Warm-ups help your learners put aside their daily distractions and focus on English. If they haven't used English all day, they may take a little while to shift into it. Warm-ups also encourage whole-group participation which can build a sense of community within the group.
For new groups, see the list of ice breakers further down.
Brainstorm (any level, individual or group)
Give a topic and ask learners to think of anything related to it. Write the responses for all to see, or ask a volunteer to do the writing. You can use this to elicit vocabulary related to your lesson.
Question of the Day (intermediate-advanced, individual or group)
Ask 1-2 simple questions and give learners 5 minutes to write their answers. Randomly choose a few people to share their answers with the group.
Yesterday (intermediate, group)
Have a learner stand in front of the group and make one statement about yesterday, such as "Yesterday I went shopping." Then let everyone else ask questions to learn more information, such as "Who did you go with?" "What did you buy?" "What time did you go?" etc. Try this with 1-2 different learners each day.
Describe the Picture (any level, group)
Show a picture and have learners take turns saying one descriptive thing about it.
Beginners can make simple observations like "three cats" while advanced
students can make up a story to go with the picture. They aren't allowed to repeat what someone else said, so they need to pay attention when each person speaks.
Variation for individual: take turns with the teacher.
Criss-Cross (beginner-intermediate, large group)
Learners must be seated in organized rows at least 4x4. Have the front row of learners stand. Ask simple questions like "What day/time is it?" Learners raise their hands (or blurt out answers) and the first person to answer correctly may sit down. The last standing learner's line (front-to-back) must stand and the game continues until 3-4 rows/lines have played. You can use diagonal rows if the same person gets stuck standing each time. To end, ask a really simple question
(e.g. "What's your name?") directly to the last student standing. Variation
for small group: the whole group stands and may sit one by one as they raise their hands and answer questions.
Show & Tell (any level, individual or group)
A learner brings an item from home and talks about it in front of the group. Give learners enough advance notice to prepare and remind them again before their turn. Have a back up plan in case the learner forgets to bring an item.
Beginners may only be able to share the name of an item and where they got it.
Be sure to give beginners specific instructions about what information you
want them to tell.
Sing a Song (intermediate-advanced, group)
If you're musically inclined, or even if you're not, songs can be a lively way to get everyone involved.
Mystery Object (advanced, group)
Bring an item that is so unusual that the learners are not likely to recognize what it is. Spend some time eliciting basic descriptions of the item and guesses about what it is and how it's used. If possible, pass the item around. This is an activity in observation and inference, so don't answer questions. Just write down descriptions and guesses until someone figures it out or you reveal the mystery.
Name Bingo (beginner, large group) Hand out a blank grid with enough squares for the number of people in your
class. The grid should have the same number of squares across and down. Give
the students a few minutes to circulate through the class and get everyone's
name written on a square. Depending on the number of blank squares left over,
you can have them write their own name on a square, or your name, or give them
one 'free' square. When everyone is seated again, have each person give a
short self-introduction. You can draw names randomly or go in seating order.
With each introduction, that student's name square may be marked on everyone's
grid, as in Bingo. Give a prize to the first 2-3 students to cross off a row.
Name Crossword (any level, group) Write your name across or down on the board being sure not to crowd the
letters. Students take turns coming to the board, saying their name, and
writing it across or down, overlapping one letter that is already on the
board. It's usually best if you allow students to volunteer to come up rather
than calling on them in case a letter in their name isn't on the board yet,
although the last few students may need encouragement if they're shy.
Similarities (beginner-intermediate, group) Give each person one or more colored shapes cut from construction paper.
They need to find another person with a similar color, shape, or number of
shapes and form pairs. Then they interview each other to find 1-2 similarities
they have, such as working on a farm or having two children or being from
Asia. They can share their findings with the class if there is time.
Pair Interviews (intermediate-advanced, group) Pairs interview each other, using specified questions for intermediates
and open format for advanced students. Then they take turns introducing their
partner to the whole class. Be sensitive to privacy when asking for personal
Snowball Fight (any literate level, group)
Give learners a piece of white paper and ask them to write down their name, country of origin, and some trivial fact of your choice (such as
a favorite fruit). Have everyone wad the pages into 'snowballs' and toss them around for a few minutes. On your signal, everyone should unwrap a snowball, find the person who wrote it, and ask 1-2 more trivial facts.
Write the questions on the board so the students can refer to them. Remember that each learner will need to ask one person the questions and be asked questions by a
third person, so leave enough time. Variation for small groups: learners can take turns introducing the person they interviewed.
Mystery Identities (any literate level, group)
Write the names of famous people or places (or use animals or fruits for a simplified version) onto 3x5 cards. Attach a card to each learner's back. Give them time to mingle and ask each other questions to try to figure out their tagged identities.
This is usually limited to yes/no questions, although beginners might be
allowed to ask any question they can. Be at least 90% sure that the learners have heard of the items on the cards and especially the ones you place on their own backs.