When teaching ESL, warm-up activities are a powerful tool that can set the scene for the class, make students feel happy and relaxed, and help them to become mentally receptive to learning new English.
These short games are also a great way to review past material. For an activity that usually takes only two to five minutes, warm-ups offer a lot of bang for very little buck.
In this article, we will discuss fun and easy ESL warm-up activities that can be played with three basic resources that are found in virtually any ESL classroom: a whiteboard, flashcards, and a ball.
The whiteboard is a fundamental part of any classroom. It is an incredibly useful tool that can provide students with helpful visuals that aid in the learning process.
There are so many easy warm-up activities that can be done using only a whiteboard and a marker. Here are a few of my favorite games to use to start my lessons off right.
1. Word Lightning
This is a fast-paced activity where you choose a common letter of the alphabet, write it on the board, and give students two minutes to shout out as many words as they can that begin with that letter.
It’s often a good idea to do a short example with your students when you introduce this game to ensure that they all understand how to play. This is a fun activity that gives all students a chance to participate without being pressured or put on the spot, and you might even be surprised at some of the words that your students come up with!
I use this activity periodically to review and reinforce English punctuation and capitalization rules. To play this game, start by writing a sentence on the board containing a few mistakes, and allow students to volunteer or call them each up to make a correction. This activity is incredibly versatile; just change the length of the sentence or the number of mistakes and it can be used in any classroom!
3. Phonics Relay
This is a quick and easy game that I like to use with my younger students to help them memorize letters of the alphabet. First, write some letters of the alphabet in random order on the whiteboard, then have your students line up against the wall opposite the board and give one of them a marker.
Say the name of a letter and have the first student-run to the board, circle the correct letter, and run back to pass the marker to the next student in line to repeat the process. For some added excitement, you can give the class a time limit to complete the relay or use words instead of letters for a greater challenge!
Flashcards are some of the most useful and versatile tools in a teacher’s arsenal, and there are countless games and activities that can be played using this resource alone. Here are some of the best go-to warm-ups using only flashcards.
4. YES Wall/NO Wall
This is a vocabulary review game that gets students moving and challenges them to remember the meanings of words that they’ve seen before. With four or five previously learned flashcards, have your students line up facing you in the middle of the room, and designate the walls to their left and right as either “Yes Wall” or “No Wall”. Show your students the first flashcard, and ask a simple yes or no question, such as “Is this an apple?”. The students should reply by running to the correct wall and shouting either “Yes, it is!” or “No, it isn’t!”, after which they return to the center of the room for the next round.
5. Four Corners
This fun and easy review activity is especially good for young students or those with low levels of English. To start this game, place one flashcard in each corner of the room with your students standing in the center. Next, say the target vocabulary word, for example, “Dog!”, and have them run as a group to the corresponding corner of the room and say a short sentence, like “It’s a dog!”. Do this for each of the four corners, repeating any that your students might have difficulty with.
6. Match Game
This is about the most classic flashcard game there is, and it can easily be adapted into a wide variety of short, two to five minute warm-ups. While there are many ways to do this activity, I prefer to use it as an opportunity to practice my students’ reading skills by placing a row of word flashcards on the floor and making a small deck of the matching picture cards. Each student takes a turn drawing a picture card from the deck and finding the correct word card to match. It’s also a good idea to have your students say the words aloud when they draw and match the cards to reinforce phonics and sight-reading.
Balls are staples in teachers’ toolboxes everywhere. This classic toy can be used in virtually any context to add some fun to otherwise mundane activities. Something as simple as being passed a ball when asked a question in class can ease some of the pressure that students may experience. I can think of few resources better suited to warm-up activities.
7. Topic Talk
I like to play this game with students to set the scene and to get them thinking about vocabulary in lexical sets. To start this activity, form a circle in the center of the room and choose a topic. Then, pass the ball around the circle, with each person saying a word that matches the topic; for example, if the topic is “Colors” each student should say the name of a different color. Continue passing the ball around the circle until someone repeats a word or fails to produce one, and if there’s extra time, you can choose a new topic.
8. Ball Pass
This quick and easy game gives every student a chance to practice their speaking. As the name would imply, students pass the ball around to each other, with the thrower asking a question and the catcher answering it. I usually ask the first question and have the students continue the chain until everyone has asked and answered at least one question. This activity works best with questions that students have already learned, but need to practice in order to increase their fluency; for example, you can have them practice asking each other what foods they like or what their favorite color is.
Here are another 7 fun ESL activities that you can do with a ball!
Bonus: Flash card game with sticky ball!
Start Strong for Your ESL Lesson
There are so many games that can be used as warm-up activities in your ESL classroom.
Whether you develop a new game, or adapt an existing one, warm-ups are great, brain-boosting activities that can set the tone for a great lesson and help your students get the most out of their English learning experience.
So please make use of some of these warm-up ideas for a strong start to your ESL lesson!