Ways to start an adult lesson

1. Chat Especially in adult classes with few students and at higher levels, this is probably the world’s most used “warmer”. And for good reason- many people choose to take extra lessons precisely because they feel they didn’t learn to chat in English at school. The magic word here, though, is “learn”. Just as listening […]

1. Chat
Especially in adult classes with few students and at higher levels, this is probably the world’s most used “warmer”. And for good reason- many people choose to take extra lessons precisely because they feel they didn’t learn to chat in English at school. The magic word here, though, is “learn”. Just as listening to lots of tapes is not necessarily the best way to improve your English listening skills, chatting is not necessarily the best way to learn how to chat. You can make sure students are getting what they want out of this stage of the lesson if you can bring in some input on: language and speaking tactics like tag questions and other ways of making people you are talking to get involved; language you can use while you are thinking what to say; and practice of explaining things that you don’t know the word for. Another nice way of showing that the chat at the beginning of the class is something you have thought carefully about is to link seamlessly between the topic you make the chat move towards and the next stage of the lesson. One way of doing this is moving into a controlled practice game on the same topic, e.g. find things in common about your weekend, but this time responding with “So did I”, “Neither could I” etc.

2. Physical warmer
In many of the more “textbook” lesson plans, rather than a chat it is a warmer that starts every lesson- and to many people a warmer means a physical warmer. Examples which can also be used with adults include: throwing a ball back and forth as you ask and answer questions; doing paper scissor stones and the person who loses doing a challenge; sticking your hands into the middle of the room, grabbing two random hands and working together to unscramble everyone without breaking the chain; a board race (racing in teams to write as many things in a particular category as you can on the whiteboard); and miming vocabulary or whole sentences for the other students to guess. Problems with physical warmers that are not carefully chosen and planned can include a lack of language being used, embarrassment with something that can seem childish, or students who don’t really need to be warmed up in that way because they just walked to the school being made to do it anyway because it is on the lesson plan.

3. Other warmers
An internet search should easily find you lots of sit down warmers, both ones designed for TEFL classes and ones you can adapt from pages for workshop presenters, drama teachers etc. A good warmer should get the students involved straightway (i.e. very little sitting around listening to instructions), not need any language input to get it started, last between 3 and 10 minutes, and be something you can cut off the minute the students are warmed up or the teacher needs to move onto the next stage.

4. The same task/ game as last week
One way of making sure that there aren’t new instructions to handle in the warmer stage is just to do a quick rerun of exactly the same game as last week, e.g. playing Prepositions Snap with the same playing cards but this time stopping after 5 minutes to see who has the most/ least cards instead of playing until one player has clearly won. Alternatively, using a variation on a game rather than something entirely new should also cut down on the amount of explanation needed.

5. Check homework
Perhaps the antithesis of playing a game at the start of the lesson is the secondary school “classic” of “Get out your workbooks and let’s check your homework”. This can be justified if the students are losing motivation to do their homework because the teacher treats it as an afterthought, if they need the language in the homework for the rest of the class, if it lasts the same 3 to 10 minutes as a good warmer, if it is unlikely to lead onto long language presentations that will extend that period and distract from the main language point of the day, if it links to the next stage of the lesson plan, and if it is followed by something fun. A good way of cutting down on the time and tedium of starting by checking the homework is to give students the answer key (either with the homework or at the beginning of the next class) to check their own answers. You can then just take questions on why certain answers are correct, if other answers are possible etc. You can add fun to checking homework by basing the first game entirely on the language in the workbook, e.g. a memory game based on a dialogue in it.

6. Error correction
Correcting errors from the last homework or last lesson’s speaking task is another activity I remember less than fondly from the starts of my school lessons but still use myself sometimes. The key here is to do it as a game, e.g. grammar auction or pairwork error dictation, and to make sure all the students are involved.

7. Student presentations
If you are getting the students to give presentations, the beginning of the lesson can work in some classes as it means the presenter can get it out of the way and so concentrate on the rest of the lesson without worrying about what they are going to say, and because it tends to be interesting for the other students. It may also be possible for you to form a clear link between the presentation or the feedback on it and the aim of the rest of the lesson. Problems can include tired students not really concentrating on what is said (you can give them a task such having to ask a question at the end to try and tackle this) and the person who is supposed to start your lesson with their presentation turning up late or not at all.

8. Something else they have prepared for
For example, comparing what they came up with in their internet research or presenting one news story to their partner.

9. Word bag
In this regular activity, the class work together to collect a bag or box full of pieces of paper with the vocabulary they want to learn written on. They can then test each other on this vocabulary or play games with it such as miming, Taboo or story telling.

