Top 5 ESL Warm-Up Activities
ESL Warm-up activities are an excellent way to begin class because they ease students back into using English again. In many cases, the last time students thought about or spoke English was in your class last week! Here are five of my favorite ESL warm-up activities that I use in my own classes in a Korean university.
Warm-Up Activity #1: Just a Minute
Just a Minute is a very simple activity that you can use to get your students talking. Write a bunch of general categories on the board such as jobs, hobbies, dreams, movies, food, etc. Put the students into groups of 4 and they can number themselves 1-2-3-4. Then, ask one of the students to throw a paper airplane at the board and whatever word it gets closest to is the topic for the first student. All the number ones must talk about that topic for one minute without stopping and if they stop or have a long pause, they’ve lost the challenge.
You can adjust the time limit to be higher or lower depending on the level of students (beginner = 30 seconds, advanced = 2 minutes). Erase the first speaking round word from the board and continue the activity with the remaining three students except that they have different topics. For higher level students, you can require each group member to ask the speaker a follow-up question at the end of each round.
Activity #2: 5-Minute Debate
Give students a controversial statement such as something that’s been in the news recently. In pairs or small groups, have them debate the sides. You may have to assign sides, if too many agree or disagree with the premise. You may also need to scaffold with language like, “I think _____, because _____.” “I agree with X, but _____.”
Keep your students’ personalities in mind. There are many books of conversation topics which really are quite controversial, such as abortion or the death penalty. You want them to practice speaking English, not get in a real fight. In my early teaching days, I had some very heated classes, before I realized “controversial” could be anything people are likely to have a variety of opinions about, but unlikely to have no opinion. Finish up with a quick poll to see if anyone changed their mind about the topic.
Activity #3: Proofreading/Editing
To keep proper grammar usage fresh in your students’ minds, they should practice frequently. This doesn’t need to be a full grammar lesson; a quick warm-up can do the trick. You can give your students a variety of errors to correct: word choice, word order, punctuation, capitalization, etc. Students should write the sentences or passage correctly. Begin this activity by asking students a few review questions about whatever rules they are practicing. (“When do you use capital letters?” or “What is a run-on sentence? How can you fix it?”)
Activity #3: The Alphabet Game
This is a simple way to introduce a topic. For example, jobs, cities, animals, etc. Have pairs of students write down A—>Z on one piece of paper. Give them 2-4 minutes to think of one word/letter that fits that certain category. I make a rule that they can’t use proper nouns. If you want to increase the difficulty and if you have a small class, you can make a rule that if 2 teams have the same word, it doesn’t count which forces students to think more creatively.
Example: Topic = animals
Activity #4: Boggle
You’ve probably played the word game Boggle before. You have to shake up the letters and then you have a certain amount of time to make some words with connecting letters. You can also play it with your students but you don’t need the actual Boggle game. Simply make up a grid on the whiteboard, PowerPoint or on a piece of paper. I make a 6×6 one and put some obvious words in like colors or animals. Then, students go in pairs and have to make as many words as possible that are 4+ letters. You can give a bonus for longer words if you like. At the end, students count up how many points they have, you can double-check for any errors and then award a small prize to the winning team.
Some possible words from this board:
green, pink, rake, back, fire, fires, fast, road, rose
***If you have small classes, consider investing in a Boggle game. Here’s a Super-Big Boggle Game on Amazon.
Activity #5: Free-Writing Time
If you teach a writing class, an excellent way to start it off is to have free-writing time. Students can use a dedicated notebook for the task. Have a topic of the day—some examples are:
“My favorite memory from childhood was _____.”
“If I could change one thing about my life, I’d change _____.”
“The best thing about my family is ______. The worst thing about my family is _____.”
Give students a set amount of time to write—5 minutes for intermediate level students and 10 minutes for more advanced. Encourage them to write quickly in order to practice writing fluency. Put away those erasers and dictionaries! If you do this over the course of an entire semester, you can give students a simple chart to keep track of their writing speed-hopefully it increases!
Like these ESL Warm-Up Activities?
Then you’re going to love these two books on Amazon! They each contain 39 ESL warm-up activities and games that you can use in your classes today. Get your classes started off the right foot and make your lesson planning easier, guaranteed.