Warming up at the beginning of an English class is an essential step, but have you ever stopped and thought about all the things it really does?
The humble warm-up at the start of a class does so many things! It helps your learners transition into class mode (or English-speaking mode) from whatever task they were doing before class. It gives you a chance to interact with learners in a way that builds rapport. It gives you a buffer for learners who are running 2-3 minutes late to class. I’m sure if we spend more time on this list, it will only grow, but these are some of top reasons that we believe a warm-up is an essential component of any lesson.
While our lessons in the teacher toolkit all start with a ready-to-go warm-up activity, there might be times when you find you need something more customized– perhaps related to a holiday you’re teaching about or a piece of authentic material you’re working with. When that’s the case, we’ve got three easy-to-implement and low-prep ideas for you.
Start the class with a question that is sure to get your learners’ attention. It could be about how they’re planning to start the month, what they think about (insert topic here), or what a specific image brings to mind. Getting them speaking with an open-ended question or prompt is a great way for learners to get the beginning-of-class jitters out in a low-pressure activity. If you have learners that are really motivated to study outside of class, this becomes a great opportunity for them to test out and show off new language points that they’ve picked up in their studies. Tie it to the main theme of your class to serve as a great lead-in to the target language you’ll be working with in the lesson.
Another great way to kick off a class is with a brainstorm or a brain dump. Give your learners a word, phrase, question, or prompt to react to. You can structure it like one of the examples below, if you’d like:
– What comes to mind when you hear “last year”?
– What words do you relate to “winter”?
– What do you know about rock music?
– What phrasal verbs do you know?
The goal is to get them thinking and talking– it isn’t about getting anything right or wrong, necessarily. In fact, the power of an activity like this rests in the fact that it helps to activate learners’ background knowledge. The cool thing about teaching adults is that they’re already experts in one language, and they have a lifetime of lived experiences to bring to the language learning process. By helping them activate more neural pathways in their mind, you’re priming them not only to bring their A-game with the English they’ve already acquired, but also to accept new target language items in a way that allows them to connect their learning and form even more neural pathways related to English! Wild, right?
Another quick and easy way to kick off a class is to test learners’ knowledge. You can do this for a variety of reasons. Maybe you want learners to work with some grammar point or vocabulary set that you worked on in the last class, so you want to see how much they’ve retained and how much you might need to review at the beginning of the class. That’s a great way to get the lesson going.
You might also want to know exactly how much they know about the present perfect, let’s say, before you dive in from the very start. By asking a few questions, you’ll be able to gauge if any of your activities should be skipped over, or if you do indeed need to start from square one. This can also be a great way of reviewing progress at the end of a lesson. Let’s say your learners don’t know much about the present perfect, but it’s clear they know SOME things. Maybe the answer that everyone consistently got wrong in your brief pop-quiz was related to the “have/has” auxiliary verb. If you cover that in class, you can go back and show them how at the beginning of the lesson, that was a tricky concept for them, but through their hard work today, they’ve mastered that rule. That’s a great feeling for a learner and is an important part of keeping them motivated to come to class.
How should you go about doing a quick knowledge test for a warm-up? There are plenty of ways to do it, so think of what will work best for your situation. You can consider some of the ideas below to get started:
If you’re in a physical classroom, you can write 3-4 questions or gap-fill sentences on the board, or project them in your presentation. Provide an answer key: Let A be the same answer for each question, and B, and so on. So then your students just need to share their answers (aloud or on a sticky note, for example): 1A, 2C, 3B, etc. This setup allows for quick planning, implementation, and checking answers, so it’s ideal for a warm-up.
If you’re in an online class, you can project the same style of question-and-answer setup described above, but on a presentation slide or as a text in the chat function of your VC platform. You can ask learners to send you their answers in the chat (to the whole group or in a private message just to you), or you can have them share aloud as you discuss the answers.
There are plenty of other activity structures you could use– correct the error, change the sentence, use a synonym, etc. – the important thing is that it remains a short activity with a purpose– to activate the recall of previously learned content and serve as a formative assessment tool for you, or to give you a snapshot of learners’ prior knowledge before diving into a new topic.
While there are plenty of other ways to get a class rolling, if you’re feeling stuck, rushed, or out of ideas, these three approaches are tactics you can depend on to get a class off to a great start!