Imagine you are about to embark on a new topic or language area with your class and you want to get your students interested. Some topics like crime or animals can be really engaging. But imagine the topic / lesson is 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 sentences are on the board, you get the students to decide if they are all correct and what the topic of today's lesson is. It works well for language points with linkers (especially conditionals) or collocations. Here is an example for prepositions at lower-intermediate level.

You can make this more communicative by using sentences which the students can discuss afterwards ("is this sentence true for you?"). Alternatively, you could just test vocabulary or spelling - cut words on the topic in half and students find their partner (e.g. body parts:  wri   st  sto   mach  ...).


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 detective

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

Ranking / which is best?

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 you can use similar questions to engage the learners with the words and start them thinking about the form, meaning and use. This is more common at higher levels, for example when the coursebook wants students to study dependent prepositions with a set such as adept (at), accustomed (to), indicative (of), characteristic (of) ...). Possible ranking questions are:

  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 is the most formal?
  6. 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?? Oh - I know!!!" Attach the paper to the board and put the students in pairs. Student A sits, with paper and a pen. Student B goes to the board, reads the first line of the dialogue, runs back to their partner and tells them what they've read. Student A writes this down. 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!


There are several variants on this game. I like to make the first category a topic we studied recently, and the last category the topic of the day's lesson, so that it flows nicely into the lesson.

Variant 1: Students work in small teams. If today's topic is animals, 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. one minute) to think of one word beginning with that letter for each category. For example if the letter was 'p', the answers could be 'pretend, plate, Psycho, postman, panda'. Teams get one point for each correct word, and three points if no one else had that word.

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

Variant 3: Put students in small groups (pairs or threes) and give each group a different category. They have a few minutes to write down 5 words in that category. Then, teams take it in turns to tell the class their category.  The other teams then have one or two minutes to guess the five words they wrote down (if you are happy with rowdy, they can just shout out their suggestions).