Making Drilling Fun

When native speakers converse, their speech involves a mixture of voluntary speech acts, freely formed to convey their thoughts and ideas, as well as a number of automated responses. Consider this beginning of a conversation with a friend and ask yourself: How much of this constitutes freely-formed speech acts; How much is automated response?photo

John: Hey Bill! How’s you?
Bill: Not too bad, thanks. You?
John: Yeah, not too bad. Well, I’ve actually just found out I failed my exam.
Bill: What?! Oh man, that’s terrible. Sorry to hear that.
John: Yeah, well, never mind eh.

The vast majority of the conversation consists of automated responses which are typically expected in this information exchange; for example: How are you? – Not too bad, thanks. You? – Sorry to hear that – Never mind eh.

The above example demonstrates automation at a very high and fluent level. However, it is also very present at lower levels; for example: Do you like pizza? Yes I do – Would you like a coffee? Yes I would.

Given the chance, our learners could probably produce the correct automated responses to such questions above, albeit in a very slow and contrived manner. These responses, including their meaning, use and pronunciation, need to become automated in our learners linguistic repertoire. But how do we go about doing that?

The most obvious answer is drilling and a lot of teachers accent the need for drilling, especially with Young Learners. However, given that drilling is so often a monotonous bore, how can we spice it up?

If sugar helps the medicine go down, then with Young Learners games are definitely the sugar in the ELT classroom. To my experience, anything which is dressed as ‘fun’ and offers the opportunity to win ‘points’ will go down very well with Young Learners.

With my young learners, we play Alternative Charades using the vocabulary covered in class. They know the vocabulary very well and traditional charades would be over quite quickly before it even began. So, in order to add an extra layer of challenge while secretly developing their automated responses, I model how the learners should play Alternative Charades:

Once the person in the middle has shown and the other learners have got their hands up, a person is selected to say what they think it is; however, they can’t just say ‘apple!’, they must say ‘have you got an apple?’ If what the person is showing is not an apple, then they reply, ‘no, I haven’t’ and if it is in fact an apple, then they reply ‘Yes, I have.’

Due to the fact the learners are so focused on getting it right and gaining the point, they don’t view the construction ‘have you got…?’ as a boring drilling but something which they need to do to get one step closer to wining. In fact, even when they pronounce the formula incorrectly, saying for example /həvju:gɒt/, I find with a simple pull of the face they very quickly correct themselves and say /əvjəgɒt/.

The game works very well with almost any construction. After having covered ‘there is/are’ in class we played the game replacing ‘have you got?’ with ‘is there a …?’.

Although this may sound all fun and games, the key question is: does it pay off in the end? My answer is yes and my evidence is when the learners began having conversations in class, without the teacher prompting them, which looked like this:

Hubert: Have you got a pen for me?
Jas: No, I haven’t.
Hubert: Have you got a pen for me?
Igor: Yes, I have.

3 thoughts on “Making Drilling Fun

  1. I agree- using realia can be complicated but they could hold a flashcard or even pretend to hold an apple (or whatever the others have to guess). I think it could help make the interaction more meaningful and thus more memorable for them.
    Thanks for sharing this activity- I’ll be trying it out in the upcoming school year. 🙂


  2. I really like this activity. Thanks for sharing it. I wondered if the children hold a flashcard while they’re doing the activity making the target language more meaningful- ‘Have you got an apple?’ makes more sense if the other person is actually holding an apple.


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