Storified drilling

Drilling is often criticised for being an old fashioned, teacher controlled activity with minimal cognitive challenge for learners. But the central idea behind it – that of pushing learners to process and reproduce a stretch of spoken language after a model from a more advanced speaker – can, in my opinion, be a very useful component of good teaching.

I think that it’s less effective however when the utterances that are drilled are short (so that echoic rather than working memory is used) ; when they are decontextualised; when they are devoid of gesture and emotion; and when they are not related in any way to the learners who are doing the repeating.

Here’s a neat idea to address these issues, combining drilling and storytelling, that I learnt from a wonderful performance storyteller based in my home town, Michael Quinn.  When Michael tells a story – be it to children or adults, he invariably invites members of the audience to come up to the front and to take on the roles of the characters in the story. He tells the story but asks the volunteers to act it out and supplies each actor with their lines as they need them, in the same way that a prompt performs this task in the theatre. There’s something quite powerful about hearing each line twice – once by the storyteller and once by the actor.

So this clip shows my attempt at doing Michael’s activity when working online with a group in Rafah, Gaza, with the story of Nasreddin and the dinner party from Stories Alive. Like most things that I do in this project, I think it works much better when done in face to face settings, so I’d be really interested in hearing of any experiences you have when trying it out. I’d also like to know what you think about drilling in general and how you use it in your classes.

2 thoughts on “Storified drilling

  1. Using drilling in story telling is fruitful and also when teaching or learning new words and structures .It’s the first step to try practicing the new language so learners keep repeating the target language under the careful supervision and control of teachers . Teachers should be attentive to students’ performances for future correction and following up otherwise students may learn nothing when repeating the target language mistakenly .


    1. Hi Sirin, Thanks for your comment and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. Yes I agree with you about the importance of teachers paying attention to what learners are saying when they are drilling. I’ve seen lots of classes around the world where some students are trying their hardest to replicate the model by the teacher and others are not – some are barely even opening their mouths! In choral drilling it’s very hard to tell what’s going on for individuals so I think it’s important to also include individual drilling with the rest of the class listening. We want to encourage the learners to notice differences between the model and the repeated part and it’s very hard to do that when everyone is talking at once.


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