Controlled Practice Activities

Controlled practice activities refer to activities that are restricted in nature where the focus is on developing accuracy rather than fluency. They usually include: 

  • Repetition
  • Scaffolding 
  • Specific Target Language Focus

The specific target language focus can be from any of the three main system types i.e. vocabulary, grammar, and functions (also, spelling and pronunciation). 

What controlled practices are NOT: 

  • Receptive (reading or listening) comprehension questions
  • Guided Discovery Activities
  • Noticing Activities 
  • Freer Productive Activities

Note: Although controlled practice activities might appear similar in form to some receptive comprehension questions, guided discovery, and noticing activities – i.e. multiple choice or matching activities – they have a different focus and goal. 

In regards to freer practice, freer practice activities are focused on fluency rather than accuracy and are less-restricted than controlled practice ones. The relationship is as follows:

Table: Controlled and Freer Practice 

Controlled Practice:

More Restricted


Freer Practice:

Less Restricted

< ———————————————————————— >




Within controlled practice, there is a range of restrictiveness. 

Table: Controlled Practice 

Controlled Practice Activities

< ———————————————————————— >

Completely Restricted  

Somewhat Restricted


Usually, practice tends to go from more restricted to less restricted if there are more than one controlled practice in a lesson – i.e. if you are using the Test-Teach-Test method (you can see the page ‘lesson frameworks‘ for more details) leading into a freer practice towards the end. 

Controlled Practice Examples: 

The following examples are roughly organized from being more restricted to less restricted:


Drilling refers to an oral repetition of specific TL. Drilling can be mechanical – without much context – or meaningful – within a specific context. Ideally, the drilling should be meaningful; however, many popular language teaching programs such as Duolingo and Rosetto Stone rely heavily on mechanical drilling. 

Activity Examples:

  • Model & Drill: Teacher or video/audio clip models TL example, and the students repeat. 
  • Picture Passing: Students pass pictures or visual stimulus around and need to form some kind of TL example from it i.e. students pass a pictures of different people with different physical appearances and need to say: “This person has brown hair” [then they get handed a new picture] “This person has blue-eyes” then continue passing down pictures and saying “This person has ____” (the blank being whatever physical features the picture has). 


Students get handed a sheet of different vocabulary items, sounds, or grammar points and the students try and get bingo (a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line) on their worksheet based on what the teacher calls out. 

For example:

  • Vocabulary: Teacher reads out the word, definition, or a clue (i.e. “This animal goes ‘mooooo’) for each of the vocabulary words on the sheet (i.e. Cow). 
  • Pronunciation: Teacher reads out different words and students have to mark off which word they hear on their sheets – note that the words should be chosen strategically i.e. minimal pairs (words that only have one sound difference e.g. ship and sheep) with specific sounds that the students have trouble pronouncing. 
  • Grammar: Teacher reads out a sentence and students have to mark which grammar point corresponds with the sentence i.e. I have been to Spain = Present Perfect. 


For example, clue number six/down: An animal that goes “Moooo”; A: Cow. They are another way to provide controlled practice and can be used for grammar (i.e. Clue: I have been to Spain; A: Present Perfect), and functions (i.e. Clue: A phrase used to order food; A: Can I get…). 

Activity Examples: 

  • Individually: Students individually work on crossword and then check with a partner their answers before doing whole class feedback. 
  • Group/Pairs: Students work in pairs/groups doing crossword puzzles together. 
  • Information Gap: One student has half of the crossword puzzle answers and the other student has the other half. One student has to give clues for the answers (without being too direct of course: think ICQ!) and the other has to guess the answer from the clues. Then switch roles. 

Here’s a link to a crossword puzzle generator here


Refers to any activity where students match one item with another. 

Activity Examples: 

  • Definitions: Matching definitions with corresponding word, phrase, or even grammatical meaning. 
  • Synonyms/Antonyms: Matching a word/phrase to a synonym (i.e. terrible/bad) or antonym (terrible/great). 
  • Formality: Match word/phrase to its informal or formal equivalent i.e. I would like…/I want…
  • Politeness: Match word/phrase to its more polite or less polite equivalent i.e. Would you give me../Give me…  
  • Visuals: Matching visuals with a language item i.e. a word/phrase/grammatical structure to a picture or series of pictures.
  • Card Games: Students play memory matching game by turning over cards that are face down trying to find corresponding matches i.e. a word and a picture. 

