The Power of the Warm-Up

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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.


5 thoughts on “The Power of the Warm-Up”

  1. I alternate many warm-up activities to keep Students excited to come on time. I teach Literacy L1/L2. A warm-up activity could be giving each student their own picture and having them write down any words they know in English. Colours, body parts, furniture, emotions like happy etc. Spelling doesn’t count. Lower students can work in partners.

    Once everyone has arrived I ask each student for one word from their list. I write it on the board as they spell it. We talk about phonetics and sight words. We make corrections etc then move on.

    I agree Suzanne. Warm-up activities set the mood, get students excited and can be educational. It also brings value to those who come on time.

    1. Thanks for this Heather… I love your point about rewarding those who come on time! I aim for a total of 15 minutes for a completed warm-up, and then on to the lesson of the day. How about you?

  2. Hi Suzanne,

    I agree with you 100%! It’s our responsibility to teach our students in a way they’ll understand what’s being taught at their particular level but to also make sure they’re grasping the concepts through continuous formative assessments.

    I sometimes like to use the Clearest and Muddiest Point exercise at the end of class where students write what they believe they completely understood and can confidently use, and then write what they’re still struggling to understand from the lesson. In the next class, I have them work together to review what we have learned in class by introducing a topic or a question. It gives them a chance to be in control and take responsibility for their own learning, review by teaching one another the skills they understood, and try to understand the skills they hadn’t previously understood by listening to their classmate(s) explain them. Not only does this build positive peer relationships, but it also increases their confidence!

    Thanks for sharing!


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