Drilling: ways to implement in lessons and problems of use

On the Problem of Drilling

On the Problem of Drilling


  • Pronunciation
  • Teaching qualifications
  • Activities
  • Methodology

Drilling as a method doesn’t need to be introduced. We are used to relying on it every time we have to teach, check, or correct the pronunciation of the target language. Indeed, drilling is perfect if you need to work with any kind of information grammar that requires improvement. Moreover, it boosts students’ confidence in the usage of vocabulary as they are sure how to do that correctly. 

The good news is also the fact that there are so many drilling techniques that it seems to be a universal problem solver. Plus, you can always implement it in a fun way which makes your lesson even more engaging. Before going further, let’s recall the kinds of drilling which are used in the lessons.

Such a variety!

The Repetition Drill

Repetition drilling is based on repeating some words, phrases, or structures after the teacher which is great for working with lower levels.

The Substitution Drill

You may use substitution drills to learn different vocabulary words or structural elements. While using this kind of drilling, one word or more word can be changed

The Q&A Drill

This drilling technique allows students to practice answering questions

The teacher asks the questions using the target language and the students are supposed to quickly answer the question using the phrase.

You can also ask your students to design the questions themselves as well.

The Transformation Drill

To do transformative drilling, you give your students a sentence and they need to transform it. The transformation may vary according to the topic: 

students can get the task of rebuilding an affirmative sentence: 

  • into a question or a negative sentence, 
  • direct speech into indirect speech, 
  • active voice into passive voice, and so on.

The Chain Drill

Chain drilling is a good way of performing controlled communication or simply checking students’ speaking skills. The idea is the following: the teacher asks the student to answer a question. The student answers and asks the next student his question. After that, the chain goes on.

The Expansion Drill

This kind of drilling may be especially useful if students struggle with building long-lined dialogues

  1. First of all, the teacher gives a sentence that is repeated by students
  2. Then the teacher expands the idea by adding one more sentence to the previous one, and this is something that students also have to repeat. 
  3. Finally, the teacher can add even more sentences to make it more and more challenging for students to recreate the short text given.

The Communicative Drill

Communicative drilling generally differs from other kinds mentioned above. This type requires not only parroting but also interacting with the context and meaning. The perfect example of communicative drilling would be the following dialogue:

– Are there any plants in the class?

– Yes, there are.

– Do you have any plants at home?

– Yes, I do.

– Are you a fan of growing something with your hands?

– No, I am not.

The dialogue can go on and can be used for various topics and levels.

On the problems of drilling

 However, are there any signs that we are overusing drilling? Are there any cases when drilling is not helpful? Let’s see.

The problem of levels

Undoubtedly, drilling is a must when it comes to elementary level and teaching words like “eraser” or “cup”. However, some kinds of drilling (like repetition drills, for example) get less and less effective as the level of your students becomes higher. The thing is that on bigger levels we often deal with abstract concepts and in this case drilling is not very effective. Nevertheless, we strongly advise you not to ignore this method while presenting some basic knowledge. 

As for the more advanced students, you can try using chain drills or communicative drills that require more information processing but still are effective for remembering. 

The problem of understanding 

Furthermore, sometimes drilling may become a synonym for memorizing, and as we know true understanding of different language patterns and structures proves to be much more effective than memorizing. So, make sure that your students understand the key concepts that you are talking about and not just repeat them after you. 

The problem of preparation

Also, an important thing for the successful usage of the drilling method is introducing the drilling task only at the point where you know for sure that your students are familiar with the topic enough to reproduce it. Drilling will turn out to be confusing and not effective unless you accurately go through the presentation stages. 

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The problem of focusing

Another common problem is repetitiveness which results in a lack of focus and boredom if drilling is used too often. That is why make sure not to overuse this method and not make it too predictable for your students. 

The problem of variety

The previous problem is linked to this one. Drilling may be the hardest step to manage when it comes to the successful presentation of the new material as you have to use different kinds of drilling constantly not to tire your students with monotonous activities. And that means that variety requires specific knowledge of different approaches that exist and will improve your teaching skills.

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The problem of skipping

One thing is for sure: don’t constantly use only chorus drilling. Yes, it is one of the easiest ways to drill new vocabulary, for example. But at the same time, it is better to mix chorus drilling with other drilling approaches to really control the quality of your student’s work. 

This is especially important during group lessons online as some students do their work not hard enough and you can’t see it as clearly as it is possible in the class.

The problem of individual work

Finally, one of the main disadvantages is the fact that too many drilling activities make some students believe that there is no point in practicing their pronunciation outside the classroom. 

It eventually becomes a teacher’s responsibility which is for sure a sign that you need to make the lessons more student-centered and emphasize the importance of being as independent as possible in your practice, and not only relying on your teacher.

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How should I use drilling then?

To sum up, as we can see, there are a lot of things we need to take into account if we want our drilling task to work for us. Does it mean that we should avoid these challenges, though? Definitely, no. 

Just keep an eye on your students and their focus, be attentive and flexible, and be ready to change approaches if they don’t work the way you have expected. In this way, drilling will remain your best friend.

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS



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