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    • #8160


      What do you think is the best way of practicing grammar? Do you think drilling is good practice? Why/Why not?

    • #8252

      Rhett Burton

      I like to use a variety of different strategies when practicing grammar. I like taking a macro and a micro approach to determining which patterns I want or don’t want to include in the language I use.
      Active VS Passive strategies
      I like to seed (pre-teach) language and vocabulary that students will need to master even if it isn’t the main focus of the lesson. I do lots of this passively. I use language, and then I listen for weeks, months, even years for that language to emerge. I do this mostly with conditionals.

      2. Gouin’s series method and TPR
      I love to break all my activities into micro-size teachable moments. I learned to appreciate this by understanding the importance of modeling. This is one reason why young learners are great learners. They love the entire process or sequence that enable them to interact. I model the ‘doing’ through Total Physical Approach. Teaching in series and TPR are create for incorporating a full range of meaningful use of language.

      3. Suggestopedia
      I often give my students time to listen to a song while they are completing tasks that require less communicative needs. Example: Drawing- I have students draw a picture while listening to a song. I don’t always expect them to learn the song, but I know that most do if they have been exposed to for ‘enough’ time.

      4. Audiolingual Drills
      Drills are great for learning games. There are games, like UNO, that drill the language requirements in such a compelling way that children always enjoy the experience. I think drilling can be useful, and it can be done wrong too.

      5. Interleaving Activities
      We learn what we are made to do. When we repeat grammar/patterns throughout our lessons and courses at different intervals, it will lead to higher retention.

      6. Compelling Content and Activities

      Students learn what they like. If they are engaged/invested in the activity, they will want to learn it. Autonomy and self-guided learning are higher when they are compelled to engage.

      Sorry if I went a bit overboard here….

      • #8253

        Barbara Bujtás

        Oh, thanks, loads of ideas!

      • #8276

        Love the wealth of ideas and approaches you include, Rhett – not overboard at all!

        As one of my best friends’ father once sagely said to us as teens, “Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge whilst others simply gargle and spit!”

        With kids, especially, I also find ‘micro-teaching’ essential with lessons made up of typically 5- to 10-minute (often-linked) activities, with 30-second to 1-minute transitions.

        Totally agree with a good use of games for meaningful drilling that doesn’t seem like drilling – probably my top choice with kids, but also with many beginning level adults, along with tactile tasks, e.g. sorting, sequencing, and playing games with word/flashcards – dual sets are incredibly useful! 😉

        Lastly, I’ll just add that songs and chanting can also be effective for grammar and drills, and jazz chants can often be enjoyed even by reluctant teens who may not want to sing 😉

      • #10311

        Rhett Burton

        Linked activities are very effective for practicing grammar.
        It is an excellent strategy for doing more with less. I like finding songs that students enjoy. I often stress the grammar that I want my students to pay closer attention to. Next, I do some speaking activities to link the listening aspect of music to using the patterns during aural production. I love games, activities, and tasks that use repetition as a natural mechanic (not drill to kill). Next, I continue practicing the same patterns through writing. I grade the complexity of the exercises according to what the students can achieve. Exercises, activities, and tasks then are interleaved at different times in the course to prime students of the knowledge they have learned to promote long-term retention.

    • #8254

      Barbara Bujtás

      The best way is when some meaning is present, especially with young learners.
      With very young learners songs and rhymes may serve as grammar practice, even if the meaning is not clear for them.
      Teens and adults are better at abstraction, so I imagine that they can better tolerate more mechanical drills.
      All in all, I’m a little skeptical about drilling, mainly because it is quite difficult to design really controlled but also communicative, meaningful, interactive drills that are also interesting.

      • #8255

        Rhett Burton

        Design is really tough.
        Sometimes I think that language teachers could become game designers becasue we have exeprience understanding the dynamics required for communicative needs. I do wonder if I could plan, design and market a game successfully for young learners.
        I wonder if there is a framework we could follow help design such drilled actviities.

      • #8277

        One of my good friends and former colleague created Question Quest:


      • #10377

        scott gray

        It is out of print but if you know anyone selling let me know. I am still looking for a copy but can only find pictures or reviews of the game.

    • #10082

      Masatoshi Shoji

      What do you think is the best way of practicing grammar? Do you think drilling is good practice? Why/Why not?
      Substitution drill is effective in most cases.
      Drill in a certain context should be more helpful.
      used to
      What did you do every morning before going to class five years ago?
      Use “used to” describe what you did every morning.

