Using a warm-up activity is a great way to get students in the zone. They are fun and engaging, but they also help students make that cognitive shift from their native language to English.
Adding EFL warm-up activities to a class is essential. If you teach English in a foreign country, chances are that country’s official language is very different than English. This means that generally, and especially at language centers, your students the only times students interact in English is the time allotted to your class.
Place yourself in your learners’ shoes. It’s tough. They eat, breathe, and live in their own language. Then they come to class and are asked to have all of that taken away. That’s why warm-ups are so essential to an EFL classroom. It helps students to transition into ‘English mode’ and be more prepared for the main lesson activities. A bonus is that most warmers are engaging and fun. Here are five to try out with your next class.
Before you read, you may also want to look at some creative scoring methods for EFL games (opens in a new tab).
Bingo is great because it’s adaptable to any level and any topic or language point. Usually, it’s an activity used in the middle of the lesson, but I’ve found that playing Bingo at the beginning is a quick way to get students excited. There are many Bingo templates and premade versions online. You can also hand-make your own.
For lower levels:
- Phonetic pictures or recently learned vocabulary pictures work great with kids. (You say the word, and they cross off the picture).
- Play opposite bingo, for example, you say “hot” and they look for “cold” on their boards.
- Students have simple questions on their board that they need to ask their peers, for example, “Do you have a pet?” If yes, they can cross that box off.
For intermediate/higher levels:
- Students have more complex questions on their board to ask their peers, like reviewing the present perfect and adding additional information.
- Boards include minimal pairs or word stress pairs.
Don’t forget about the classic version! Use it to either to review/to practice numbers, or just to have fun!
Charades and Pictionary can be used for all levels and is great fun! Charades is better for actions. Encourage students to make complete sentences when guessing, like “He’s eating a banana!” There are a lot of options so be creative! Pictionary works better with vocab, from concrete to abstract items for more advanced classes.
Taboo is really only for higher-level classes. Like charades and Pictionary, Taboo is a party game that native speakers play. It can be very difficult! There are lots of premade cards online, and after your students get the hang of it, you can ask them to make a card or two of their own and play with those during the next class.
For those who don’t know the game, it goes like this: there is a word at the top of the card that you want your team to say, so you need to describe it. The tricky part is that there is a list of words underneath that would normally be used to describe the given word, and those words are “taboo” to say.
Since you are using these games as warmers, set a limit. Students, especially teens, will be happy to play for half the class period or more. I like to set a scoring goal, say, the first team to 5 points. Don’t forget to use a timer for each turn to make it more competitive!
This one is good if you’ve just met a class or there is a new student, but again, it can be adapted for many different topics. As a name game, go around the room and have students say their name, but they must also say the name of the students who have already introduced themselves. (First student: My name is Tom. Next: His name is Tom. My name is Jessica. And so on.) Make it more complex by adding another piece of information. For example, also remember something that person likes. The student would then say, “My name is Jerry and I like apples.”
As previously mentioned, this warm-up can be used with different language points, like the present perfect. It’s good because it practices the use of the third person, which is something many students struggle with when speaking.
Riddles are a rather straightforward warmer idea, it’s just a matter of finding them! Jokes also are an option. Brainteasers are good too. Have a look around the web or in your local bookshop. (Or you could click here.)
Question Board Throw
Divide the board into 6 random sections. In each, write one question word- who, what, when, where, why, and how. Then have each student write their name on a small piece of paper. Fold and mix them up. Have each student pick a paper so that they have chosen a different name from their own.
Bring a small ball to class, a sticky ball, or simply wad up a piece of paper to use as a ball. Pick a student to go first. They throw the ball at the board. A question is asked to the person whose name they have, beginning with the word they hit on the board.
For weaker classes, give them time to up come with a question for each word before you start. Try to encourage creative questions for intermediate groups and not questions like “How old are you?”
Hopefully, these ideas will have inspired you to try them out! EFL warmers should be light and fun, relatively short, and a good way to establish rapport. Students will appreciate that the class has started on a good note. The rest of the class time will fly by!
In case you’re wondering, this is great stuff for the presentation phase of the PPP method.
About the Author
Yvette Smith is an English teacher in Vietnam who also does freelance writing on a variety of topics.
With schools around the world, Shane English School always has exciting new opportunities to offer.