Monday, May 7, 2012

Warm-Up Activities for Elementary-Level ESL Classes

Patrick Henry Elementary School student teache...
Teaching and Learning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
By Ross P Purdy

The warm-up is one of the most important elements of any English lesson. Warm-up activities relax your students, get them into "English mode," and - perhaps most importantly - set them up for success in your class.

For this latter reason, your first activity in any ESL class should not be more challenging than the rest of the lesson.

I have observed lessons in which the teacher's warm-up completely flummoxed the student(s) and visibly sapped all their confidence before the class had even truly begun! For elementary students, therefore, it is especially important to keep it simple.

Here are some straightforward warm-up activities for beginner- and elementary-level ESL classes.

1. On-the-Board Concentration

To prepare, draw two 3x3 grids on a piece of paper and choose nine key vocabulary words to write in the squares in each grid. The positions of the words should be different in grids 1 and 2, but you must use the same nine words for each grid. At the start of your class, draw two 3x3 grids on the board. Label the squares in the first grid 1-9, and in the second, A-I.

Students can play this game in teams or individually, depending on class size. Have the first student say a number and tell the class the corresponding word from your first grid. Then, have this student say a letter and tell them the corresponding word from your second grid. If the words match, and the student can spell the word correctly, a point is awarded. If not, it is the next student's turn. As an alternative to having students spell the word, ask them to use it correctly in a sentence.

To make it more challenging, you can have concepts in the first grid, and examples in the second, or you could ask the students to match opposites or synonyms.

2. Odd One Out

Write some groups of four words on the board, and have students discuss in pairs which words do not belong in the group. For added difficulty, make each odd word belong to another group in the list, so students have to reallocate them. Here is a very simple example:
  1. Monkey cow brown octopus
  2. Train car bus broccoli
  3. Coat scarf sheep jacket
  4. White red bicycle orange
  5. Potato pants onion cabbage
To make the activity more productive, give the student an extra point if he or she can use the word in a sentence.

3. "When" Chain

Using only the present simple tense, use the word "when" to start a sentence like the one below.
When I am lonely, I see my friends.

Then write:
When I see my friends...

And encourage a student to continue the sentence. For example:
When I see my friends, I play football.

Write "When I play football ..." on the board and have another student continue. Then, have students take turns to make sentences. For example:
When I am lonely, I see my friends.

When I see my friends, I play football.

When I play football, I get tired.

When I get tired, I go to sleep ...
You can try this activity with other words like "if" or "because" - if your students enjoy it.

Each of these warm-ups will help to build on your students' confidence and loosen them up before the hard work of your ESL lesson starts.

Ross Purdy was an ESL teacher and teacher-trainer in Japan for four years, before returning to the UK. He now teaches at and manages Eiremes Online English School.

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