10. Test each other on last week’s lesson
Testing each other can be expanded to include anything you have covered, especially if the things you ask them to test each other on link to the next stage of the present lesson. Possibilities include testing each other on their memory of the content of a story or other text (especially if that is bound to bring up particular language or if the same characters are in the next lesson), doing the same gap fill again but reading out the sentences with a “hmmmmm” representing the gap to test your partner, or testing their memory of what actually happened in class (maybe using particular language such as “first”, “then” and “finally”).

11. Mini tests
The great thing about students testing each other is that it is fun, which is more than can necessarily be said for “pop quizzes” from the teacher. You might still want to give them mini tests yourself occasionally or regularly if: a test such as the end of year exam is a real priority for the students; the students have started thinking that games in the rest of your lessons means that the English lessons aren’t serious; some students who manage to struggle through speaking work need showing just how far behind they are in other ways; or if more fun ways of practising the target language have not been successful in helping them learn it. Ways of making these mini tests at least a little stimulating include slightly game-looking formats such as crosswords, very strict time limits, letting them work together on them, and being given one more chance after turning them over and revising the point in their textbooks for 3 minutes. The last tactic can also be used with them swotting for a test they have already seen or done between lessons, and then being given 5 minutes to correct their own test answers at the beginning of the next lesson.

12. Silent reading
I have never tried this one, but have heard it recommended by several well-known proponents of Humanistic Language Teaching and Dogme. As students come into class there are already articles on their chairs for them to read, either something chosen for each person or the same article for the whole class. Students read in their own time, then give their reactions and/ or explain what they read to others. You can choose these articles to link into the rest of the lesson you have planned, or you can improvise the lesson based on what comes up from the reading and discussion.

13. A performance by the teacher
E.g. “Do you remember your teacher?”- the teacher comes into class and does some very unusual things such as cleaning part of the window before walking back out of the class again. When they come back in, students test each other on what the teacher did, leading onto the target language of the day. Similar teacher-led warmers include anecdotes that are obviously false and eliciting a whole text using only mime.

14. Start with a bang
One general way of looking at a good start to the lesson is something that instantly gets their attention and gets them involved, such as a performance by the teacher, writing TEST in big letters on the board, tossing the cards to play the same game as last week to pairs of students, blowing up a beach ball without saying what it is for, or asking them to stand up.

15. Start slow
To match the moods of particular students or particular lessons and to add variety (as well as to save you having to think of a high impact start to every single lesson) you can see the first stage of the lesson as something that ends with them ready to go but starts fairly slowly. This could consist of checking homework, being given texts to read or chatting. The secret with this approach is not to forget that you still want them to be as warmed up by the end of that stage as they are when doing a warmer with instant impact.

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


  • Stephannie, Indonesia says:

    Hi, thanks a lot for have shared the ideas. I am a teacher-want-to-be. I’ve been teaching adults, which are teachers of kindergarten and elementary school. I found your ideas are great! I’m going to applied that in my class.

  • Fiona Brown says:

    Further to the chatting: an activity I have used to get students (usually in adult or higher-level teenagers’ classes) warmed up is to ask one student for a letter, then ask another student for a word (preferably a noun) beginning with that letter. Then I have them talk about that topic in pairs or small groups – no pressure, I don’t really need to listen in, although sometimes they want to involve me in the discussion.

  • Maya says:

    Thanks a lot. Wonderful ideas. My students are mainly students and adults coming to my classes after their working day. So I think doing something to cheer them up or help them forget (even for a while) their work- or family-related problems, is extremely important. I’m sure I’ll try some of the types. Let’s see how they work in my context.

  • Mayadah says:

    The ideas were very wonderful. They were applicable ,too. Thanks alot for such ideas. Lots of greetings

  • RongXiongDai says:

    Thank you! It can give me some tipps in use, although all my students are teenagers, I can get some imformation for my teaching.

  • Alex Case says:

    a warmer is a short activity, usually at the start of a class, whose chief purpose is to get the students’ energy levels up so that they are awake and in a good mood for the rest of the class

  • erold says:

    hi: l’m very glad to read this. Seriously, it’s very interesting for me. Cause, l’m learning a lot of thing, l didn’t know before. But, l would like to know more about this word ”warmer”, especially what that’s mean. thanks

  • Meena Kalyan says:

    Thanks a ton. So many variables to choose from. I dream for hours thinking of alternatives, to make the beginning more interesting as it sets the tone for the hour. Some of them I’ve already been using and others I’ll surely use in the near future. I find these tips exceedingly useful. Thanks again

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