Warmers, or warm-ups, have been an integral part of my lessons, lectures and seminars for ever and ever. They work well with any age and level. There are a few important considerations to realize for yourself before introducing any warmers to your lesson.
After a couple of sessions, you will see whether your students need it and perform better at the beginning, in the middle or at the end. It pays to check their schedule and see whether they come to your English class after a grueling PE double period, a test in physics or geometry, or yours is their first lesson of the day. A warm-up should not be longer than five minutes, regardless of which part of the lesson you allocate to it. Last but not least, explain to your students what exactly a warm-up is! They may not be familiar with the concept.
My absolute number one warm-up quick effective activity is a familiar children’s song “You Put Your Right Hand In”. You can easily find it on the web, in many variations. I used to think, briefly, that it was good for younger learners only, giving them an opportunity to do some physical exercises and at the same time absorb the difference between Left and Right. But even during my first year of ELT at the local university, I realized two things. One, ALL students love to sing and dance at times. Two, even young adults do not always know right from left. The mix-ups produced a lot of laughter, and laughter, besides opening up human lungs, produces the hormone serotonin which makes us happier. All people smile in the same language.
The weather is another very familiar subject; as a warm-up, it can provide us with a good multi-faceted exercise. Here are a few examples:
Have your students quickly work in pairs to compile a list of words they know in their own language for RAIN and WATER. One pair should write down those words on the board in a column. Ask them to find the English equivalents for all the words they came up with. Be sure to tell them that it is all right to provide just one word for each notion. Tell them to save all the results in their notebooks for their next lesson.
Ask your class to come up with the words in their own language for whatever it is they consider the most characteristic feature of their country’s climate. In Siberia it is always SNOW. In other countries it may be SAND or OCEAN or any other word (a group of words). Let them compile a list of all the words connected with snow. Ask them to find the English equivalents. Tell them to save all the results in their notebooks for their next lesson.
Ask your class to work in pairs and provide the reasons for so many words which are connected to water and rain in the English language, and to explain why some different words are used to characterize the weather in their own language. From this short discussion, you may safely proceed to several full-time topics, like Weather, Climate, Global Warming and so on.
FOOD and MEALS are an ever fascinating topic, especially for teenagers. Suggest that your students quickly compile a MENU for any meal. If you have a large enough class, you may divide them into three groups, BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER. Naturally we adults know that girls’ and boys’ lists will differ greatly. We may suggest that they tick all the foods that are considered healthy, or ask them to produce a few reasons WHY their lists are so different.
The end-of-the-lesson activities may differ due to the regular schedule. Is it the end of an ELT lesson, after which your students will go on to other classes, or is it the end of their school day? It is very important to realize the difference because the level of general tiredness and as a consequence their attention span may vary significantly. A short video clip usually works wonders at the end of any lesson and at the end of the day. You may find one which is connected to the topic or issue at hand, or use any popular song or movie clip. Human interest stories work really well; anything about animals produces spontaneous reactions.
If your audience struggles with speaking activities, five-minute warmers are just the thing you need. Either start every lesson with one, or make a break in the middle, or switch into it at the end. Trust your own judgment as to when and how you should introduce those: you are the person who knows your students and their abilities best! You may wish to begin by simply asking them what subject they wish or DO NOT wish to discuss. In both cases, have them formulate at least one reason for their preference, in English. Allow them a few seconds to discuss it among themselves, even if they do it in their own language. The answer should be in English; they may have a designated speaker who will get an extra point from you. Be sure to rotate the speakers next time. This approach is very useful because it gives the learners freedom of choice and stimulates them to activate their vocabulary. If their communication skills are still in their beginner stage, they need a lot of encouragement.
Last but not least: a warm-up activity is not a regular textbook exercise. Any answers should be accepted. A kind word will go a long way in boosting up your students’ confidence.