Published 12th January 2017

Be a fly on the wall of any English as a Foreign Language classroom and at some point during the lesson you are bound to hear some form of drilling: the repetition of phrases or set structures to inspire memorisation, habit formation and learning. If you think about it, though, repeating language can be monotonous and dull, especially if done ad nauseam.

So how can we make drilling more fun?

Well, we can try to put some life back into drills by doing something we always like to do in the EFL classroom: upping the challenge. Simply repeating what the teacher says does not require much brainpower but we can change it slightly and make it more difficult for the learner which will ultimately make the exercise more memorable and so more effective.

One way this can be done is to take the teacher out of the equation. Instead of the teacher giving the phrase or structure to be repeated, use images to prompt responses from the students. You will have spent some time on the target language beforehand so the students will know the structures, but they need to figure out how the target phrase relates to the image. If there is a positive and a negative option, use a plus and a minus to indicate which you would like the student to use.

For example, if you are focussing on

Would you mind if I …? and Would you mind…? 

you can have an image of an open window, which would prompt the students to respond

Would you mind if I opened/closed the window? Or Would you mind opening/closing the window?

Both of these options are correct but it will take a bit more cognitive processing for the students to get there. In other words, they are not simply repeating the phrases, they are thinking about them too.

Which student responds can be determined in a few ways which can add to the fun of the drill. It can be a team game, where a student from each team must raise their hands if they believe they can answer it correctly. The fastest student can try and if correct, their team is awarded a point and if not, the other team can try.

Or the teacher can nominate a student by calling out their name. Though this doesn’t sound like much fun, if you call out names randomly and start slowly but progress faster and faster the students are kept on the edge of the seat waiting for their turn to answer and not wanting to be the weakest link. It will also be funny when students make mistakes – as they will when the drilling is really fast – rather than embarrassing. Because this is more of a game, your students won’t feel shy to make mistakes.

So there you have it. A few simple ways to turn a classroom staple into a much more enjoyable and effective activity.