Running late and need time to make some photocopies or grab a cup of coffee? This list of no-prep warm up activities will allow you to buy some time and ease into a nice productive class. Alternatively, having a copy of our pair-work crossword book means always having a bullet-proof way to start your ESL class.
Make the most words
Write a topical vocabulary item on the board. In twos or threes, students make as many new words from it as they can. Use longish seed words such as apologise, dictionary or September. Score teams a point per word and award a bonus point for the longest.
Make the longest words
Write a topical target word vertically down the board, for example, WINTER. In twos or threes, students attempt to come up with the longest word that begins with each letter. Give teams a point per word and a bonus point for the longest.
What does your name mean?
Using a dictionary, google or any other resource, students find and write down an appropriate adjective that begins with each letter of their first name. For example:
Flirtatious, Relaxed, Extrovert, Desirable
Write a sentence on the board but mix up the word order, then challenge students to reconstruct the original sentence. For example:
morning hadn’t eaten wish that döner kebab I at this 5am
Mixed-up sentence (anagram variation)
Write a sentence on the board but this time scramble the letters of each word. For example:
hwy ddint’ I dusty draher ta vieyunrsit?
What do you know about bananas?
Set a five-minute time limit and in groups have students think up and write down as many facts as they can about bananas (or cats, Belgium, David Beckham, etc.). One point should be given for each true sentence.
How many sounds can you hear?
Students sit in silence for two minutes and write down every sound that they hear. Let them compare their lists with their neighbours before seeing who has the longest list?
The A to Z game
Give students a theme, for example, jobs, things you take on holiday, food. Write the letters A to Z on the board. Teams of students must race to write an appropriate word next to each letter on the board. Read more about the A to Z game here.
Things to do with a potato
(one of many brilliantly simple ideas from this great book) Produce a potato (if that’s not possible, introduce the concept of a potato). Ask students to come up with a list of as many unconventional uses for it as they can. For example paperweight, weapon, pen holder, smartphone dock. The longest list wins the potato.
Odd one out
Give the students a couple of examples to guess, then get students to come up with their own ideas. Here are some examples:
apple, peach, banana, tomato – a banana doesn’t have seeds
strawberry, branch, bowling ball, boat, iceberg – bowling balls don’t float
window, river, envelope, client, oregano – client doesn’t begin and end with the same letter
comb, champagne, knife, plum – the word plum doesn’t contain any silent letters
Note: There can be more than one correct answer
Have students think of 10 items that fit particular criteria. For example:
- Jobs where you have to wear a uniform
- English football clubs
- Sports that are played with a ball
- Foods that contain egg
- Animals that lay eggs
- Three letter parts of the body – eye, arm, leg, hip, ear, toe jaw, rib, lip, gum
Two truths and a lie
An ESL classroom staple. Write or dictate three sentences about yourself. Two statements should be true and one false, for example:
I used to be an air steward
I can ride a unicycle
My favourite food is sushi
Now invite students to discuss in pairs which statement they think is the lie. Ask each pair which statement they think is untrue and have them explain why. Reveal your answer, and ask students to come up with three sentences about themselves. I find students need quite a lot of time (at least five minutes) to come up with three ideas. If some students are still short of a sentence or two, start the game anyway, and they can finish their statements during play. Check students’ statements and then have them take it in turns to read them out to the class. In each case, the other students have to guess which is the untrue statement.
For a longer more involved version of this game, see the lying game.
Mastermind (AKA Bulls & Cows, Jotto)
Based on the code-breaking board game where players have to deduce the order of 4 coloured pegs which the other player had hidden behind a plastic guard. It’s slightly complicated to grasp but fun when you get the hang of it.
Think of a four letter word and write XXXX on the board, each X represents one of the letters of your word.
Invite the first student to guess what the word is.
Start a new line underneath your original XXXX. If the first letter in the student’s word is the same as the first letter in your word put a ✓ in the first position. If the first letter is not the same as the first letter in your word but is contained somewhere in your word put a half-tick /. If the first letter of the student’s word is not contained anywhere your word put an X.
In the following example, the teacher chooses the word FIRE.
XXXX – COAT
X/XX – BEST
X✓X✓ – HIKE
/✓X✓ – RIDE
✓✓✓✓ – FIRE
A word of warning. Stick to 4 or 5 letter words. It’s much more difficult to guess longer words and it can also be tricky trying to mark each guess.
When students are familiar with the game you can get them to come and put their own words on the board.
I’m going on a picnic and I’m taking a …
This is a guess the rule type game. Think of a rule which governs which items can be taken on a picnic, for example, it must be six letters long, or it must start with a vowel. In this example, the rule is that the word must be an uncountable noun.
Teacher: I’m going on a picnic and I’m taking milk.
Student A: I’m going on a picnic and I’m taking eggs.
Teacher: No, you can’t take eggs.
Student B: Can I take orange juice?
Teacher: Yes, you can take orange juice.
Continue until students guess the rule. If they’re not making any progress, continue to add further items you would take e.g. love, information, air (the choices don’t have to make sense within the picnic scenario). Invite the students alone or in pairs to come up with their own rules and let them run the game.