We begin our series of 50 ESL warm-up activities for adults.
Many of the games that young students play are also enjoyable for adult language learners, but often classroom warm-up activities that are shared online are not appropriate for the interests and abilities of older students. Here are 50 activity ideas to get your class moving, talking, writing, thinking, and loving English each day.
Sentence Runner: Ss read sentences posted around the room and report back to a partner.
Before class, print and cut up 10 sentences with new or review grammar points, and hang these around the classroom walls. In pairs, one student may stand up and walk to a sentence, while the other must remain sitting, but can write. After completing a sentence, they can switch roles, until all sentences are successfully transcribed. (Recommended: number sentence strips and give each pair a worksheet with numbered lines.)
Walkabout: Ss respond on papers on the walls
Before class, prepare papers with trigger words or questions and hang around classroom or hallways outside the classroom. Some papers can be hung behind open doors or other slightly out-of-sight places. As student arrive, tell them to find each paper and write a sentence for each prompt. (Remind them to leave the paper for the next student!) Give them a time limit to try to find each paper. Trigger words can include: prepositional phrases for time and place; present perfect time phrases and associated words; modals; subordinators or other signal words.
This activity can be used as a Gallery Walk, by hanging response questions, review questions, or questions out of the textbook. Students can write on the paper or a separate answer sheet. Students can also read and respond to each other’s writing.
Charades: Ss act out actions for classmates to guess
Before class, prepare small cards with action pictures or verb phrases in a bag. Demonstrate game before starting by drawing a card and acting out the action. Write a question with the target verb tense on the board, such as What is she doing?/ What did she do yesterday? Encourage the students to use a full sentence to make a guess. She is riding a bike. Ask a willing student to draw the next card and monitor students’ guesses for the target grammar.
Who am I?: Ss ask each other questions to guess the word that they can’t see
Before class, prepare papers with level-appropriate nouns. Beginners might have stores in town, animals, common objects. Advanced students might have professions, specific household items, machines, common nouns with funny adjectives. The words do not need to be in the same category. As students enter the room, tape a paper to their back and ask them to talk to their classmates with only yes/no questions Am I…Do I…Can you… When they think they know the word on the paper, students can come back to the teacher to check.
Scavenger Hunt: Ss search for items that match each description
Before class, prepare a scavenger hunt worksheet for each small group or pair, with descriptive instead of specific requirements (ex: something you don’t use every day). Pass out the worksheets and set the boundaries for the range they can explore (inside the classroom, inside the building, etc.) To model the activity together, look around the room to find examples of several objects that meet the description of the first phrase (a highlighter, an umbrella). Set a time to allow them to find and write the name of items that could meet the description for each question. After activity, elicit answers with full sentences. (A highlighter is something I don’t use every day. or You don’t use an umbrella every day.)
Slap, Stomp: Ss move according to the symbols on the board
Write lower case letters “d” and “b” on the board. TWith your back to the board, show Ss to stomp with their left foot for “b” and right foot for “d.” Write “ ddbbdb” and ask Ss to stomp together (right,right, left, left, right, left). Then, write “ꟼ” and “P” and ask Ss to slap their right and left thighs. Write a rhythmic sequence like “ddbbꟼPꟼPdbdb” and have everyone stomp together. Try different combinations or let students create a sequence.
The Usual Suspects: Ss line up according to a characteristic
Draw a long horizontal arrow on the board. You can choose to label the arrow according to the characteristic that you will give the students. For example, the beginning of the arrow might be January, and the end December. Ask students to line up in the front of the room, by birthday. Demonstrate that January birthdays can stand at the beginning of the line and December birthdays at the end, and elicit the order of months in the middle. Give students a time limit and then ask each student for their birthday to check that they have completed the task correctly.
Other characteristics can include: number of siblings or family members (label arrow 0 to 10); number of American cities you have visited; how much you spend on groceries each week (0 to $500); how long it takes to get to school (1 min to 1 hour), etc.
For an extra challenge, make it a silent activity!
Snowball Fight: Ss toss balls of paper with response questions around the room
Give each student a piece of paper and ask them to write a conversational question for a classmate. (ex: What did you do last weekend? What’s your favorite restaurant in town?) After writing the question, they crumple the paper into a ball. When everyone is ready, declare a snowball fight. Students throw the balls at each other for 10 seconds. Then, everyone stops and picks up a snowball, answers the question, and crumples it back up. Repeat the snowball fights and response questions a few times. After the last one, students use the snowball they picked up and discuss their answer with a partner.
I need, I need: Ss race to find objects the teacher asks for.
Put students in small groups and write What do you need? on the board. Tell the class, “I need, I need!” and prompt them to ask the question on the board. Say “I need four pencils,” and ask someone from each group to bring four pencils. The first group to complete the task gets one point. Repeat with different objects or requirements: three different shoes, 4 things you wear on your head, something you never bring into the shower, 2 things you brought from your home country, etc.
Find your Group: Ss sort themselves into groups based on themed cards
Before class, prepare cards based on distinct categories, such as content pictures, word families, or popular characters. Pass out cards to students as they arrive in class and ask them to find their group by talking to classmates. Give them guidelines, such as 3 or 4 students per group. As more cards get passed out, students may want to revise their groups. For example, the student with a picture of an old-fashioned train may start with historic pictures but may move to transportation. After groups seem to be finished, ask them to explain their category to the class. Groups can be used for follow-up class activities.
Themes can include: review content from previous class (example: pictures of classrooms in developing, undeveloped, and developed countries); preview content to activate schema (example: pictures of various forms of clean energy, fossil fuels, and infrastructure); vocabulary word families (noun, verb, adjective, and adverb forms of content words); semantic categories (example: pictures of items in a school, home, hospital, factory, etc).
Keep going with On Tuesdays we talk, or download all of the activities together.
Thanks to Davy Tran for some of these great warm-up games! Download a PDF with the full list below.