Maybe you need to engage the students with a new topic or language area. But imagine you want them to study dependent prepositions. Not very thrilling, eh? Well, with the right warmer, almost any topic can be transformed into something awesome (or at least made a little more exciting to help motivate your learners).

Matching mingle

Imagine you have a class of 20 students. Write 10 sentences using the target language or about the topic. Then cut them in half. Give one half to each student and they mingle to find the other half. When they think they've found their partner, they write the whole sentence on the board and sit down together. Once all sentence are on the board, you get the students to decide if they are all correct and what the topic of today's lesson is. Here is an example for prepositions at a lower intermediate level.

You can make it more communicative by using sentences which the students can discuss afterwards ("is this sentence true for you?"). Or just to test vocabulary/spelling - cut words on the topic in half and students find their partner.


5-4-3-2-1

This can be quite time consuming, but is a good way to brainstorm vocabulary. For example, for a lesson on crime, you would write on the board:

5 - types of crime

4 - types of punishment

3 - people in a courtroom

2 - recent crimes in your country

1 - famous criminal

Then give students about 10 minutes to brainstorm answers - 5 answers for the first question, 4 for the second and so on. Feedback can be surprisingly lengthy, so make sure you've got plenty of time.


Ranking

This is a nice vocabulary and speaking activity which works well when trying to get students' interest in a topic, though it can also work with vocabulary that doesn't easily fit one context.

For example, in a lesson about animals, give each group of three students a set of cards with animal names (e.g. dolphin, mosquito, crocodile...). Then give them questions to discuss and encourage them to justify their answers. For example:

  1. Which animal is the friendliest?
  2. Which animal is the most/least intelligent?
  3. Which animal is the most useful?
  4. Which animal is the best pet?
  5. Which animal is the best to eat if you are hungry?

If for any reason you need to present unconnected words (e.g. because the coursebook wants students to study dependent prepositions with a set such as adept, accustomed, indicative, characteristic ...) you can use similar questions to engage the learners with the words and start them thinking about the meaning and use. For example:

  1. Which word has the most difficult spelling / pronunciation?
  2. Which word could you use in a job interview?
  3. Which word could you use in an argument?
  4. Which word is the most romantic?
  5. Which word are you least likely to ever use?

Running dictation

Show a (tiny) piece of paper with a short dialogue written on it. Ask if it's big enough for them to see (they'll say no). Act a bit confused, "hmmm, you need to read this, but it's too small. What can I do?? Hmmm. I know!!!" Put the paper on the board. Students work in pairs. Student A sits, with paper and pen. Student B goes to the board, reads the first line of the dialogue, runs back to their partner and tells them it. Student A writes this. B goes back to the board for the next bit and so on. Play loud music in the background to prevent them just shouting from the board, and keep an eye out for any clever so-and-so's who try to take a photograph with their mobile phone!


Categories

There are several variants on this game. I like to make the last category the subject of the day's lesson, so that it flows nicely.

Variant 1: Students work in small teams. Give them 5 categories (e.g. verbs, things in the kitchen, films, jobs, and animals). Then give them a letter and a time limit (e.g. 1 minute) to think of one word beginning with that letter from each category. For example if the letter was 'p', the answers could be 'pretend, plate, Psycho, postman, panda'. One point for each correct word, three points if no one else had that word. If you want help choosing the letter, there is a letter wheel here if you have a computer screen in your classroom.

Variant 2: As before, but instead of giving a starting letter, students must think of 5 words per category and only get a point if no other teams chose that word.