Fly Swatters/Touch the Board

Students are equipped with a fly swatter – or just simply use their hands – and the first student that swats or touches the correct answer on the white board wins. 

Activity Examples:

  • In Groups: Students are seated in groups and play the game amongst themselves as one student calls out the clue and the other students (perhaps two at a time) compete in swatting/slapping the correct answer first i.e. one student calls out: “An animal that goes”moo”, and the first one to swat a cow amongst the pictures of various animals wins. 
  • Whole Class: Students form two lines leading up to the white board. The two students in front face away from the whiteboard as the teacher reads out the clue. When the teacher says “Turn around!” or “Go!” the students compete in swatting/touching the correct answer that is posted on the WB first (out of a number of options). 

Winner Stays Standing

Two students stand up from their classroom seats, the teacher reads out/shows a clue, the first student to answer correctly ‘stays standing’ while the other one sits down, then another student stands up to take the place of the previous round’s loser and then play again. Whoever answers accurately the quickest gets to keep standing. 

  • Images: Teacher flashes images one-at-a-time that represent the target language vocabulary for the lesson i.e. a picture of a cow. 
  • Read a Clue: Teacher reads a clue i.e. This animal goes, “Mooooo.” 


Fill-in-the-blank refers to an activity where there is a block of text – either in sentence or paragraph form – with blanks in them. The students have to write or choose the correct answer to fill in the blank. 

Activity Examples: 

  • Two Options: Next to the gap there are two possible answers to choose from i.e. I ____ (went/have been) to the store yesterday. Students circle the correct option. 
  • Word Bank: Students have a word bank (either with the same number of words/phrases as there are blanks – or for more challenge more words than there are blanks), and they need to choose the correct word/phrase to fill in the blank. 
  • No Options: Students are presented a text (either in sentence-by-sentence or paragraph form) with blanks and the students have to produce the correct answer. 

Sentence re-ordering

Words are presented out-of-order and the students have to re-order them appropriately.

For example: 

– to/yesterdayI/store/went

Answer: I went to the store yesterday

Sentence Completion

Students get presented with a certain amount of information leaving some blanks for them to complete with their own answers (i.e. their own personal info or opinion etc.).

For example: 

I was born in _________. I work at ________. I have been studying English for ________ years. Etc. 

Sentence Formation

In these activities students will form their own complete sentences either orally or in written form. 

Activity Examples: 

  • From Prompts: What/tallest waterfall = What is the tallest waterfall? 
  • From Scaffolding Device: Have a scaffolding device where students choose from different columns to form sentences and perhaps have to add additional info. 

For Example:

I like skydive because…
You hate scuba dive although…
We would like to basketball ;however, …


  • Replies: Students have to reply with the correct response

For Example:

–  Restricted: Have you been having a nice day? A: Yes, I have been. 

– Open-ended: What do you like to do on the weekends? A: Answers will vary. 

  • Describing Pictures: 

For Example:

Visual(s): Students write about a visual or visuals.

Information Gap: There are two pictures with different info on them; students write sentences about the differences of the two pictures.

Comic Strip: Students write sentences based on a series of visuals in a comic strip.  

Comprehension Check and Reflection:

  1. What is the general order of controlled practice activities listed on this page? Hint: Has to do with the level of restriction. 
  2. Which activities do you think would work well with the different system types i.e. grammar, vocabulary, functions, spelling, and punctuation? 
  3. Which activities do you have a personal preference for? Why?
  4. Which activities do you think do not work well? Why?
  5. Do you think this blog is missing any good activities? Which ones are they? 

Please leave your answers to some or all of the questions in the comment section below! Thanks! 



  1. Yosra


  2. Anna

    This is a great blog and is helping me alot,thank you. One observation – above you say multiple choice or matching activities aren’t controlled practice – but they are listed here.

  3. heydari

    that was perfect information
    thanks alot

  4. Uzma Chishti

    it’s an awesome blog. It helped me a lot. Thanks for writing it for people like us.

  5. shiko waweru

    very well elaborated and the language used is simple which makes it easy to understand

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