Activities at the start of the lesson deserve more attention than they usually receive. In fact, the initial activities that start the class are very important for the following reasons:
1: Warm Ups set the tone of the lesson. For example, an activity that students find too difficult or confusing can prove discouraging. Compare a fun activity which raises energy levels.
2: Warm Ups get students to begin thinking and focusing on English. It may have been a few days, a week, or even longer since they last used English. A little time here will improve receptivity later.
3: Warm Ups provide a transition into the topic. An activity at the start of the lesson activates pre-existing knowledge on a subject, and may even get students to use (or consider) some of the ideas, vocabulary, or even grammar important to the lesson.
4: Warm Ups allow the teacher important opportunities to assess character and ability. After all, some students work well together, and others don't. Some students have good days, and others bad. During the initial activity, the teacher can determine who will form the best groups for subsequent activities.
What follows are ten ideas for effective Warm Ups.
Idea #1: Write two or three questions on the board, preferably related to the topic. However, for classes that meet regularly, you may also use this as an opportunity to include target language from the previous lesson. Read the questions aloud and check comprehension. Students then find a partner to discuss these questions for the length of the warm up. As no pair of students should finish talking early, this means that everyone will need to ask follow-up questions to generate a conversation.
Idea #2: Here the teacher writes two or three controversial statements on the board. Students work in pairs/groups and agree or disagree with the statement, as well as provide reasons. For example:
Question: Money is more important than happiness.
Although the examples are best suited for intermediate or advanced classes, easier statements for beginners can also be generated. Students use the statements as a springboard for additional conversation on the topic.
Idea#3: Students get into pairs/groups. The teacher writes a topic on the board, and students brainstorm associated vocabulary for the topic. Each pair/group should write the words in a notebook. This activity requires students to use vocabulary on the lesson topic, allowing the teacher to gloss over any already known words and focus on unknown material. In addition, if the teacher opts for students to write the words on the board, then the words can be used later in the lesson.
Idea #4: In this activity, students brainstorm words based on the topic. However, some filters are used to order the generated vocabulary. For example, a topic on occupations might have students generate three jobs for the following categories:
Category: What jobs earn more than $1,000,000?
As in the previous activity, the vocabulary can be shared with the class for use elsewhere in the lesson.
Idea #5: Students speculate from a question, and can be used with just about any grammar point. This works especially well when the question requires students to speculate about the teacher (or other teachers). For example, if the grammar point for the lesson were on the past tense, students could discuss and write ideas to answer the following question:
Question: What did your teacher do this weekend?
Students can generate realistic ideas for the answer, or even completely off-the-wall ones.
Idea #6: For this activity, students get into small groups to play charades. The teacher writes actions on slips of paper before the start of the class, with each student receiving one slip of paper. The students must act out the action on the paper without speaking, and their group must guess the answer. The teacher can focus on just vocabulary, so students will answer: "play soccer" or "eat" or "watch TV." The teacher can also plug the verb into a sentence, such as "You (verb) last weekend, didn't you?"
Idea #7: The teacher selects several pictures before the class starts, preferably ones with a lot of action and/or with something unusual happening. In addition, the teacher should consider the topic of the lesson, as the students can generate ideas/vocabulary for use elsewhere in the lesson.
Students get into pairs/groups. The teacher distributes one picture to each pair/group, or posts the pictures on the board. Students then describe the picture, answering wh-questions as prompts. For example:
Question: Who is in the picture?
Several pictures allow students to have several discussions. If one picture has been distributed to each group, pictures can rotate after three minutes.
Idea #8: In this warm up activity, the teacher again selects several pictures before the class starts. Students also get into pairs/groups to talk about the pictures, which will maximize student talk time during the initial stages of the lesson. However, students now speculate a conversation for the people in the picture. Students don't need to write a dialogue, but they should imagine what is being said. After a few minutes, students move on to another picture and repeat the activity.
Idea #9: The teacher writes five questions on the board, all of which are yes/no questions. Students find a partner and ask/answer one question. They want to find someone who will answer "yes" to the question. A "yes" means they can check off that answer, and then ask another question from the board. A "no" means they must find a new partner and ask the same question again. This activity gets quite chaotic and competitive as students race to find answers to the questions.
Idea #10: The teacher writes two questions on the board. Students stand up and find a partner to ask/answer each question. After both questions have been covered by both students, each finds a new partner. They then repeat the process. Because students talk to several people several times on the same topics, their answers will show improved accuracy and fluency.