Warmers for adult classes

by Gavin Addison
(Shane Training Centre, Japan)

‘Always do a warmer’ is a standard part of the EFL mantra, but why should we do them and what type of activity should they be?

The rationale for doing a warmer:
* The ice breaker. Often recommended with new students and classes but it actually applies to all students. People will communicate more easily if they feel familiar and comfortable with the person they are talking to. For new classes, warmers provide the chance to get to know their new classmates, to find something out about them. For existing classes, students often have no contact with each other outside of class so they will still feel a little awkward when suddenly forced back together in the lesson. Warmers give a chance for people to get to know the other people they will be communicating with.

* Lowering the affective filter. The affective filter refers to the mental barrier that we often put up which can often block or slow down the learning process. If we are happy and relaxed then we are more receptive to learning, and more willing to try out new language and make mistakes. If we are stressed or worried then we will ‘close down’ in the lesson. We can be too worried about making mistakes or not feel safe enough to try out new language. A warmer helps everyone relax and feel comfortable in the lesson, and lower their affective filter.

*Setting the tone. Lessons should be fun, communicative and all in English. The warmer should also be all these things and will set the students up for the rest of the lesson. After a dull, lifeless warmer, students are not going to be rushing into the body of the lesson, ready to learn.

* Entering the English world. Ideally entering the classroom should be like entering an English speaking world. As they step through the door they leave the world of their L1 behind. The warmer signposts that they have arrived in their new world and provides them with an easy first few steps.

* Warm up. It’s difficult to launch straight away into a completely different activity, like speaking a foreign language. Students need a chance to literally ‘warm up’ up their language skills before embarking on the more adventurous parts of the lesson.

Attributes of a good warmer activity:
* Quick. A warmer should be 3 – 5 minutes at most. There are many advantages of doing a good warmer to start the class but these are all lost if the warmer runs too long and doesn’t leave you enough time for the main part of the lesson. Even if the warmer is very successful and is generating a lot of language, don’t be tempted to let it run on. If an activity is particularly successful then there’s even more of an incentive to finish it quickly as you can always repeat it in a future lesson .
* Student centred. It goes without saying, but it’s the students who need the warmer, not the teacher. Warmers should be about the students and getting them talking. Warmers should be about what the students are interested in and ideally set up using student ideas.
* Communicative. Language is communication, especially in the classroom environment. The lessons generally follow a communicative approach, so this is what you are warming them up to do. Students should be talking to each other, preferably conveying some sort of authentic message. Avoid writing or reading beyond the level of individual words or short phrases.
* Fun. Like the lesson, warmers should be fun and get students engaged with using English. You need students to enjoy the warmer to want to continue with the rest of the lesson
* Easy. Students need to be successful, and thus success helps set the tone of the lesson. If the students fall at the first hurdle then you are hamstringing the rest of your lesson. Keep the activity simple and achievable, so the students
Review. Just as it should be easy, the warmer should also be based around language they already know. Don’t introduce new language at this stage, otherwise it will no longer be a warmer.

Sample activities
* 2 Truths, 1 lie. Write three statements about yourself on the board, 2 of them should be true and one should be a lie. Quickly have the students guess which statement is the lie. Then have the students take turns to produce statements about themselves.
* What’s the question? Write the answers to some simple questions about yourself on the board, e.g. Pizza – (what’s your favourite food?). Students then guess what the questions are. Repeat the activity with the students writing facts about themselves on the board.

One of the advantages of these activities is that they give the students control over the flow of information. Often when we want to find out about students it can come across a bit like an interrogation, what’s your job? Tell me about your family. In both these activities above students give out information about themselves, but they get to choose what information they impart.

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