The Whys of ESL Warm Ups

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Published: 13th April 2011
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Not enough time attention is given to warming up ESL students. Teachers spend a lot of time planning explanations and printables to introduce and practice some pre-determined language point or skill. But when it comes time to enter the class, teachers pull an activity from their bag of tricks.

A well-planned, effective ESL warm up guarantees more than just ten minutes of fun.

First, because it's the first activity of the lesson, the warm up sets the tone. A fun activity raises energy levels. It also produces less nervous ESL students later in the lesson because they forget their fears with mistakes. Let's compare a confusing activity for a warm up: It suggests that "English doesn't make sense!" With the right warm up, you'll have created a positive atmosphere to practice and experiment in English.

Let's also mention that the warm up puts students into a frame of mind to learn English. For classes in a non-English speaking country, the lesson may be the only opportunity for students to use the language. They might not have spoken English for a week, maybe longer. But even in an ESL setting, the warm up prepares all of the students for the more intensive, ninety minutes of classroom time.

It usually takes about ten minutes to get the wheels turning. Once in students have begun to think in English, they generally make fewer mistakes. They'll also have fewer slips of the tongue with familiar language. On the other hand, a long warm up that lasts for fifteen minutes steals time from other areas of the lesson. Students have less time to practice and apply the new material.

Third, the warm up gets the students ready for the focus of the ESL lesson. If the lesson focuses on past vacations, then a few lower-intermediate questions on vacations will get all of the students focusing on the topic. The warm up taps into already held information, in this case about vacations. There's also the chance that students may unknowingly produce some of the target material, which you can make note of and use to present the target material.

In addition, the warm up lets you observe and measure the students' English skills. With any class, you'll catch students on good and bad days. If everyone is a bit tired and unfocused, you may have to set a less ambitious lesson objective. Conversely, you may have to set a larger class objective if everyone uses the target language more or less correctly from the beginning. Assessment lets you adjust how what and how you'll present the material from the get go.

Finally, effective ESL warm up let you also determine who will and won't partner well together. Stronger students may not want to work with weaker students, or a some women may feel uncomfortable with men. Although you won't be able to fully determine abilities or personalities for later pair activities, the warm up will highlight any possible headaches.

The warm up begins the class, as well as sets the atmosphere and expectations of the lesson. You should always pay just as much attention to the warm up as to other steps of the class. Follow these ESL warm Up tips for a more focused and positive group of students performing to your expectations.

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