Warmers and Lead-Ins by Hall Houston

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Click here for "More Lead Ins" by Hall Houston




In previous EIT articles, I’ve given some suggestions for teaching the first class. Now, I’m going to present some information about starting off a lesson (or what to do during the first few minutes of class).


What should a teacher be doing at the start of a lesson? Here are some ideas:


  • getting a sense of what kind of mood students are in
  • briefly reviewing things covered in the previous lesson
  • giving an overview of the day’s lesson
  • previewing the course material
  • taking attendance


One common tradition in language teaching is to begin a lesson with a warmer, an activity to get students practicing English before opening the coursebook. Warmers are usually fun activities that focus on fluency practice. Ideally, warmers should only last a few minutes.


In his terrific book, Classroom Management Techniques, Jim Scrivener differentiates between a warmer and a lead-in. While a warmer is usually has no direct relationship to the rest of the lesson, a lead-in is a quick preview of the material that will be covered in class.


So which is better for the beginning of a lesson, a warmer or a lead-in? I think both have their strengths. A fun, breezy warmer can add a bit of variety to a lesson, and might appeal to students who like a change of pace. On the other hand, a lead-in is a better choice for a more cohesive lesson. This is particularly important with beginning level students, who need a lot of structure and repetition.


Now I’m going to give you a few warmers and lead-ins that you can use in class.


These first two warmers are a great way to start off a lesson and get an idea about what kind of mood your students are in. Note: these two activities are based on activities from The Recipe Book edited by Seth Lindstromberg (Pearson).


How are you feeling?


Ask your students to think of an adjective that describes the way they’re feeling right now. They shouldn’t say the word, but just keep it in their heads. When everyone’s ready, ask them all to stand up and remain quiet. Tell them you will list a series of adjectives. When they hear their word, they should sit down. Eventually, you will run out of adjectives. If there are still a few students standing, ask them to say their adjectives. If you have time, you can ask a few of the students about the adjectives they chose.


What are you thinking about?


Write this question up on the board. Tell the class you want them to write anything they are thinking or feeling up on the board, but they must do it in Chinese (no English). Once everyone has written something on the board and returned to their seats, tell them they need to go back to the board, find a sentence they didn’t write, and add the English translation. When everyone is sitting down again, read out some of the English on the board and ask for students to make corrections. Also, comment on some of the sentences that appear more than once. (I’m hungry and I’m tired are very popular with my students).


Here are a few short warmers that can be used to start off a lesson quickly:


  • Write a long word on the board, such as RAMBUNCTIOUS or ASPHYXIATE. Ask students to use the letters of the word on the board to make other words. Write these words on the board.


  • Write a letter on the board. Tell students to call out any words they can think of starting with that letter. Write 6 or 7 of these words on the board. Put students into pairs and ask them to chat about one of the subjects written on the board for two minutes.


  • Ask a student to stand up in front of the class. Tell everyone that for the next 60 seconds they can ask him questions, but he will not speak, only listen. At the end of the minute, the student can answer any of the questions he wants to.


  • Ask a student to stand with her back to the blackboard. Tell her not to turn around Write a word on the board, and then get the other students to give her clues, until she can guess the word. Repeat with another student.


If all of this sounds like a waste of time, you might prefer to use a lead-in that ties in nicely with your lesson plan. Please note: many coursebooks include a lead-in activity, either in the student’s book or in the teacher’s book. However, if they don’t, try out one of the following activities.


One Sentence


Write a sentence on the board from the lesson. Ask one student to read it aloud. Now get students to guess what they think the lesson is going to be about. Call on several students to give you their ideas.


One Question


Write a conversational question on the board that uses some of the vocabulary or grammar that students will encounter in class that day. Drill the question a couple of times with the class. Next, ask students to stand up and ask 5 people this question before returning to their seats.


Translation Challenge


Before class begins, write on the board a good Chinese translation of 7 words from the day’s teaching material (or find a student to do this). When class begins, invite students to write the translation for any of these words on the board. Tell them that these words will come up in the lesson. As the lesson progresses, get them to write the English translation for any words not covered during the lead-in. (Thanks to my colleague Matt Fryslie for this idea.)



Hall Houston teaches at Kainan University in Taoyuan County, Taiwan. His articles have been published in periodicals such as It's for Teachers, Modern English Teacher and English Teaching Professional. He has written 3 books: The Creative Classroom: Teaching Languages Outside the Box, Provoking Thought: Memory and Thinking in ELT, and The ELT Daily Journal: Learning to Teach ESL/EFL

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