      I used to eat breakfast.
      I used to take a shower.

      • #10098

        Good use of an example to illustrate a substitution drill set up in context. What concept check question(s) would be helpful to add?

        What aspect of language do substitution drills help students with? What are the limitations of substitution drills?
        Lastly, what kinds of students tend to find drills more appealing? Why might students not like drills?

    • #10147

      Masatoshi Shoji

      I can’t answer as these are difficult questions.

      • #10159

        Lesson 2.1.1 highlights the main advantages and disadvantages of drilling and you will find some answers to mostly in Activities 1-6. For further discussion by leading experts in ELT, check the comment below Scott Thornbury’s article D is for Drills

        Remember that when teaching vocabulary or grammar, we should consider FORM, MEANING, and USE.

        Setting up your drills in CONTEXT helps students to understand MEANING and USE. However, we often need CONCEPT CHECKING QUESTIONS to help avoid misunderstandings and misuse.

        With the example above, how do we help students to understand the similarities and important differences between the following sentences?

        a) Five years ago, every morning before going to class, I used to eat breakfast.


        b) Five years ago, every morning before going to class, I ate breakfast.

        What’s are some good concept check questions?

    • #10160

      Masatoshi Shoji

      Did you have any habit of eating habit?
      Did you sometimes eat breakfast?

      to elicit used to

      • #10161

        Good start, Masatoshi, to look at habits we had in the past. When we look at explaning how we use ‘used to ~’ we see there are two key points:

        (1) We use it to describe habits (or things that were true) in the past that (2) we don’t do anymore (or are no longer true).

        Based on this, we need 2 simple concept check questions (CCQs):
        I used to smoke but quit when my son was born.
        1. Did I (usually) smoke before I became a father?
        2. Do I smoke now?

        I also add one more (although it’s not a typical Y/N CCQ):
        3. My son is 8 now. When did I stop smoking?

        We will touch on this in our next Tutorial, and return CCQs again in Tutorial 6, which we first looked at when teaching and presenting vocabulary (Module 1, Unit 1) and then grammar (Module 1, Unit 2).

    • #10264

      Jessica Sohn

      I agree with one of the early statements above, that when some meaning is present it’s most effective with young learners.
      I feel there is a limited capacity YLs can absorb in one lesson. So I normally like using drilling practices in the intro. And then continue with controlled substitution practices – I usually say its a game so they can both enjoy and learn(repetitive practice). But I can see how it may feel mechanical. But at least through the practice, they get the idea of the concept.

      • #10310

        Rhett Burton

        Some studies show that the brain can’t hold too much information in short-term memory. It is only temporary knowledge. So you are correct when students can only absorb so much in one lesson. Then how do we remember so much? Long-term memory (another part of the brain). The brain can retrieve information that it has learned and retrieved many times (practiced with spaced-repetition). The brain flags it as important to know. The challenge I face is reviewing materials (recycling/ spaced-repetition) when it not in the book.

      • #10322

        So, Jessica, it seems like you begin with more teacher-controlled activities which makes good sense, particularly with young learners and beginners as it provides more support initially.

        Telling students it’s a game can work, but only temporarily in a limited way. The activity needs to have game mechanics for students to experience it as a game – for example using “Funny money”, which has always been so memorable from the first TDV you shared with us.

        If you’re interested in learning more about gamification, which you can see throughout Rhett’s courses, you might like to check out this introductory article:

        Gamification in the Language Classroom

    • #10378

      scott gray

        I think that it really depends on the student and the teacher. Drilling I think is an effective way to teach grammar if done properly. By properly I mean, that when students are interested and get a feeling of accomplishment then drilling can be really effective. You just have to watch out that it doesn’t demotivate them and that is really the teacher’s job of juggling how it is done so they either accomplishment and have a feeling of having learned something or fun and they have gotten exposure to the language where they can eventually learn it.
      I also sometimes like to use drilling in fluency practice. Give them a set number they already should know and they have to produce within a pushed time, or just time them so they set their own target to beat the next time.

      • #10389

        Good points, Scott, and nice addition regarding positive use of time pressure to perform faster and develop fluency.

    • #10388

      At this point, I think it’s very helpful to look at Prof Jack Richards’ summary of 3 different kinds of practice in teaching – mechanical, meaningful, and communicative:

      Mechanical practice refers to a controlled practice activity which students can successfully carry out without necessarily understanding the language they are using. Examples of this kind of activity would be repetition drills and substitution drills designed to practice use of particular grammatical or other items. Activities of this kind are of limited value in developing communicative language use.

