SDE International - Shenzhen

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Are you starting your classes with a warm up? Warm ups are not ways for you to kill precious minutes at the start of class, instead, they are extremely useful tools to start the class off on an energetic note and get the class thinking in English.

It is important that your warm ups get students both excited and using the target language as much as possible. Here are some warm ups that usually receive top marks from students:

1. Play a song, pass the ball

Pass the ball… or a plush toy, or a beanbag. Preferably something that won’t send anybody to the hospital if an accidental ricochet were to occur.
This warm up is simple but almost always gets entire classes thrilled to be learning. All you have to do is pick a song (the latest pop hit that your students would be familiar with), toss a ball to a student and then urge them to pass it to another student.

Students will quickly understand that the point is to get rid of the ball as fast as possible. Then, at the right moment, you stop the music. The student holding the ball must answer a question, read a line from a story, anything that has to do with English. Repeat the process for a few minutes (or longer if the class is particularly enthralled) and even get involved yourself if you can.

2. Category List with Spoons

Split the class into two (or three, or four, go wild!) teams and designate spots on the blackboard for each team to write on. Write the numbers one to five in a list in each team’s section. Then write a topic at the top of the blackboard. The topic can be anything, but be sure to make it general enough that there could be many options to choose from, like music genres, countries, school subjects, or whatever you’ve been teaching them recently.

Choose a student from each team to come to the blackboard and act as “writers”. Place spoons equal to the number of teams minus one within a fairly equal distance from each writer. When you say “GO”, the writers must write five things related to the topic on the board as fast as they can. Encourage the teams to shout answers to their writers if they’re not already in a frenzied, English-speaking state.

When the writers are finished they must grab a spoon. Count the number of correct answers for each team, awarding points for each one. The team who didn’t grab a spoon does not have their points counted. Play three or four rounds, alternating writers. Students have a great time and they’re shouting in English for most of the warm up!

3. Describe the Picture

I’ve put a little twist on the classic describe-a-picture warm up.

First, show the entire class a picture. Make sure it has lots of little details in it, preferably one where you could spend a good minute or so describing every last detail to your friend. Then, take the picture down and tell the students to describe what they saw to their partner. Give them about 30 seconds.

Now, here’s the twist. Split the class into two teams and divide the blackboard in two. Choose three students randomly from each team to come up to the blackboard. Place a piece of chalk in each student’s hand and tell them they have to write down as many things they saw in the picture as they can in 30 seconds (or one minute).

Again, teams can shout answers to the writers. When the time is up, ask the students to sit down and reveal the picture again. Give points for everything they got right; no extra points if the team repeated a word. The team with the most right answers is the winner!

4. Hot Seat

This is what I consider to the be the mother of all warm up games. It gets everybody involved, it is great for reviewing vocabulary, and it ramps up excitement levels to maximum capacity. And there is very little prep involved!

Have a list of vocabulary words prepared. Bring a chair to the front of the classroom. Split the class into two teams and have one student from the first team sit in the chair (the “hot seat”) facing the class. Make sure he/she cannot see behind them. Start a timer (one minute) and write the first word on the board.

The team must say things related to that word in order to elicit that word from their teammate sitting in the hot seat. Once the student guesses correctly, write the next word. Continue until time runs out. The team with the most correct guesses at the end is the winner!

I’ve used all these warm ups in my classes with great success. I’d like to wish everyone good luck in all your teaching experiences, and have fun during this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in one of the fastest developing countries in the world. Zaijian!


SDE International - Shenzhen

New teaching jobs in China interviewing now, apply today!

About the Author:

Ivan Berezowski
Ivan is part teacher, part writer, part cultural scavenger, and full-time amateur financial expert. When he isn’t busy finding new ways to save money, he can often be found behind a spectacular plate of exotic cuisine or a laptop screen with either a Word document open or that day’s NBA scores. He has lived in China for 3 years and has travelled to 12 countries, including most of East Asia and randomly Guatemala. Check out his blog, for travel tips, China life and more.
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