More no preparation warm up activities to keep your students occupied while you do some last minute photocopying, grab a much needed coffee, etc. (For more stimulating warm up ideas we recommend the book 700 Classroom Activities)
Sometimes the simplest ideas turn out to be surprisingly effective and word games don’t get any simpler than word association. Give an initial word, for example, banana and each student takes it in turns to say a word which they associate with the previous word. If the connection isn’t obvious, challenge the student to justify their choice.
banana – monkey – zoo – tourists – hotel – bible …
Three things in common
This is a great icebreaker, but you can also use it as a lead-in to a theme or to test your students’ knowledge of a grammar point. Simply ask students to work in pairs and find three things that they have in common and then report back to the class. You can narrow the topic down to areas like: three things we both did at the weekend, three foods we both like, three things we both don’t like about this city,three things neither of us have done yet but would like to, etc.
Just a Minute Tic Tac Toe
Based on the BBC Radio show. Draw a Tic Tac Toe grid on the board and in each space write a topic that you think some of your students might be interested in or have some knowledge of. Play the game with two teams, to claim their X or O, a team member must attempt to talk about the topic in the chosen square for 45 to 60 seconds (depending on their level) without pausing or repetition.
I discovered this great activity at BusinessEnglishResources.com. Start off by explaining the concept of one-upmanship, that some people always like to appear to be more interesting or superior to others in their company. Tell the students a relatively mundane story about something that happened recently and invite a student to tell a similar story but to top it in some way. Each student in turn tries to top the previous student’s tale. For example:
You: Yesterday I overslept and was five minutes late to class.
Student: That’s nothing, I overslept and was an hour late.
Student B: An hour! I once overslept a whole day!
.If the students are sufficiently advanced you could have them watch/read through Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen sketch which is a very funny illustration of the concept.
Spontaneous Scatter Sheet
Scatter Sheets are a great way to review vocabulary, introduce a theme and get students talking. As a warmer, have students brainstorm words connected to a theme, for example, the seaside, London, marketing, etc. Write these words on the board randomly, not in straight lines or columns but higgledy-piggledy and at jaunty-angles. When you have around 20 words on the board, go round the room asking each student in turn to describe one of the words, when it’s been successfully guessed, circle it and move on to the next student. Encourage students to let the describer produce at least two sentences before shouting out the answer.
Spin the marker
Sometimes students just want a chance to talk and express themselves in an unstructured way and it’s a good idea to encourage this. Spin the marker pen and whoever it points to can dictate the conversation, ask questions, suggest the topic, etc. Spin the marker again when you feel the conversation has run its course. I find this activity works best when students are sitting in a small circle not too far apart.
Fortunately / Unfortunately
English learners often have trouble remembering and correctly pronouncing these two useful words. One way to practice it is to start a story and have learners alternately advancing the story using these adverbs.
Teacher: Yesterday my car was stolen.
Student A: Fortunately, it was insured.
Student B: Unfortunately, the insurance company went bankrupt.
Student C: Fortunately, my grandfather said he would buy me a new car.
Student D: Unfortunately, he’s lost his mind and doesn’t have any money.
Have students arrange themselves in order according to a given criteria. For example by age, alphabetical order of first name or surname, number of shoes owned, etc.
Letter string dictation
This is a great way to lead in to the topic that you want to cover in the class and also serves as a good way to review the alphabet. Think of a couple of questions for students to discuss in pairs or groups. Write the questions down and then dictate them as a long string of letters. For example,
After dictating the letter strings, students should attempt to form the questions and then discuss and report back to class.
Another way to never struggle for warm-up / filler activities is to have a copy of 50 Conversation Classes on hand. The book contains easy to copy and cut out conversation questions and further exercises on over 50 topics. Hand a pile of cards to students at the beginning of the class and they will produce all kinds of ideas, vocabulary and hopefully, interesting questions too.