Warmers are a key ingredient to any successful English class. During a TEFL certificate course, you should be introduced to a range of warmers that you participate in but it’s easy to forget to do them once you get out there into the teaching world.
Just as an athlete stretches before embarking on a run, the student needs to warm up the language part of the brain, their mouth, tongue and as the Spanish say ‘flick the switch’. This is never more important than when the student is living in a non English speaking country and their exposure to English is limited.
Many teachers start a class with a simple discussion, which is absolutely fine, but try to focus the class so that it fits the theme or structure that you have been teaching or one you are about introduce.
Talking about what the students did at the weekend/over the Christmas break, last holiday etc ties in well when you have taught the past simple and present perfect.
Teacher: So Juan what did you do at the weekend (past simple).
Juan: I go to an Italian restaurant with my friends
Teacher: Was last weekend in the past or present Juan?
Juan: The past. Ah, okay. I went to an Italian restaurant with my friends.
Teacher: Well done. I love Italian food. Have you been there before? (present perfect)
Juan: Yes, I have been there once before. I like it very much.
And so the conversation continues with the teacher guiding the conversation to exploit the relevant structures.
If you are about to introduce the second conditional you might want to discuss with the students what they would do if they won a million Euros. As you have not taught the structure yet, it does not matter if they make mistakes as to how they express themselves as this will come later but it will be great to refer back to as the class progresses.
Any topic or structure can be tied into a warmer with a bit of thought.
The photograph game
If the group is new, many teachers start a class with ‘tell me about yourself’. It rarely ever gets an enthusiastic response. There are two main reasons for this, firstly students have often had lots of different teachers, all of whom ask the same question – you can therefore understand their lack of enthusiasm. Secondly, the students don’t know you yet and why should they therefore open up to you?
For intermediate (B2) and above levels the photograph game can be fun and engaging warmer which helps the students get to know you and their fellow classmates. Depending on the group size you might want to present from 1-4 photos.
You show the students a blank piece of paper. You then tell that this is a photograph that you would like to share with them. It can be of anything you want but try to make it a real memory.
« This is a photo of me in Thailand. I went there 3 years ago with my friends – you can see my friends in the background just next to the trees – can you seem them? It was a beautiful day; the sun is starting to set behind me. You can see the amazing colours of the sun set, reds, golden yellows, dark oranges etc. We had just been for a swim and you can see the sea behind me. Afterwards we had dinner on the beach and it was a wonderful day ».
You then invite each student to show their photo and explain the story behind it.
What is great about this is that you and the students will focus on the paper rather than the person, which makes people feel more at ease. It forces the student to use their imagination, adjectives and tenses. It will help you to evaluate the students and how they perform orally. The student tends to like it as they are in control of what information they share with you. Finally it gives you insights into topics for the future that the students are interested in, sports, travel, family and so on.
The star game
If the students have a lower level, the star game can be a simple and effective warmer for a first class. You draw a star on the board and at each point write some information about yourself.
Natasha, Madrid, England 36, chocolate, blue
You then say:
My name is Natasha
I live in Madrid
I am from England
I am 36 years old
I like chocolate
My favourite colour is blue
Each student then completes the star and shares their information with the class.
As with any element of teaching English, how you model the first go sets the standard and the ‘how to’ for the students. If you are not enthusiastic, you can’t expect them to be. If you are not creative, giving etc, the same applies.
Stay tuned for more warmers in part 2.