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TEFL Training In Costa Rica | Updated: 10/04/2022

5 Types of Warm-ups to Include in Your ESL/EFL Lessons

Written by International TEFL Academy Costa Rica

It's a great idea to start each class off with an activity to get the students switched over to their "English brains" and in the right mindset to have a successful class!  There are literally thousands of specific activities you can use, however, we have organized those activities into five main types of warm ups and given you a fun example for each.

1 - Ice Breakers

In the first couple weeks of classes, take the time for you and your students to get to know each other.  Investing in them should be a priority over anything else, even content.   This will show them that you genuinely care about them, which will go a long way in creating a good classroom environment.  Plus, you'll get to know their personalities and interests in order to include this in the content of your course. 

Candy Pass 

This activity works best for students at the Pre-intermediate level or above but could be adapted for lower-level students by adjusting the questions asked.

Instructions:  Students should be standing in a circle or sitting around the same table.  Give all students four pieces of wrapped candy.  Tell them that you will be asking questions. If their answer to the question is “yes,” they need to pass one piece of candy to the person on their right.  You'll get lots of laughs, and the students will start to learn a little about each other.  The following questions are great examples, so add more to the list and get creative!

       Do you make your bed every morning?

       Have you ever gotten sick in a car or airplane?

       Do you fold your underwear?

       Would you hit your best friend for one million dollars?

       Have you ever cheated on an exam?

2 - Team-building

Another great way to start off a new course is through team-building activities.  They are also appropriate if new students join a group or if you are having some strife among the students.  Take the time to do these activities to rebuild the relationships and make a shift in the community you are building in your classroom.  Of course trust activities come to mind, but think outside of the box with activities like the following.

Cup Stack

The Cup Stack activity will work well at all levels, depending on the students' abilities to understand the instructions and is a great activity to facilitate teamwork and persistence.

Instructions:  You will need paper or plastic cups (6 for each group of students), rubber bands, and some string. Students should be working in groups of four or five, so tie four or five pieces of string (equal pieces of about two feet long) to a single rubber band.  The pieces of string should be equally spaced around the rubber band.   

The idea is for the group to build a pyramid out six cups (three on the bottom, then two on top, and finally one for the peak). The students cannot touch the cups with their hands or any part of their bodies, even if one falls. Each person holds onto one of the strings attached to the rubber band.  The group needs to use this device to pick up the cups and place them on top of each other by pulling the rubber band apart and then gently releasing it over the cups.  After all groups successfully build the pyramid, have a class discussion about teamwork.  Why was the first group able to finish so quickly?  Was anyone frustrated during the activity?  Why?  What are important skills to use when working in a team?

3 - Fun games & Activities

Our ESL/EFL students often come to class after a long day at work or classes or even on the weekends, so it's a also a good idea to start class with a fun, engaging activity that allows the students to  get excited about class and renew their energy.  We love classic activities that are competitive and kinesthetic like board races, flyswatter games and rhythm games.  Check out this fun idea too!

Act Out a Movie Scene

Starter students with little vocabulary or grammar knowledge will struggle with this activity, but it will be successful in all other levels! 

Instructions:  In groups of 2-4, give the students five minutes to choose a movie and scene they will be acting out in front of the class.  They should also assign roles and practice a number of times before performing.  They shouldn't need to write a script or use notes.  It's more entertaining if they have to improvise!  If your students are struggling to pick a movie, give them some ideas like The Lion King, Titanic, Finding Nemo or Star Wars.  Bring in some fun props to add to the creativity! 

4 - Review Previous Material

The first few minutes of class are a great time to review material learned or practice in the previous class.  Games like tic-tac-toe, trivia and Jeopardy can be adapted to review grammar, vocabulary or even content from a reading lesson. There are programs and apps like Quizizz to quickly assess your students' retention and understanding in a competitive way as well!   

Change It Up

This activity is a fun way to review content related to body parts, clothing or descriptive adjectives. 

Instructions:  Split the students into two teams and line up the teams with one person from Team A facing one person from Team B.  Give Team A one minute to study their counterpart, memorizing details of what that person is wearing, doing and how he or she is standing.  Team A now needs to close their eyes.  While Team A has their eyes closed, the members of Team B need to change five things about their appearance.  For instance, untie one shoe or move a ring to a different finger.  When everyone from Team B has changed five things, Team A can open their eyes and look for the five differences!  Repeat with Team B memorizing details and Team A making the changes.  Like all activities you implement in your ESL/EFL classes, this one will work best if modeled first. 

5 - Learn some new language or practice a skill

Especially appropriate for more advanced classes, we like to use the warm up to teach our students something new or allow them to practice a new skill.  For instance, many teachers teach an idiom or a slang expression each day.  They show the idiom or expression being used in context, ask the students to explain what they think it means and then make sure all the students have a clear understanding before moving on.  Tongue Twisters are a fun way to practice pronunciation and focus on new sounds too.

Hidden Puzzle

This idea can be adapted for all levels of students and for a plethora of different topics.

Instructions:  Create a list of animals and the names of their babies.  For instance, cat and kitten, dog and puppy, cow and calf, bear and cub etc.  Write the animal on one index card (or small piece of construction paper) and write the name of the baby on another card.  On the back of the cards draw (or paste an image) a small paw print of this particular animal.  Make sure the image on the animal and the baby are identical but are different for each animal, meaning the dog print should not look exactly like the paw of a cat. 

Give each pair of students a set of these cards.  They must work together to match the animal to its baby.  When each group thinks they have matched all the cards correctly, quietly tell them to check the prints on the back. Once all groups have finished and checked their answers with the pictures on the back, go over together as a class.

Other topics related to animals work great with this idea:  Groups of animals (a pride of lions, a flock of birds etc.), Animal sounds (Cows say moo, ducks say quack, etc.) and Male and female animal names (bull and a cow, rooster and a hen etc.). 

Consider using all of these types of warm ups at different points in your course and get creative!  Take your students' interests and language learning needs into consideration and get them engaged!

Looking for more ideas on how to successful plan and execute engaging and effective ESL/EFL lessons?  Sign up for one of our 4-week TEFL trainings at International TEFL Academy Costa Rica!  

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