      Meaningful practice refers to an activity where language control is still provided but where students are required to make meaningful choices when carrying out practice. For example, in order to practice the use of prepositions to describe locations of places, students might be given a street map with various buildings identified in different locations. They are also given a list of prepositions such as across from, on the corner of, near, on, next to. They then have to answer questions such as “Where is the book shop? Where is the café?” Etc. The practice is now meaningful because they have to respond according to the location of places on the map.

      Communicative practice refers to activities where practice in using language within a real communicative context is the focus, where real information is exchanged, and where the language used is not totally predictable. For example students might have to draw a map of their neighborhood and answer questions about the location of different places in their neighborhood, such as the nearest bus stop, the nearest café, etc.

      Exercise sequences in many communicative course book take students from mechanical, to meaningful to communicative practice but give priority to meaningful and communicative practice.”

      Drills in Language Teaching

    • #12058

      Naoko Amano

      1. What is the best way of practicing grammar?

      When I read this question, I thought about both speaking practice and reading practice (reading, solving problems ). In my country, it is very important for students to practice solving questions to pass entrance examinations. So, more students study grammar to get good scores on paper tests rather than practicing speaking.

      For both types of students, making the grammar pattern real is the best way to learn grammar.

      The grammar pattern is just an example. To introduce a variety of vocabulary they can make the sentence to say what they want to talk about.

      Here is my favorite activity:

      Target grammar : as ~ as “Naoko is as tall as Misako.”

      Introduce animals and adjectives

      • elephant, dog, cat, seal, giraffe

      • tall, fat, heavy, big, small

      1. Prepare 3 paper bags or boxes
      2. Write each vocabulary on a piece of paper
      3. Put them into a bag or box

      Students will pick the paper from each box and make sentences. Sometimes it is very funny sentence.

      Then, they will make sentences from their own life or experience.

      For the students who study English for examination, to teach grammar with their mother language. They memorise grammar patterns and grammar words like “present tense” like formulas of math! To explain about “formula” their mother language will help to solve the questions. I don’t think this will help students to use English, so I let students read aloud all of the questions with correct answers before they fill the blanks. Then, I always ask them to write about them selves with using the grammar pattern they learned.

      2. Do you think drilling is good practice?

      I like Drilling because it gives students chances to participate in the activity or practice equally.
      There are sometimes students who are timid. Drilling is very simple practice and help those students have confidence to speak.
      For little students, we can make the drilling simple game. For example, making funny sentences , chants game. However, drilling is sometimes too simple to practice grammar pattern especially for older students. So it is better to finish before they get bored.

      • #12788

        Thank you for sharing all of that, Naoko. I love the 3 bags/boxes idea and how it can be used for building many different types of sentences. I’m going to try in my own classes, too, rather than just give three word prompts!

        When I was learning foreign languages, I also tried to equate learning grammar patterns with learning formulas, and this worked most of the time. I could use them to figure out the correct answers to pass written tests, but as you wrote, it didn’t help me to develop automaticity or the fluency to use them in conversation. So, like you, I keep this in mind when teaching my students so they can personalise language and use it when speaking as well as writing.

        When you talk about drills being too simple for older students, what kind of drills do you think of?

    • #15551

      Rhett Burton


      Gouin Series of Actions

      I have found that Gouin’s approach works wonderfully for me and how I like to teach. I want to break all my exercises, activities, and tasks into micro-steps to present enough language for the students to repeat and take action on. I can orally drill the language through repetition or a song as well as perform the task at the same time. This dual (aural and physical) communication provides more opportunities to check for comprehension layers. The processes are easy to remember when I set and follow routines that make for better habits.

      If the students find the task meaningful, they are willing to listen and mimic most of the processes I use. I know most of my students don’t have ‘fixed’ procedures for completing a task – following the teacher is always easier than inventing their process after (10 000 hours of deliberate practice).

    • #17106

      David Booton

      What do you think is the best way of practicing grammar?

      I don’t think there is a “best” way.  There is only the way that is effective for your students. You will probably have to use a variety of things to allow all your students to learn the grammar point.


      Do you think drilling is good practice? Why/Why not?

      I think drilling is a good place to start.  It is good for giving students the idea of a pattern and practicing it, but the students don’t really “learn” it until you can personalize it in some way.

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