When was the last time you started watching, reading or participating in something, it didn’t catch your attention in the first 10 minutes but you kept at it and ended up loving it? It was probably a long time ago. Those first 10 minutes of anything are really important because if they aren’t engaging, most people start tuning out.
The same is true in an English class. The beginning of the class sets the tone every time. Yet for many of us teachers, ice breakers are an afterthought, after all, it is just a few minutes and there are so many other things to do.
Well, all of those other things are going to go a lot better if you have set your tone to engage students and get them warmed up. It is especially important to warm students up in a language class. We are asking students to communicate in a language they may not have heard or thought much about since their last language class and none of that vocabulary or grammar is activated if you start them off cold.
So, what are some good ways to shake off that chill and warm up the English part of their brains that doesn’t take too much time to prepare? Well, that kind of depends on what your goals for the lesson are and what you will be asking them to do next. Here are some of my favorite warm up activities and why I use them.
1. Warm Up Vocabulary Review
It takes a while to learn new vocabulary and internalize it so this is one of my favorite activities.
Low prep option: have a set of cards with the vocabulary they are studying on it.
No prep option: give each student a blank card and ask them to write one of their vocabulary words on it. Collect the cards.
How to do it:
I like this activity because it enables students to practice speaking with each other, it is fast-paced and it helps them remember vocabulary they will need later in the class.
2. Cocktail Party
This is one of my standbys. It is noisy, active, enables students to connect with each other before class gets going in a casual, friendly atmosphere.
How to do it:
I love this warm up because it takes very little prep; I just have to think of a few questions. It is an active way for students to practice English and it encourages students to form relationships with each other.
3. Three, Two, One
This is a fluency activity designed to help students speed up their speech. I like to use it when I have a few extra minutes for a warmup activity because it does take around 15 minutes or so.
How to do it:
This can also be done in a reading class by giving students a passage to read and instead of giving them less time, ask them to try to read aloud farther in the passage each time.
Because of the fast pace of this warm up, students energy levels are elevated and they have definitely switched on the English part of their brains.
4. Grammar Review
I have a love hate relationship with teaching grammar. I recognize that grammar is an important part of language learning but I feel it is often given too much emphasis and can become either boring or paralyzing. Boring because the class becomes a never ending series of decontextualized worksheets and paralyzing because students are afraid to open their mouths for fear of violating a grammar rule. If we ignore grammar altogether however, we are doing our students a disservice.
How to do it:
Generally the first time I do this warm up, I have to be quite strict with the amount of time I give students to think of a question because they get a bit paralyzed by the grammar aspect. I encourage them to think of their own questions but if one or two students just freeze up I will help them out in order to get things going. After the first couple of times however, they get the hang of it. If I include some silly subjects and verbs, the questions and answers can get quite fun. Also, you can use the same subject and verb cards repeatedly as the changing grammar points and subject verb combinations will ensure things stay fresh.
5. Find your Match
This warm up takes a little more preparation but is fun and encourages students to ask questions as well as review vocabulary. Prepare matching picture cards so each student gets a card and somewhere in class, another student has that same card. If you have 20 students in class, make 9 card sets of 2 and 1 card set of 3 in case an odd number of students show up. I usually try to make the pictures relate to what they are studying in class for example, if they are studying food I might include pictures of a salad, french fries, a piece of cake etc. Students should look at their card and then hold it in such a way no one can see it. They then have to find their match by asking questions. For example they might ask, “Is your food healthy?” The other person will say yes or no. They have to ask 3 questions before they can ask “Do you have a salad?” Once they find their match, they can either talk about the food on their cards or use some questions you have written on the board to have a conversation.
I like this warm up because it has the elements of a game in the beginning as they try to find their partners and then it opens up into a freer conversation. It does take a bit more prep than some of the other warm ups but if I make the cards well I can use them over again every year.
What are your favorite ways to get students going from the get go? Have you tried any of these activities? How did they go? Do you have any questions? Don't hesitate, ask now in the comments?
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Hi, I'm Kia.
Teaching is my passion, I have been teaching for over 20 years in 4 different continents. One of the things I have learned over the years is that I am never done learning about teaching. Both teaching and learning should be fun and inspiring.
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