Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Warming Up Your English Muscles
By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
When I go for a run, I don’t leap out my front door and sprint straight up the hill to the forest. Instead, I walk briskly for a few minutes (or at least until I get up that darn hill) before I break into a jog. Likewise, I don’t start off my English classes by plunging directly into a lesson. I prefer a gentler approach of easing my students into what might be their first English thoughts of the day. So, I start every class with a warm-up activity. I would never dream of running without warming up my leg muscles first, so why would I ask students to start a lesson without warming up their English muscles first?
Warm -Ups for Review
Something I like a warm-up to accomplish is a quick, fun review of material from the previous lesson. For instance, I am currently teaching a class called “English for Conversation”. Yesterday, we had a lesson about word stress. Although the students got the basic ideas associated with syllables and stress, I knew from the questions I fielded during the practice activities that they could definitely use more practice. So, this morning we started the class with a board game with some of the words they struggled with yesterday. I just created a board game on the computer and typed in some of the words from their handout. Then, I printed 1 copy for every 2-3 students in the class. It took about 10 minutes to make and 10 minutes of class time to play in small groups, and it was worth every minute. It refreshed their memories about an important aspect of speaking in English, and it gave them a fun second look at some of their problem words. Mission accomplished!
Warm-Ups for Introducing the Topic
I also like my warm-ups to introduce new topics or get students thinking in a new way about a previous theme. For instance, sometimes I take attendance with a twist. Rather than just reading students’ names (a boring waste of time, in my opinion), I call on each student to answer a question related to the current topic of the lesson. Last week in my class we covered a chapter on idioms and expressions associated with weddings and relationships. I began one lesson by asking students how they met their husband or wife or boyfriend of girlfriend. Some of the stories were hilarious, the students were all listening to each other, and they started off the lesson by personalizing the topic.
More often, however, I prefer to split students into smaller groups (Why should only 1 person be talking at a time when 5 or 6 could be?) and provide a short list of interesting questions or a quick task to prompt conversation and get them interested in the lesson’s theme. I like activities in which students have to work together to rate something. For instance, to introduce a reading about a Chinese mega-city, I had students work in pairs to rank the biggest cities in the world from biggest to smallest. I went on the internet before the lesson and, through a Google search, I found a list of the 5 biggest cities in the world. I wrote the cities on the board at the start of the class in alphabetical order and asked students to rank them. Then, after a great deal of chatter and negotiation between the students, I read the ranking I had found on the internet. The students were surprised to be at least partially wrong in most cases, and interest in what might have been a dull reading was born.
Warm-Ups are an essential part of my lesson plan. Although they only take up the first 10 or 15 minutes of class time, I think they serve some key purposes: they help students bond and learn to work together, they provide a chance for pleasant review of important skills, they create interest in a new topic, and (maybe most importantly) they get students to my classes on time!