The Internet TESL Journal

Drilling Can Be Fun

Simon Mumford
simumford [at]
The Aegean University (Izmir, Turkey)
This article looks at how drilling can be made more interesting for students, and covers vocabulary, requests, grammar, and spelling. It encourages teachers to think about ways to make drilling more meaningful.


Maybe you don't enjoy drilling much, but you use it to help students' pronunciation and because students expect it and because it makes them feel like they are talking in English even though they are just repeating. But wait a minute. Drilling doesn't have to be like this. With a little thought repetition can be meaningful and fun. Here's how.


First of all not all words need to be said in the same way. Take the days of the week. Instead of drilling in a monotone, start on Monday flat and bored and work up to an really excited intonation by Saturday. Similarly, for food items, get students to show their attitude to different food or drink as they repeat them by their intonation, so they actually have to think what the item is and whether they like it before saying the word.

Another way of using intonation in drills is to express surprise. Take a picture of a person and make up some sentences about him or her, some of which should be believable, and some not. Now read them and ask the class to repeat them. If they do not believe them they should use a surprised or disbelieving intonation (It might be a good idea to practise this beforehand.)

Different Ways of Saying Words

Are you drilling times? Try speaking sleepily for the times when people are usually asleep or tired, eg late at night or early in the morning, giving a little yawn. Adjectives can often be said in the way that illustrates their meaning, for example slow/quick, happy/sad, old/young loud/quiet etc. Certain words lend themselves to being said in certain ways, for example, crimes. These can be shouted out as if they were really happening: Murder! Robbery! Fire!


Spelling also has possibilities. You can spell words by shouting out the letters to spell a word as in a football chant. Teacher: 'Give me a T!' Students :'T'! Teacher:' Give me an A'! Students 'A'! continue with 'B' 'L' 'E'. Then the teacher asks the class 'What have you got?' the class shout 'Table'! Here the class get to practise saying the letters, but they also have to think what the word spells and shout it out at the end.


Sometimes teachers feel the need to get students to repeat words until they can say them accurately. Unfortunately simple repetition can bore students. Here are two ways to make drilling vocaulary items more interesting. For the first one you write the words you want students to learn in large letters on pieces of paper. Draw a picture on the paper, too, to show the meaning. Put all the pieces of paper in a line on the desk. Hold one up, say the word and get the class to repeat. Do this with all the words. Then point to a piece of paper and ask a student to tell you which word it is. Do this with all the words. Then screw all the pieces of paper into balls. Take three and ask the students to tell you which is which. Tell students to watch carefully as you swap them around. Again, ask which is which. Finally, have the students throw the pieces of paper to each other, saying the word as they do so.

For the second one you need pictures of the words you are going to drill. Write the words in a list on the board and practise them. Meaning is not important at this stage. Now get the group to sit in a circle if possible and give the first student a picture of the first word on the list, say the word as you do so. He/she should pass the picture to the next person, saying the word at the same time. Carry on around the group with students passing the pictures and saying the words. Don't forget to put the pictures in the same order as the words. Keep passing the pictures around getting faster and faster until the students are confident with words and meanings.

Polite Requests

You can have fun with polite request drills. For example 'Can you speak more loudly, please', can start very quietly and continue until everyone is shouting, whereas 'Can you speak more quietly please' goes the other way. Similarly with 'Could you speak faster/more slowly please?'. 'Could you repeat that/say that again please?' can go on indefinitely! Say 'Could you listen to me please?' and get them to repeat, then stare at them as if they are going to say something important! When they can say the sentences well you can switch between requests, slowing down, speeding up, getting louder, quieter.Let the students do this in pairs, too.


Drills can even be done to illustrate a grammar point. Take countable and uncountable nouns. Put the students in groups of four. Call out a noun and nominate a group. If it is uncountable the group repeats the word at the same time, if countable they say the word individually to show that countable nouns can be divided but uncountable ones cannot.

Drills can also be used to practise tenses, especially irregular past tense. Accuse some one in the class of stealing your wallet. 'You stole my wallet.' Elicit ' I didn't steal it, Student B stole it' Student B continues, 'I didn't steal it, Student C stole it! Continue with: 'you ate my sandwiches, you broke the window, you took my bag, you wrote on the board.' Let the students make up their own examples.

Finally here's a drill I used with my class to give them a boost before an exam. I say a sentence and they repeat, changing the pronoun and making the sentence negative. Example: Teacher ' You're lazy!' Students 'We're not lazy.' Teacher 'You're going to fail!' Students'We're not going to fail.' Continue:'You're stupid 'You missed lesons' ' You slept in class' You were late for lessons' 'You talk in class' 'You look out of the window.' You forget your homework.' Encourage the students to repeat in a emphatic way, stressing the negative, so they feel good about themselves.

The more you think about drills the more fun you can have with them.

Happy Drilling!

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VIII, No. 7, July 2002