Top 5 non-preparation, quick starters for ESL teaching

IMG_20150922_111926Do you need ideas for a quick starter at the beginning of a class? Are you teaching with limited resources?

We all know that we should begin a class with a 10 minute starter to warm up our students brains and to wake up their minds to English. All of us ESL teachers have had that moment when we realise we haven’t prepared a starter. We need to think quickly on our feet. I thought I would share my top 5 non-preparation starters.

1. Stop-the-bus

Aim: To write a word related to each topic in pairs starting with a given letter as quickly as possible.

111categories-game-the-category-game-stop-the-bus-fun-activities-games-games_14436_5This is a classic game with lots of different versions. The way I play it, the students are in pairs so that everyone is focused and involved. I find that sometimes if I put the students in bigger groups, there will be students who become lazy and rely on other. Each group has a piece of paper and a pen. On the board, I draw a grid with topics on the left-hand side of what they know or what they have recently learnt; it totally depends on the level you are teaching e.g. clothes, fruit, past verbs, phrasal verbs, adjectives, adverbs. This means that this game can be used with beginners to advanced level. I usually write between 5-10 topics depending on how quick the group work. Each group copies this down on their piece of paper. Then I write a letter at the top and the students think of a word for each topic, starting with that letter. Again, depending on the abilities I use easier or harder letters. The first team to complete the list, shouts ‘stop the bus’ and everyone puts their pen down. As a class, we go through the winner’s words. If they are all correct, the team gets a point.  Then I do several rounds depending on the time. The pair with the most points wins the game. The students love this game and motivates them to be involved.

2. Board run

Aim: To write as many words as a team related to the topic without repeating words and spelling them correctly.

This is more of a physical activity and takes around 10 minutes. I put the class into 4 groups and they stand in a line facing the board. I give a board marker to the person at the front of the line. I write a different subject on the board for each group depending on their abilities e.g. food, animals, time phrases, physical descriptions, conjunctions. The first person has to write one word related to their heading then pass the board marker to the next person in the line and run to the back. I usually give them 1 minute 30 seconds.

After, all the students sit down and we go through each list as a class. I give a point to each correct word, which is related to the topic, spelt correctly and isn’t repeated. Then the team with the most points, wins.

3. A-Z list

Aim: To think of words starting with each letter of the alphabet related to a topic.

[002917]In groups of 2 or 3 with a piece of paper and pen, the students write the alphabet at the side of the page. I then give them a topic, where they have to think of a word starting with each letter of the alphabet e.g. jobs, countries, base verbs, body parts, time words. I usually give them around 7 minutes to think of as many words as they can. After, I put 2 groups together and they share their words. This gives them new vocabulary as well as reviewing words they already know. Sometimes, I get each student to write one word under a letter on the board.

4. One-minutes questions

Aim: To discuss a question for 1 minute

This is a quick speaking task, where I put them in 2s or 3s, depending on their speaking abilities. If they are lower abilities, I put them in 3s as it can be difficult to have a flowing conversation. I write a question on the board and I give them 1 minutes to answer the questions. Again, you can use different questions depending on their level:

– What did you do at the weekend?

– Who do you admire the most? Why?

– Where is the best place to travel? Why?

– How do you think the future will be different to now?

You can chose different questions based on the topics or grammar they have recently learnt. I normally get feedback from 1 group, getting a student to explain another person’s idea from their group. This means that they all have to talk and listen each other. Depending on time, I give them a 3-4 questions to discuss in total to fill the 10 minutes.

5. Word relationship

Aim: To write a list of words related to the previous word then discuss the relationship.

IMG_20150923_105831In pairs with a piece of paper and pen, the teacher gives a word to the class. Each group writes the first word then each person writes 1 word related to the previous word e.g yellow-sun-rain-water. I usually give them around 4-5minutes to do this then each group swaps with another pair. After, they look at the words to dexplain how each word is related to the last word. This is a good activity to get their minds warmed up as it incorporates speaking, writing, reading, listening and critical thinking.

All of these starters can be adapted to the ability of the class as well as spending longer or shorter time on them.

Have you used these? Are there other starter or warm-ups you like to use? What are they?

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