Oregon Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages


Doing Drills That Engage by Linda Rasmussen

17 Jan 2022 8:58 PM | ORTESOL Communications (Administrator)

Doing Drills That Engage

by Linda Rasmussen

Entering the classroom, students are at their marks: seated side-by-side at the edge of a table, where individual alphabet charts lay in front of them. Some of these adults are even smiling and glance up at their instructor, showing eagerness to practice the drills that start with “Ready, set . . . . “ and a letter is named that they touch or point to on their charts. Classroom aids walk around, checking the students’ accuracy, and the practice builds to spelling words aloud in unison, with all actively participating – in drills!

That’s the beginning of Patrick McDade’s classes in People-Places-Things (find at https://www.pptpdx.com/). Instructors use a drill that doesn’t kill (and you can quote me on that). That’s a dream come true for some teachers, especially of language. Students need repetitive practice but how can we engage them enough to do it?

For a more immediately accessible example of engaging drills, Multnomah County Library offers the following through Kanopy:

“The Cartoon Classroom: Korea, Part of the Series: Teachers of the World.” National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (1993). Kanopy through Multnomah County Library. https://multcolib.kanopy.com/video/teachers-world-cartoon-classroom-korea. Accessed 12/11/2021.

Teacher Choi Young-Jae mesmerizes viewers with apparently complete participation by his middle schoolers. The fast-paced cartooning and drilling is just the kind of thing kids see on TV or in gaming. It’s also what we might compete with when getting students’ involved in learning.

Such teachers developed these techniques with preparation and practice. In the same way, we can all apply some similar method. For example, when examining a textbook page or worksheet, instead of just planning to display and define new vocabulary, we could list ways to exercise with the material. Consider the vocabulary “paper,” “book”, “pen,” “notebook,” and “worksheet.” After defining each word as usual, we can direct students to point, touch, pick up, or otherwise display the items as each one is named. The teacher does the same, and all can confirm the answers, as they check each other, too. Then we ask volunteers to call out for the group. Building momentum, we ask what each word begins with, ends with, count the syllables, spell the words in unison/choral reading, and chant the words.

By the end of this pep rally, students can independently practice and reach a level of mastery over new words, rather than anxiety at actually facing them in further activities, such as completing the worksheet. People who like to lead will have the opportunity, and those fearful of speaking (alone) have lots of opportunity to collaborate with other voices. “What else can we do with these words and letters?” or “What more do you see or know about these words and letters?” might conclude the activity, invite creativity, and provide further techniques.

With preparation, one can lead this method, and with practice, one could learn to do some spontaneously and throughout lessons, so preparation is reduced and flexibility increased. That achieves two more goals teachers tend to have. We use what we have and play with or extend it. What is you envision? Can you tell us what happens when you try it?


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