Meeting the Learners: Ice-breakers & Warmers

by Sophia McMillan
(Shane Training Centre, Japan)

Warmers are fun and communicative, they should take around five minutes, be very simple to set up and are a good way to review or practise language. They are not an opportunity to present or learn ‘new’ language. They should energise the learners rather than dominate the lesson.

Learners need time to ‘warm up’ in English at the start of each lesson. By varying your activities and making them brief and purposeful learners will be more energized and focused towards dealing with the target language of the lesson.

By varying warmers the learners can be kept on their toes, interested, focussed and extends their knowledge. Always using the same warmer can be repetitive and often result in the same or similar language being produced week after week. Warmers should energise the learners rather than let the warmer dominate the lesson.

Below are some ideas for warmers, these can be adapted for different levels and learner types.

Ball Throws
Stand learners in a circle, say your name “My name’s….” and ask, “What’s your name?” while throwing the ball to a learner. Indicate that they are to do the same until everyone has spoken. Next throw the ball to a learner while saying their name and continue around the group. Stating likes and dislikes, how old are you? etc can extend this activity.

Post-it Game
Write the names of famous people / characters / places / objects etc on enough post-it notes for all the people in your group. Each person has a post-it note on their backs and with a partner they have to ask and answer questions to guess who / what they are.

Back to the Board / Taboo
Divide the learners in two teams A and B. One person from A sits with their back to the whiteboard. Team B writes a word on the whiteboard that team A have to explain to their teammate. They cannot say the word or mime / gesticulate. Allow a time limit of 1 minute per go.

Odd One Out
Prepare some vocabulary lists (E.g. kettle, microwave, saucepan, etc). Put learners into pairs or small groups and explain that you are going to read out a list and they must find the word that doesn’t fit. Read your lists allowing for learner discussion of their decisions. Have them explain their choices.

Put the learners into pairs and hand out a sheet of paper. Tell them to write the name of a man and met (e.g. Elvis met..) the fold the paper and pass it along. The next team writes the name of a woman and at (e.g. Madonna at & place) continue passing the ‘story’ around until eight folds have been written on. Then unfold and read. Learners can vote on who has the best story.

Meet ‘n’ Greet
Similar to the post-it game except that the names of people are not kept secret but are openly displayed. The learners are at a ‘party’ and must mingle, meet and greet each other in ‘character’.

Don’t say Yes or No!
A learner stands at the front of the group and the others have to ask them questions to force them to respond either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The volunteer learner has to answer the questions as quickly and honestly as possible without using yes or no.

Draw a Word
Divide the group into two teams A & B. Team B whispers a word to a member of team A, who then draws a representation of it on the board. Team A then has to guess the word (E.g. a picture of clocks to elicit the word ‘Time’). Set a time limit.

Blackboard Bingo
On the whiteboard write 15 words the learners are familiar with. Ask them to write down 5 of the words on a piece of paper. Next call out the words at random (as in bingo) and learners tick off the words they have written down.

Whiteboard Detectives
One learner sits with their back to the board. Write a sentence behind them (E.g. He must be ill.) The rest of the learners are witnesses and suggest, orally, concrete evidence of the situation (He is sitting in the doctor’s / he has a temperature etc.) until the learner guesses the situation.

Unfinished Sentences Mingle
Write down some unfinished sentences on a sheet of paper and tell learners they have to ask each person in the group to finish one sentence until all the sentences are completed.

Desirable Objects
Tell the learners you have an object to give away and the person or team that comes up with the most imaginative reason for having it ‘win’ the object. Try to include desirable objects (e.g. Ferrari) with undesirable objects (e.g. an empty tin can).

Similar to Back to the Board. Learners write words for things, films etc on scraps of paper. These are put in a cup and in turn each learner takes a piece of paper and tries to describe the object / thing without using that word.

And for the kids
Draw the Teacher
Divide the class into two teams. Draw 2 ovals shapes on the board. Then call out "Draw the teacher's eyes" and the two leading learners from each team run up and draw your eyes on the oval. Continue with other face parts e.g. "nose" which is drawn by the next two students. And so on.

Kids enjoy this as they have permission to make fun of the teacher, and your image can get to look pretty distorted. You can add other features, such as nose or ear hairs. This will also work if you want to do body parts as well. Just draw the basic torso instead of ovals. If the kids are unsure as to which facial/body part you're talking about, just point to it. Another variation on this could be for naming parts of animals. The resulting picture would be a monster i.e. peacock's tail, snake's head, elephant feet, bat's wings, etc.

Spin Zone
In pairs each group spins a coin or top, one learner says as many sentences or words in the target language as possible before the coin / top stops spinning. The partner counts. The learner who says the most words wins. The winners can compete in "spin offs".

Prepositions Game
Prepare a text containing prepositions. Take out the propositions and write them on separate pieces of paper. Put the prepositions in an envelope – one envelope per team. Tell the learners you are going to read a text and whenever you raise your hand they should bring you a suitable preposition; the fastest team are awarded points. Read the text. This can be expanded for higher levels by getting them to read the text.

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