The best warm-up activities are all about getting students engaged, and providing them with new interesting ways to work together and connect. They should make the students feel stimulated and allow for personalisation where possible. Don’t error correct during warm-up activities. The emphasis should be on fluency and building trust and rapport. Here are some great warm-up activities suitable for teens and adults to get your classes off to a flying start!
Warm-up activities for all levels
Photo sharing mingle (10-20 minutes)
Get your students to get to know each other, by getting them to find a meaningful picture on their phones, and sharing it with the other student. This should preferably be a photo they took, but an image from an online search is also ok. Students are then told to mingle (or go into breakout rooms online) and ask and answer questions about each other’s photos. Encourage students to ask lots of follow up questions.
Online Tip: For these warm-up activities students can hold their phones up to their webcam. Even better, use the ‘share screen’ function to show an image on their device. If they have limited technology available to them, they can find a physical photo or object to show.
Asking correct questions (10-15 minutes)
The teacher explains that students can ask other students different questions (or even the teacher!). However, questions will only be able to be answered once the whole class agrees the question is grammatically correct. Students work in pairs to think of interesting questions for others and check their grammar. When all the pairs are ready with two or three questions to ask, pre-teach the answers “none of your business” or for higher levels “I’d prefer not to answer that question” in case these are needed. Begin to let each pair, in turn, ask a question to others in the class (not their partner) and remember, as soon as you hear a question that isn’t correct, shout “stop!”, board what was said and underline any problem areas. Only when the whole class has corrected the question successfully can an answer be given.
Vocabulary race (15-20 minutes)
Vocabulary warm-up activities are a great way to elicit vocabulary from a class and introduce a topic. Tell students you are going to show them an image and that they will need to list as many words connected to the picture as they can. Show them an example image first. If the example image is a photo of a kitchen, you could ask “What can you see?” and write up words such as “sink”, “washing machine”, “kettle”…
Explain that the team with the most words will win and that they have to write the words down for them to count as points. Then, divide students into pairs and give them the picture (sent to their breakout room chat online, face to face as a print-out or on the IWB (interactive whiteboard)). Give them a time limit of 5 minutes or more.
When the time is up, students total up their words. The winning team has the most words! Afterwards, go around the class, giving each pair a turn to say one of their words. Write the words on the board until all the words have been written up.
For higher levels, your examples could include multiple words, for example, “linoleum floor”, “tea towel”. You could make it more interesting by explaining beforehand that if they think of a word that another team didn’t think of, that it will count as 2 points. This will encourage them to stretch themselves and even get creative. Remind them that all vocabulary must be visible, so they can’t say “cliché housewife with a feather duster” unless there is one pictured!
Warm-up activities for higher levels
As many uses for a potato (20 minutes)
These types of warm-up activities are to be done in competing teams. For online classes, students can be divided into multiple breakout rooms once the instructions have been given. Each team has to think of as many uses of a potato as possible. The team that thinks of the most uses wins! Give students a few examples to start them off e.g. a paperweight, to play catch with a child. Encourage them to be creative e.g. a weapon, a gift on a first date… Remember to tell them that they must write their ideas down (or send them to you in the online chat) – to prove the number of ideas they have thought of.
Start a timer for seven minutes. When the time is up, ask the students to total up the number of uses. Go around each group in turn, asking them to say one of their ideas to the rest of the class. Do this until all of the ideas have been proposed, encouraging different students from each team to speak each time.
(adapted from eslgames.com)
Face-to-Face Tip: Bring a potato into class – the group that thinks of the most uses wins the potato!
Special word detectives (30 minutes)
Give each student one word on a slip of paper or as a private message online. This word must be unusual, e.g. elephant/diamonds/Jupiter
Choose one topic that is easy to talk about e.g. your family / your home town or city. The challenge is for students to mingle and talk about the topic, and use their special word without the other students noticing. Encourage students to note down any words they think might be the ‘special word’ of other students.
Afterwards, the teacher selects each student in turn, asking the rest of the class what they thought their word was. The fun part is trying to get the class to collectively decide on the one word they thought was the given word. Did the student manage to hide the word well? Or was it glaringly obvious? Was what they said a lie, or did they manage to make a true sentence using their word?
Online Tip: Use breakout rooms of groups containing 2-4 students and remember to clearly communicate how much time each student will have to speak before the end of the exercise, so they can manage their time well. Don’t close the breakout rooms until the groups have also had time to guess each other’s special words!
The thing of my dreams (25-30 minutes)
Students spend 5-7 minutes drawing the “something” of their dreams. It could be the house/car/pet/boyfriend of their dreams for example. To take the pressure off students that can’t draw very well, insist that all the drawings must be drawn very badly (“it’s not art class, it’s English class!”). Put some music on of a genre of their choice (if necessary, search for a ‘clean’ version to avoid explicit lyrics, or search for ‘instrumental’ versions to avoid distracting lyrics altogether). When everyone has been drawing for a few minutes, tell them they can also add vocabulary around the drawing.
Finally, students take turns to show and tell or do this in smaller groups (or in breakout rooms online).
Why not use the drawings to expand into the lesson you are going to teach? They could write a story involving what they have drawn. They could use conditionals to think about what would happen if their dream worlds combined? Why not make future plans to make their dreams a reality?
Online Tip: Tell students to use a pen (not a pencil) so that the picture can be seen clearly when they hold up their drawing to the camera.
Join the Oxford Teachers’ Club and access free lesson plans, worksheets and activities for ESL and EFL teaching.
Tom Veryzer has had a diverse teaching career in the TEFL industry spanning almost a decade, specialising in teaching English to young learners. In 2018 he presented an interactive workshop at IATEFL entitled ‘Student Engagement: Top Tips for Classroom Management. His other ‘parallel life’ as a clown has seen him travel internationally in order to bring ’emergency happiness’ to refugee children. He also performs to family audiences in theatres around the UK, teaches comedy in schools and festivals, and leads workshops on ‘happiness’ for all ages. More info can be found at his website www.tomveryzer.com