If you’re looking to get your English classes started off in style, then keep on reading for my favourite ESL warmers.
Top 9 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 eight of my favourite 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 can stand up and 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.
Check out this short YouTube video for all the details about this popular ESL Warm Up:
Activity #2: 5-Minute Debate
Give students a controversial statement such as something that’s been in the news recently. However, because it’s just a quick warm-up, don’t have them read the whole article.
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.
Even More ESL Activities and Games for Adults
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?”).
It’s a very good way to reinforce basic writing concepts. You can also have students work together in pairs to complete this activity, which works particularly well if they’re beginners.
More details about this activity here:
Like these ESL Warmers?
Then you’re going to love the book, 39 ESL Warm-Ups for Adults. You can check it out for yourself on Amazon:
ESL Warm-Up Activities #4: 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.
Some examples of categories that work quite well include:
- Classroom vocabulary
- Food or drinks
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
This is a great way to reinforce the alphabet and sounds with very young, beginner students.
If you want to add another layer of challenge for smaller classes, make a rule that they don’t get a point if another team or person has the same answer. This will force your students to guess what other people will write and get creative.
ESL Game #5: 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.
Quick Tip: Depending on where the students sit in your class, it may be difficult to see the board well enough for this activity. So, I usually allow students to change seats if they have to.
ESL Warm Up Activity #6: 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 _____.”
“When I get home from school, I like to _____.”
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!
Teachers can also participate in this (I did all the time!)
Check out more details here:
#7: Picture Prompt
This is a very simple warm up for ESL that can be used with kids, teens or adults. The way it works is that you put up a picture on the screen. Depending on the level of students, there are a number of things you can do.
Beginners can simply list the things they see in the picture: dog, man, tree, house, etc. You can also ask questions like, “How does the man feel? What is the boy doing?”
Intermediate students could do a similar thing but make sentences. For example, “The man is playing with the dog. The boy is coming out of the house and I think he’s going to school.”
Advanced students could make up a story based on what they see. Or, give an explanation for what’s happening.
Learn more here: Picture Prompt ESL Warmer.
ESL Warmer #8: Would you Rather?
This is a fun, simple warm up idea for your English class that requires no preparation or materials, just a bit of creativity. But, you can get the students to help you make up the questions.
You can start with a question. For example, “Would you rather be able to fly, or breathe underwater?” Then you can have students discuss the question with a group or 3-4 students for a larger class, or with the entire class for a small class.
You can also play this as a circle game, where one student has to answer a question and then think of a different one to ask the next student.
Find out more about it here: Would You Rather ESL Warm-Up Game.
#9 ESL Warm Up Activities: Concentration
Another 5 minute warm-up classroom activity is this concentration memory game. It’s a great way to help students pay attention to some of the new terms and definitions that you’ve taught them in your class.
Combine this with the fact that it’s fun, challenging and super easy to explain and it makes this one of the top ESL warm up activities that I can tell you about!
Just about the only negative is that you have to make the cards that students will use for matching. However, it can be worthwhile if you teach the same class multiple times in a single semester, or you use the same textbook from year to year.
Quick tip: Consider laminating the cards to make them more durable, particularly if you teach children.
Learn more about it here: Concentration 5 Minute Warm-Up Game.
#10: Famous People at a Party
Are you looking for a quick and easy ESL warm-up activity to try out in your classes? Then you’ll need to consider trying out this one about famous people that you’d invite to a party.
Keep on reading to find out more about this activity that’s perfect for that “famous people” unit that is in most beginner-intermediate ESL textbooks.
An ESL Warm-Up: Famous People at a Party
Time: 5-15 minutes
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Materials Required: Nothing
This is an excellent ESL speaking warm up activity for intermediate to higher levels. Put the students in small groups of 3-4 people. Have them pick four famous people, dead or alive that they’d like to invite to a party they are having. Then, they have to say the reason why they’re inviting them. I do an example like this:
Person: Michael Jackson
Reason? He can play some dance music and entertain us. Also, I want to know why he got so much plastic surgery.
Person: Donald Trump
Reason? I seem him saying outrageous things on media all the time. Is he like that in real life too?
Give your students a few minutes, depending on the level. Then, I get the student to pick 1-2 of the people from their group, depending on the size of the class and tell the rest of the class their answer. I’ve gotten an interesting array of answers and the students are always quite interested to hear what the other groups have to say.
As you can see, it’s easy to adapt this activity to any level. Beginners can simply state who they’d invite and then give a simple explanation why.
More advanced students can have a small group discussion about it, and perhaps think of things they’d like to talk to that famous person about. This makes it one of the best ESL warm-up activities fore beginners or advanced level students. It’s super easy to adapt to whatever level that you’re teaching.
Teaching Tips for this ESL Icebreaker
I recommend students pick 3-4 people but then only sharing 1-2 because many groups will have the same answers. This way, you don’t get lots of repeat answers which gets boring. Another way to counteract the tendency for students to pick the same people is to use those most common ones as your own examples.
For example, when I taught in Korea, I would choose the 3-4 most famous Koreans as my example. This prevented any groups from choosing them as well.
If you want to make this activity even more student-centered, you can put one student from each original group into a new group to share their answers instead of sharing the answers with the whole class.
Procedure for this ESL Warm-Up Activity
- Put students in groups of 3-4.
- Each group picks four famous dead people that they’d like to have at their party.
- They must also think about why they’d like to invite him or her.
- Have the groups share their answers with the class.
10 Phrases to Talk about Celebrities
This video may be a nice lead-in to this famous people activity for your more advanced students. Check it out here:
Why Use an ESL Warm-Up?
There are a number of reason why you might consider using an ESL warm up game in your classes. Here are a few of the most important ones:
- They can activate students’ prior knowledge about a topic, grammar point or vocabulary set.
- They can engage the learners from the start of the lesson and help them learn English
- Warmups can help to ease students into learning English. If you just right into the heart of the lesson, the important things can be missed
- ESL warmups are an ideal way to review material from previous classes
- They help to build rapport between students and teachers
- Depending on what you do, they can be quite enjoyable and fun for the students
Fun, engaging classes—warmups may be part of the answer. Most teachers find that they work so try them out for yourself today!
Your turn: what are the reasons that you use them? Leave a comment and let us know.
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 by helping ease your students into using English.
It’s difficult for students to jump right into the main lesson. Avoid this by using some fun, engaging and interesting ESL warm-ups. The rest of your class will go much more smoothly and if education is your goal, then you’ll be good to go!
These books will make your lesson planning easier, guaranteed. You’ll have almost 40 top-quality ESL activities and games right at your fingertips. Stop wasting time searching around on the Internet for some fun, new activities. You can have a whole book of them right in front of you.
Check out either the print, or digital books on Amazon and pick up your copy today. Keep a copy on the bookshelf in your office as a handy reference guide. Or, take a copy with you on your phone or tablet for lesson planning on the go. It really is that easy.
Click the links below to learn more about the books on Amazon:
Have your Say about these ESL Warm-Up Activities for Adults and Kids
Do you have one or two go-to warmers for your ESL or EFL classes? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. Also contact us if you have any questions about teaching English.
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Also check out the articles on this blog. You’ll find lots of useful resources that’ll help you make your classes as awesome as possible. And that’s what we all want in the end, right?
Last update on 2019-10-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API