Need some inspiration for warm-up activities?


Some time ago I attended an inspiring workshop about the use of warmers in the classroom organized by my new ELT local community, MELTA (Munich English Language Teachers Association).

As the presenter Bethan Stokes engagingly talked about the importance of such activities I kept thinking about my one-to-one students and I decided to share with you some warm-up activities she showed us this afternoon, which we can use specifically in this classroom setting and most of all, that could also be done in online classes.

But before going into the activities, let me tell you a little about the theory Bethan Stokes shared with us. She came up with the acronym
WAFERS to explain why warmers are important:

W – Warm-up:
to literally warm up students, to get them to shift their attention from whatever they were doing before to the class they are attending, to promote a transition from work/life to the lesson. According to her, it’s essential to tell students why they are doing such activity, and I particularly agree with her, this is extremely important mainly with adult students. This awareness will help them engage in the activity, knowing there is a learning purpose, especially if it’s a gamelike task.

A – Activate schemata: to help students activate prior knowledge of the topic of the class, preparing their mind for what is coming next. This is very important for adults because it helps them to connect to the topic, keeps them engaged and gets them more prepared to contribute to the lesson.

F – Fun/Flow: to promote a fun moment for students to feel totally involved in the lesson. To do so, we should keep an appropriate challenge level, within the Zone of Proximal Development as described by Vygotsky.

E – Environment: to create a positive, safe learning environment, to help students shift from a stressed/distracted state to a relaxed/comfortable state for learning to take place. According to Bethan, a warm-up activity can also help the teacher get in the mood for the class, in case he/she is tired or not feeling so motivated/enthusiastic about teaching at that moment.

R – Revise/Review: to revise vocabulary and promote repetition of language.

S – Speaking: to provide opportunities for genuine interaction in the target language, focusing on fluency rather than accuracy.

With this in mind, let’s learn about 3 activities we can do with our one-to-one learners, also in online classes (these activities were provided by Bethan in the workshop and adapted where needed by me to fit the 1:1 teaching context):

Emoji Stories
(this was my favorite for its current appeal): the teacher writes his/her weekend in emojis, takes a screen shot of the message and sends the student. The teacher asks the student to write down or say what they think the teacher did at the weekend or come up with questions to find out what the teacher did at the weekend. The teacher can also encourage the student to write his/her weekend in emojis and send him/her so that he/she can ask them questions to find out what they did.

Would you rather…?
(I really liked this one as well): the teacher provides the student with intriguing questions, such as Would you rather see the future or change the past? or Would you rather be the most popular or the most intelligent? and encourage students to justify their answers. For an online class I would use Quizlet to write the questions in flashcards, just to present the activity in a more fun way. I would write Would you rather be the most popular… on one side of the card and …be the most intelligent? on the other side. I would also encourage the student to come up with the rest of the question before they flipped the card, just to create more conversation. See below a list of questions you may use in this activity (this activity was originally created by JamieClark85 and shared on Twitter, the following questions were taken from the original activity):

Would you rather…

  • visit the doctor or the dentist?

  • watch TV or listen to music?

  • have a beach or a mountain holiday?

  • be invisible or be able to read minds?

  • wrestle a lion or fight a shark?

  • be given $100 or give $1,000 to charity?

  • lose your sense of taste or smell?

  • always be cold or always be hot?

(I particularly liked this one, but for the sake of being fast, as a warmer should be, I wouldn’t use more than 5 items for the list if the topic is too polemic, keep reading and you will understand why): the teacher gives the student a list of something related to a topic e.g. world dangers, crime, most embarrassing things that can happen in a meeting and gets the student to rank these from most to least or from best to worst. After the teacher asks the student to his/her choices. For online classes, the teacher can use a Google Document to provide the list, share the link with the student and he/she can rank the list in the document, and both the teacher and the student can see the list. If the topic of the list is too polemic, the student may end up spending a long time thinking about the order, so depending on your goal, keep the list short.

How about you? What is your favorite warm-up activity? Do you know any activity that can be used with 1:1 online students? How about sharing it here?

I hope you have enjoyed Bethan’s ideas. I loved them and will use them with my students.


See you next time!