The ten to fifteen minutes at the beginning of an ESL class are so valuable to both teachers and students. That is the time when students are fresh and eager to learn. I would go so far as to say that students may even be optimistic and excited about what they are about to do (at least that’s how I like to view the students in that part of the class). In the spirit of that optimism, the warm-up is a great tool to increase students’ confidence, show them what they know and what they need to work on, and give the teacher a clear understanding of where the class needs to go that day.
I generally start with a short exercise based on previous work. I typically do an error correction or Cloze exercise using yesterday’s structures or topic. Students compare answers with each other before we take up the work, and this kind of discussion and comparison is part of communicative language learning. Through such discussion, students get to “test” their knowledge, and hopefully see if they need to improve their understanding of a topic or skill. Supplying ample resources and opportunities for students to practice is a logical follow-up to a warm-up.
Sometimes I simply collect the warm-up exercise without correcting it with the students. I believe strongly in ongoing formative assessment, so I am always watching where my students are and what they know. If I have assigned an article to read, and I ask the students to write down the main idea on a post-it note, this will quickly reveal if the students understood (or even read) the article. I can easily flip through the post-it notes and determine their basic understanding of the article. Based on what I learn, my next activity may be adapted or changed.
Using technology or quizzes such as Kahoot are simple to create and fun for students. They can also being very revealing for the teacher. If I want to see if my students really understand the vocabulary we have been working on, I look at the bar graph breakdown after each Kahoot question. If a high percentage of students get an answer wrong, then again, it’s clear to me that more work needs to be done and the students’ understanding is not solid enough.
The warm-ups I use are quick and simple to create and complete, but they can be very revealing and helpful. The keys to using warm-ups effectively, however, are teacher response and flexibility. If a teacher doesn’t respond to the results of a warm-up, then it can be a waste of time. For example, if today’s lesson is based on yesterday’s learning, but a warm-up reveals a shaky understanding of yesterday’s topic, then the appropriate response by the teacher is to re-teach, review, and/or provide practice opportunities before moving on. The power of the warm-up lies not just in the opportunity for students to practice, but in what a teacher does with its results.
What are some of your favourite warm-up activities?
Suzanne Nicks is an EAP/ELTE instructor at Niagara College, current M.Ed. student, and musician.