAP in the UK, young learners in South Korea and teaching all ages and abilities in Thailand. She has a CELTA and an MA TESOL.