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Drill seems to be frowned upon in DAF lessons. For many, the word alone has many negative associations, either actually with the idea that we are drilling our learners like soldiers, or with our own experiences from foreign language lessons at school. The term is often seen in connection with “black pedagogy”, a term introduced by Alice Miller in her book “In the Beginning Was Education” (1). Accordingly, drill meant the rigid practice of skills and abilities without questioning them, often in combination with reprisals.

The fact that this can / must no longer be meant by many today with drill as a teaching method has yet to become firmly established in the minds of many teachers.

The problem, however, is also due to the fact that many course books still provide rigid and not exactly inspiring forms of drill exercises specifically for practicing grammar. This means that the models that teachers are shown are often still teacher-centered and forget to see the learner as the central point of the lesson.

In the literature there are essentially references to "pattern drill", the practice of grammatical structures. The structures are given by the teacher and repeated by the learners in the choir. This method was essentially introduced by the audio lingualists (1). In a closed context, in which only one structure is practiced, the results seem to be positive, however the transfer to free production does not seem so easy as it is decontextualized and isolated drilling. Furthermore, Brown (2) describes it as an exercise form in which either the whole class or only individual drills are drilled, which corresponds to a more teacher-centered approach and can therefore often be boring and ultimately counterproductive.

This method actually doesn't deserve it. In a varied form and with a learner-centered approach, the drill helps especially when working on pronunciation but also when practicing grammatical structures or fixed phrases in everyday German.

You should keep an eye on when to use the drill, what the goal of the drill is, which form is the most suitable and how long the exercise can be before it becomes boring and thus counterproductive.

The following are a few ideas for various drill exercises that are or can be learner-centered either in themselves or through slight modifications.

1. Mingle drill

Example: Each learner receives a short sentence on a piece of paper, eg "I live in Hamburg.", "I have a sister." Etc., or a tongue twister, or a fixed phrase, etc. The learners need to have as many learners as possible say their sentence.

Application and variations:

This form of drill is learner-centered in its structure and is particularly suitable for fixed phrases or short forms of dialogue. The teacher's task here is to support the learner and, if necessary, to help with the pronunciation, or to collect mistakes for later correction.

1. After the learners have said their sentence, they swap sentences.

2. You look for the second half of your sentence and you have to say the complete sentence with your partner without making any mistakes. This exercise is also very suitable for tongue twisters.

2. Silent drill

Here the word is not pronounced aloud, but the mouth, lip and tongue movements are performed. This helps focus on precisely the movements one needs to make to produce the word.

Application and variations:

This is an exercise that is also often used in speech therapy. The concentration on the mouth movements helps the learner especially with similar sounding sounds such as Ä-E or I-Ü.

After an open round, the learners can try in pairs to give each other words and repeat them tonelessly. Or a learner says the word tonelessly and the partner has to say it out loud.

Against the clock

Here the whole group tries to be a little faster in each lap than in the last.

Example: The teacher starts a short dialogue with the learner on his / her left

Hello! My name is ... and what's your name? - My name is … .

Then the learner turns to the person on their left and starts the same dialogue. This is repeated until the dialogue has reached the teacher again. After a first attempt, the time that the entire group needs to pass the dialogue on completely is stopped. The time is written on the board, and the group must try to beat that time a second time. Another attempt can be at the end of the lesson or at the beginning of the next lesson.

Application and variation:

The competitive nature of this activity is a good incentive, especially for younger learners. By trying to get faster together, this is a great way to get them to help and correct each other. If the group is too large, smaller sub-groups can be formed.

Marble Drill

This is a form of dill that can be heard in babies.

Instead of repeating the words, the rhythm and intonation are imitated. Example:

Teacher: How do I get to the weekly market?

Learners: Hm hmhm hm hm hmhmhm?

Application and variation:

This is a good exercise to practice stress in a sentence or in words with several syllables. To create a more learner-centered approach, learners can choose one from a group of sentences or words to "mumble" either to a partner or in a small group, and the other learners have to say which of the sentences or words was mumbled .

5. The vanishing sentence

This form of drill can be helpful for longer and complex sentences. Write an example sentence on the board showing the structure you want to practice. This sentence is read out together by all learners. Then you delete a word and the sentence still has to be read in its entirety. Little by little, more and more words are erased, but the complete sentence always has to be said.

Application and variation:

Here the sentence structure of complex sentence structures is practiced, at the same time it is shown how different the meaning of the individual words in the sentence is, as it makes a difference to wipe out filler words or meaningful words first. The same exercise can also be done in pairs or in small groups by having the sentences written on mini whiteboards instead of on the blackboard.

Backward drill

Especially suitable for beautiful, long, German words or short sentences.

Teacher: -le

Learners: -le

Teacher: -troll

Learners: -troll

Teacher: -control

Learn: control

Teacher: -activity control

Learner: -activity control

Teacher: - quality control

Learners: - quality control

Teacher: Quality Control

Learner: Quality Control

Teacher: the quality control

Learner: the quality control

Application and variations:

In addition to polysyllabic words, sentence structures can be practiced using the same structure. You should, however, be careful to practice these in a sensible way.


(1) Miller A. (1980) In the beginning was education, Suhrkamp Verlag,


(3) Brown H.D. (2007) Teaching by principles, 3rd edition, Pearson Longman

Anette has been working as a teacher for English and German for ILC IH Brno since 2003. She sees teaching children and young people as a personal focus. She is one of the trainers for the IHCYLT course and also the IHWO coordinator for German.