Activities for Practice: Drills

(excerpted and adapted from Tutoring ESL: A Handbook for Volunteers)

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Purpose: To practice and reinforce vocabulary or grammatical structures.

Materials: A written list of the drills you intend to use (you read this, not the student).


Model a word, phrase, sentence or question. Have the student repeat it. Then use a cue to indicate what you want the student to say next. There are several types of drills that you may find useful.

The simplest drill is a Repetition Drill.

You say what you want the student to practice, the student repeats it after you.

Tutor: I’d like chicken.

Student: I’d like chicken.

To practice a new structure, while expanding vocabulary, use the Substitution Drill.

Model the first statement, have the student repeat it. Then cue the word to be substituted by saying the word or showing an object. The student repeats the statement (or question), plugging in the new word. When teaching how to do this drill, you can take both parts at first, gently touching yourself or the student, whoever should be saying what, or use two puppets that you help the student to touch and (if the student has enough usable vision) look at.

Tutor: I need a blouse.

Student: I need a blouse.

Tutor: skirt

Student: I need a skirt.

Tutor: dress

Student: I need a dress.

To practice using different verb tenses and conjugations use the Transformation Drill. Model a sentence, have the student repeat. Then cue the change you want made (indicate a different time or person). The student repeats the sentence, changing the verb as needed.

Tutor: I am eating.

Student: I am eating.

Tutor: he

Student: He is eating.

Tutor: they

Student: They are eating.

Tutor: yesterday

Student: Yesterday they ate.

Tutor: later

Student: Later they will eat.

To practice asking and answering questions and to practice vocabulary and structures with more than one student, use the Chain Drill.

Begin the chain by asking one student a question. The student answers, then asks the next student the question.

Tutor: What’s your last name?

Student 1: My last name’s Vo. What’s your last name?

Student 2: My last name’s Vang. What’s your last name?

Chain drills can also be done with statements. Each student repeats what the previous person has said, and adds her own statement.

Tutor: My name is Judy, and I like oranges.

Student 1: Her name is Judy, and she likes oranges. My name is Polly, and I like apples.

Student 2: Her name is Polly, and she likes apples. My name is Hoa, and I like rice.


Be sure to use natural speed and intonation. The pace should be quick and evenly paced.

Drills can be effective for practice, but can be boring or tiring if over-used. Five minutes of drills is generally quite adequate.

Give your cues orally, or have objects to touch as cues.

To keep the pace quick and lively in chain drills, the students can pass a ball or beanbag back and forth—first asking the question, then passing the ball to the student they want to answer.

From Tutoring ESL: A Handbook for Volunteers. Reproduced with permission from the publisher, Tacoma Community House Training Project, Tacoma, WA 98405.

Excerpted and adapted, with permission, by

Kaizen Program
for New English Learners with Visual Limitations
email: kaizen ( at )