On the days that I run, I wake up at 5:45 in the morning when the sun has just risen. It’s a matter of perspective, but for me, that is still incredibly early. When I first got into this new routine I could barely open my eyes much less get myself to warm up. Instead, I just put on my shoes and started plodding down the road hoping that I’d get into a rhythm eventually.
The result of these first early morning runs was not great. There were two negative results of not taking the time to warm up. The first was that it took me about fifteen minutes before I was actually running at the pace I intended. This basically wasted a large portion of the run. The second effect was that I felt horrible the next day.
Not stretching and not taking the proper steps to get ready causes unnecessary strain on my muscles. How does this translate into the TEFL teaching world? Imagine your students come into the classroom and without so much as a greeting, you go right into the difference between second and third conditional.
If you don’t properly warm your students up, you’re going to end up wasting class time and leave your poor students feeling confused. Warming students up is key to a successful lesson. Read on for my tips on creating warmers and transitions to prepare classes of any age ready to do their best.
Or, if you just want some ideas for warmers, click on the button below to get a free pdf. I’ve included some warmers for adults and for young learners that are always successful in my classrooms. Enjoy.
Why Do We Use Warmers?
One very practical reason why warmers are a good practice is that quite often I find that some of my students do not arrive exactly on time. This doesn’t mean I just wait around for everyone to get there. It doesn’t mean that I just engage them in idle banter that makes the students feel uncomfortable. Instead, I get right to it and have a five minute warmer planned. Latecomers can either figure out what we’re doing, because the activity is simple, or wait a minute for me to move on to the meat of the lesson.
Another reason is to get the students ready for the lesson. This is, after all, why these activities are referred to as warmers. In running, you stretch. In singing, you do vocal exercises. In dining, you have an amuse bouche. In TEFL, you do a short, easy and fun activity so that students are in the right frame of mind for language learning.
Warmers are also good for building students’ confidence. If you follow the rules that I lay out in the next section when creating a warmer, it will be something that even your weakest student can accomplish. I find it extremely important when motivating students of any age, that they come away from a lesson feeling like they were able to AT LEAST accomplish one of the class aims with relative ease.
My 3 Rules for What a Warmer Should Be
Rule # 1: A warmer should be short.
If your warmer takes ten minutes or more, it isn’t a warmer. My rule when coming up with a warmer for my lessons is that it should be between two to five minutes. Occasionally, mine runs a bit longer than that, but if I am nearing ten minutes, I start to feel as if I’m wasting class time. I usually feel this loss when I am trying to do my freer practice phase at the end of the lesson and have to rush things.
Rule # 2: A warmer should be easy.
Again, your goal is to increase the students’ confidence and get them ready for the key lesson points ahead. A way to tell if a warmer is easy enough is to ask yourself whether your students have successfully done a similar activity. Also, check that it is using language slightly below their current language level, or that you’ve thoroughly covered with them already.
Rule # 3: A warmer should be fun.
Warmers are a great way to set the mood of the entire lesson. I find that if I make the first few minutes of a lesson fun, that I can get a lot more out of my students later on. Also, I quite selfishly would like to enjoy the lesson as well. If the students are having a good time, so am I.
Some Traps to Avoid
Trap # 1: Using new material.
A mistake that I’ve made a few times was to create a warmer that I thought would be a lot of fun, but that required a lot of languages I’d never taught the students before. While these were in fact fun, they took up to a third of the class to complete. They were more like auxiliary lessons than warmers.
Trap # 2: Making it a core part of the lesson.
Another mistake that I’ve made was trying to incorporate some of the target languages into the warmer. At the time I remember thinking I was being very clever and that it would gel together seamlessly. What instead happened was that I got a lot of questions and or had students generate a lot of mistakes because I hadn’t prepared them for the new language point. If you want to incorporate core target language in your warmer, make sure that it is passive or you’ll find that your warm-up isn’t really a warm up. It’s… something else.
Trap # 3: Don’t start over for latecomers.
Sometimes I’ve run into the situation where students will walk into the classroom while I’m in the middle of a song. As a teacher, I had two choices 1)start the song over 2) let it play out. In my experience, it’s much better to just play the song out. If I keep restarting an activity and re-explaining it, I end up losing the attention of the students who were there on time.
Warmers for Adults vs. Young Learners
Where each class has warmers that will or will not work for various reasons, the largest distinction is with warmers for adults and for young learners. There can be some crossover, but in general adult students don’t feel as comfortable singing nursery rhymes as children do. Children do not find the conversation game as stimulating as adults. Age does make a difference. The largest distinction that I’ve found is with how active the warmer is.
In general, active warmers are good for young learners because they are fun and simple. Songs with a lot of actions are great. Games that require a bit of jumping or activity are great for motivation.
Adults (again this is a generalization) are more prone to embarrassment. If you can gain the trust of your adults and they are open-minded, active games are appropriate. In general, though you don’t want to have them retreat into their shell within the first few minutes of the lesson because things got weird. On the flip side, it’s not as hard to entertain adults. A simple and easy activity or game infused with the life experiences of an adult don’t need as many bells and whistles to be engaging.
If you’d like to try some of my ready made warmers, click on the button below to get a free pdf. I’ve included some warmers for adults and for young learners that are always successful in my classrooms. Enjoy.