15 physical warmers and games that work well with adults

1. The untie ourselves game Students stand together in the middle of the room, stick all their arms into the space between them and grab the hands of two random people. Working together as a class, they have to step over each others’ arms etc. without breaking their grip until everyone is standing in a […]

1. The untie ourselves game
Students stand together in the middle of the room, stick all their arms into the space between them and grab the hands of two random people. Working together as a class, they have to step over each others’ arms etc. without breaking their grip until everyone is standing in a single circle facing the middle of the classroom. It is almost always possible to do and takes 2 to 5 minutes each time. This can lead onto imperatives, discussions of teamwork and leadership skills, or body part vocabulary and idioms.

2. The guess which hand game
One student in each pair hides a coin or something similar in their left or right hand and asks a question with two possible answers that they know the answer to, e.g. “Is my favourite fruit apples or pears?” The student lifts the hand with nothing in it when they mention the wrong answer (“apples”) and the hand with something hidden in it when they give the right answer (“pears”). Their partner then guesses which of the two options is true, and they open their hands to reveal the real answer.

3. Spin the bottle
Students ask a personal question, then spin a pencil or similar to see who it points at and therefore who should answer the question- including the person who made the question. This works best if you give them some prompts with words that could be used in both difficult to answer and easier to answer questions, e.g. “debt” for “How much debt do you have?” or “Do you think debt is a big problem in your country?”

4. Slap
Students race to slap their hands down on cards on the table. This could be slapping “True” or “False” cards in response to listening to statements, slapping one of a pair of cards describing functions depending on what kind of language they hear (“Agreeing” or “Disagreeing” or “Telephoning” or “Emailing”) etc.

5. Right hand/ left hand race
Rather than slapping cards on the table, students can also respond to prompts by racing to hold up their right hand (to represent “true” or “Simple Past”) or left hand (“false” or “Present Perfect”). More amusing versions make them put their right hand on their head or their left hand on their right shoe etc.

6. Thumbs or palms game
Another simple, physical way of students racing to show “true” or “false” is putting up their thumbs or making a cross with their open hands. Note that these gestures vary a lot from culture to culture, and simple gestures for “okay” in one country can be offensive in another- which is also a good topic to mention after doing this game.

Another game that demands quick hands is SNAP, in which students take turns turning over cards and adding them to a pile on the table. Whenever the card just placed and the card under it match in any way (e.g. both adjectives take the same preposition, or both nouns are uncountable), the students race to slap their palms down on the whole pile while saying “Snap!” If they do actually match, the person who was first to slap and shout takes the whole pack of cards under his or her hand, and the game continues until one person has all the cards.

8. Paper scissors stone
A much simpler activity involving quick hands and moving your body is to get students doing the Japanese game “janken”, known in America as “rock paper scissors”, to decide who goes next in whatever game they are playing. On the count of three, students put out their hands as a stone/ rock (closed fist), scissors (first two fingers out) or paper (flat palm). Scissors beat (= cut) paper, paper beats (= wraps) stone and stone beats (= crushes) scissors. If there are more than 2 people and all 3 are hand shapes come out, just repeat until there is a clear winner.

9. “Do you have” passing game
Students sit in a circle and pass around some small objects whilst trying to conceal whether they have them in their hands or not and keep track of where the other objects are. When the teacher shouts “Stop”, the students try to guess who has which object with “Do you have (the eraser)?” or test each other on where things are with “Does he have (a rubber band)?”. This is good for learning classroom vocabulary.

10. I pass these scissors crossed
This is a nice easy warmer that combines a simple physical action with a bit of lateral thinking. The class sits in a circle on chairs without tables, and the teacher passes the scissors open or closed to the student next to them saying either “I pass these scissors crossed” or “I pass these scissors uncrossed”. The students must then do the same, to be corrected by the teacher and any students who know what is going on if they do it wrong. The tricky bit is that the words “crossed” or “uncrossed” refers to whether the person speaking has their legs crossed or not, and has no connection to whether the scissors are open or closed. This can be used for a high level class doing unusual uses of the Present Simple like “I now pronounce you man and wife” (for lower level classes, you can change the sentence to “I am passing…” for Present Continuous for present actions). It is also a good introduction to a lesson about lateral thinking and logic puzzles.

11. Sticky ball/ target practice
One seemingly childish physical game that adults can really get into is throwing things. For example, if you are doing a noughts and crosses or disappearing text game on the board, rather than asking students to explain which place they want to go next, get them to throw a ball, balled up piece of paper etc. at the board to try and hit the one they want to select.

12. Blindfold directions
Another thing students can quickly get into after a little shock at doing something they haven’t since they were 10 is doing things with their eyes closed or with a blindfold on. The most physically interactive version is to get students to stand up and be guided to somewhere else in the classroom by their classmates’ instructions. For students who would be shy standing up, you can do the same with an obstacle course of rulers etc. on the table.

13. Label the classroom
Students race to label all the objects in the classroom by writing the names of the objects on post it notes and sticking them to them. This works best if in each team people are divided into those who write on the slips of paper and those who run over to the objects and stick them on.

14. Treasure hunt
A slightly more cerebral activity that gets students walking around the classroom, school or even neighbourhood is to give them instructions on how to progress from place to place looking for clues to the final answer, e.g. particular letters from particular posters etc. that add up to the final word.

15. Who spoke Spanish in the English class?
This is a good way of getting students loosened up and moving around at the same time as helping them learn each others’ names. The students sit with their chairs in a semi circle, introduce themselves, and try to remember each others names without writing them down. The whole class says “Who spoke (Turkish) in the English class?” and the person in the first seat chooses any other person and says “(Gozlem) spoke Turkish in the English class”. If they got the name right, Gozlem then replies with “Who me?” to which the accuser says “Yes, you” and Gozlem replies “Not me”, to be asked “Then who?” Gozlem then accuses any other person apart from the last person who spoke with “(Mehmet) spoke Turkish in the English class”. If at any point anyone makes a mistake with the wording or anyone else’s name, they have to move to the last seat of the row and everyone else moves up one chair, and they start again with “Who spoke…?” The person sitting in the first chair at the end of the game is the winner.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net March 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.


  • Chris Zupo says:

    Excellent, just what I have been looking for!

  • Kathleen says:

    Hi Margaret:

    I have a suggestion for tired adults. There’s a children’s toy called BOP IT. It has three functions, you have to PULL, TWIST or BOP it. They have to listen to the instructions and react quickly then pass it. It keeps getting faster and faster. It’s a great way to check their reaction and listening skills, and to get the blood moving. Usually there is a lot of laughter too. There seems to be a new version from Hasbro. Here’s a link: http://www.hasbro.com/games/en_us/bopit/ that involves more physical activity and listening. The older version that I have seems to be challenging enough for them. If you go to Amazon.com you can see the older version. It’s straight, not curved. I’ve used this as an energizer, for groups of adults aged 21 – 54. They all seem to like to. Good luck and have fun!

  • Margaret says:

    I liked these ideas very much and I think they would work very well with young adults. I have 3 groups of older adults. 2 groups are mostly young retired and have lots of get-up and go and we meet in the day so, no problems. It’s the evening group I’d like to find something for. Most of them come straight from work and I’d something a bit energising and fun to start the evening. They’re mainly between 40 and 60. Any ideas would be welcome!

Leave a comment

TEFL.net : ESL Lesson Plans : Classroom Ideas : Fillers and Warmers : 15 physical warmers and games that work well with adults

Is there anything wrong with this page? Let us know ↗️