Warmers, Fillers and Activities

English as a foreign language is a great subject to teach as it has endless possibilities of ways that you can teach and practice the language.

One thing that I always try to include in my lessons are fun ways to start and end lessons. I call these warmers and fillers, since they can warm students up at the beginning of the lesson to get them motivated, or they fill in an amount of time at the end of the lesson if students have finished all the tasks earlier than expected.

In this blog I want to write about my top five favourite ten minute activities that I use regularly in class and that work well. I am always interested in trying new activities so if you are reading this and want to comment on what works well for you then please feel free to do so.

1. Countdown

Countdown_titles_2012Countdown is a well-known TV program in England. The basic rules are that a player chooses 9 letters from a selection of consonants and vowels. After choosing the 9 letters, teams have 30 seconds to make the longest word possible. The longest word wins and the winning player receives as many points as they have letters in their word. If there is a tie then each team receives the same points.

To work best in the classroom I change the rules slightly from the TV show. I use a bag of scrabble tiles and choose the letters at random for the students. I do this mostly to save time, however I have divided them into consonant and vowels on occasion.

The reasons why I like this as a short activity is that it generates motivation and competition. It also gives students a chance to think of the way spelling works in English and it tests their vocabulary knowledge. From my experience, it is a winner every time.

2. Backs to the board

Backs to the board is a game where teams compete to describe a word written on the board where a member of their team cannot see it. Their back is literally facing the direction of the board. The student’s team have to try help explain what the word is but without actually saying the word.

I change the rules from class to class, but the basic principle is that the teams have a minute to guide the student to the word.

The reason I enjoy this game is that it is helpful in revising vocabulary that we have covered in class and it also allows students to use as much English as they know to communicate and give meaning to a word. Again it’s competitive and gets students motivated as well as having the benefit of checking students understanding of vocabulary.

3. Find someone who

This activity is a classic used by many teachers as a first day of class ‘get to know you’ activity, but I think it can be adapted to practice a whole array of different things.

First start with table with enough rows for your sentences and enough columns for the names of other students. Students have to walk around the class and ask questions to each student filling out their tables.

One thing I don’t include is the question. I elicit at the start of the task how I might make a question using the board. For example, I will write ‘Find someone who…… has the same favourite colour as you/prefers dogs to cats/has been to Scotland’  and then elicit back ‘What’s your favourite colour?/Do you prefer dogs to cats? Have you been to Scotland?’.

What I like about the ‘find someone who’ activity is that it is adaptable for lots of things and that it gets students out of their seats and mingling with students that they wouldn’t usually speak to. It also gets them producing the language necessary to make questions on the spot. One thing I have found about this activity is that it works best with a big class. I will sometimes drop this activity if student numbers have been too low.

4. Who/what am I?

This activity is very similar to 20 questions since you have to guess who or what you are, and the person you ask is only allowed to give yes/no answers. In this activity I usually start by reviewing how to ask yes/no questions and eliciting examples, e.g. Am I a man? Am I American? I might demonstrate the task first by asking students to think of a person for me to guess. It doesn’t matter if I don’t guess correctly but it helps them to understand the way the activity should be done.

In my version of this game I like to stick a famous person onto the backs of the students. Instantly this generates interest and smiles as students look at each others backs. Students then have to stand up and mingle with other students asking their yes/no questions. If I think students are talking to the same person for too long I will shout ‘MIX’ so students stop who they are talking to and move to a new person. It helps to pre-teach this word first to avoid any confusion.

The reasons why I really like this activity is that it gets students out of their seats, gets them laughing and smiling, and it gets them really thinking about the best questions to as in English. It can be also be adapted, so instead of being a famous person they will be a phrasal verb, or a country, or any other lexical area you are covering that week.

5. Act or Draw

Act or draw is a mixture of charades and pictionary. What I do is have a bag of vocabulary that students learnt in previous lessons. I allow students to choose a word at random and then roll a dice deciding whether they will act out the word or draw it, 1-3 is act and 3-6 is draw. I set a time limit and if students don’t guess the word in time then I’ll pass it onto the other team to have one guess.

Splitting students into teams really helps with the competitive nature and students are able to laugh at each other trying to act out or draw a funny phrasal verb or other word and it’s another great activity for reviewing vocabulary.

There is always a place for a short activity in a lesson and these are only a snapshot of the ones out there. I have tried using lots of different ones but these five are my fail safe options for a motivated class. Of course the types of activity used in one class do not always work for another. Factors such as age, culture, personal character and the size of the class all have an effect and it is important to consider that what one class finds motivating another class won’t. It helps to know your students well before attempting anything new but I go by the motto ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, so even if an activity doesn’t work well the first time you try it it helps not to be disheartened but to ask yourself what went wrong and what you would do to make it better.

Thanks for reading.




Filed under ESL, Lesson Plans, Teaching English

2 responses to “Warmers, Fillers and Activities

  1. Ewa

    Great post, Tom 🙂 Perfect for the professional development session on Thursday! Just saying 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s