Sunday, 10 November 2013

Warmers, fillers and other quick activities

This was the title of a recent webinar hosted by Oxford University Press and presented by John Hird.  What follows is a summary of what he had to say.

Some examples of warmers & fillers

1. Pairs - show students a collage of pictures and ask them to put them into pairs.  For each pair, students should say what they like and what they don't like.  For example, 'I like apples, but I don't like oranges.'


As a variation for higher level groups, you could give them a series of sentences about the pictures, ask them to work out the code or 'rule', and then get them to add sentences of their own.

For example,
  • I drink coffee, but I don't drink tea.
  • I like sheep, but I don't like cows.
  • I read books, but I don't read magazines.
Here, the code is the double letter:
  • I drink coffee, but I don't drink tea.
  • I like sheep, but I don't like cows.
  • I read books, but I don't read magazines.
2. Sick sheep - Tell your students, 'I have a friend who has a farm.  He has 45 cows, 32 pigs and 20 sick sheep.  How many sheep does he have?'  They will probably all say 26!!  :-)

3. I-Spy - a good way to revise vocabulary, particularly at beginner and elementary level when studying classroom language.

4. Word (dis)association - students have to say a word which has some association with the word given by the previous student.  For higher level students, word disassociation is a good variation.  Here, students have to come up with a word which has no link with the previous word.  If a link can be argued by others in the class, then no point is given to the student who came up with the word.

5. Categories - students have to come up with things in a category - shapes, colours, sports, animals, etc.  At higher levels, you can encourage students to think laterally - six things that are round, for example.  Students work in teams and get extra points if they come up with something which no other team has thought of.  As a variation, you could play 'match the teacher' where teams get extra points if they think of the same items which you had written down beforehand.

Why do warmers?
  • to wake students up
  • to energise and stimulate
  • to focus minds
  • to get them into 'English mode'
  • to get them talking
  • because they're fun
  • because they're preparation free
Why use fillers?
  • to fill time
  • to change the pace and dynamics of the lesson
  • because they're flexible
  • to help students relax
  • because they're fun
  • for speaking practice
  • because they're motivating
  • because they're preparation free!
Why use lead-in activities?
  • to introduce the topic
  • to activate the schema - both knowledge of the topic and the language within the topic
  • to focus minds
  • to generate interest
  • to pre-teach vocabulary
Examples of lead-in activities

1. Brainstorm - this is the classic lead-in using some kind of mind map or spidergram.

2. Guess the topic - use realia or pictures related to the topic.  Introduce them one at a time and get students to speculate on the theme.

3. What's in my pocket/bag? - students ask yes/no questions to find out what it is.  Try to make the item personal, so that you have a story to tell the students - a concert ticket or football programme, for example.  If they can't guess, slowly reveal the item.

4. Top 3s - ask students to list their top three in a category (cities, food, movies, music, etc.), compare their lists with their classmates, and explain the reasons for their choices.  You could start by modelling it yourself and explaining your own choices.

5. Class vocabulary list - each student has a piece of paper.  They have to write a word on it - an adjective to describe a city, for example.  The papers get passed around the class and everyone adds their word to everyone else's piece of paper.  If their word is already on a piece of paper, they have to think of another one.  When students get their original paper back, everyone has a list containing the same words.  Students are producing their own record and generating their own language.

Consolidation activities
  • review
  • recycle
  • revisit
1. One and only - ask students to think of words to do with a topic covered in class.  They only get a point if they are the only one to write that word.

2. Alphabet race - students have to think of a word pertaining to the topic studied which begins with each letter of the alphabet.

3. Help the teacher - the teacher tells a story and pretends to forget key words.  Students have to supply these words.  For example, around town:

I went to town on Saturday.  I left my car in the ____________.  It's next to the _________ - oh, what's it called? It's where they put on plays and musicals.  First, I went to the ___________ because I needed some flowers for my Mum. etc. etc.
Students have to shout out the answers.  They generally find this a very engaging activity.
4. Mime it - the teacher mimes some vocabulary and students have to guess what it is.  The student who gets it right repeats your mime and adds one of their own, and so on.
Getting the most out of coursebook activities
1. Picture descriptions
  • Students can look at a picture in a coursebook for a while, cover it, and then describe it, or answer questions about it, from memory.
  • Students can speculate about the lives of the people in a picture.
  • Teachers can identify and teach extra vocabulary from pictures.
  • Students can speculate about what's happening in the picture, what happened just before it was taken, and what happened afterwards.
  • Students can invent a back story.
  • They can guess who took the photo and why.
2. Extra questions - students write extra questions about a text for classmates to answer.  This is a good exercise for early finishers.  Alternatively, students write the answers and their classmates have to come up with what the question would be.
3. Act it out - students act out tapescripts, adding sound effects, etc.  This is a great way to practise pronunciation and intonation.
4. Book quiz - ask questions at the end of a lesson, a unit, or the entire book, to see how much students can remember.



  1. Hi Andrea, my name is Sari, I'm Indonesian. I will follow my husband move to Industrial park of Dong anThuan Town, Binh Duong Province, Vietnam for work on April 2014. I know nothing about the city, culture, living cost, language, or others. My english also not really good. May you give me some information, share, advice, etc. Please help me. my email address : thank you so much for your kindly help :)

  2. Quite useful, I think, I will give it a try.