The perfect warm-up activity

So, I haven’t shared anything practical or not-so-practical here on my blog for some time. Not that I haven’t had any ideas going on in my head … it’s just that I somehow lacked the need to write about my professional endeavours. I didn’t even feel the urge to write about my recent trip to Scotland, which is really strange because quite honestly, it was full of potential. Maybe it was too good … too intense for me to materialize it in the form of words. Maybe at some point, I will be able to verbalize what I experienced but not just yet.

Anyway, the time of hibernation is over, apparently. One of the reasons I may have a sudden spurt of energy is that I recently attended an ELT conference. And every teacher knows that conferences are immense sources of inspiration and creativity. The people, the venues, the atmosphere, the memories of the previous events – this all creates a unique experience that invariably recharges everyone’s dead batteries.

So, today I’d like to share an activity which I’d like to call the perfect warm-up/speaking activity. It’s perfect because it’s suitable for all levels of proficiency, for almost all age groups plus it doesn’t require any preparation whatsoever (if you wish so). What’s more, it’s highly personalized. I should not forget to credit Sarka Cox from ILC Brno, who presented this activity in a workshop.

Here goes … While in class, it’s best if you demonstrate the activity briefly and then it’s pretty straightforward. Simply put two words on the board. Ideally, they should be opposites (dark – light, day – night) or two things from a category (train – bus, dog – cat). Ask the students: Do you think I prefer travelling by bus or train/Do you think I like X or Y (for lower levels). When they make a guess, reveal the correct answer and the students who guessed correctly get a point. Then briefly explain why you prefer X to Y (you may also want to put some functional language on the board for students to be able to talk about their preferences). Then it is your ‘partner’s’ turn (choose a student to demonstrate what they would ask you next).

The students can ask about their preferences gradually or they can prepare a list of a certain number of pairs in advance (I prefer the former option because the latter alternative will actually be used later on). Tell your students that they should always record the two options in writing but that they should never indicate the correct answer (by ticking or underlining the prefered option, for example) because their lists will be used in the follow-up stage of the activity.

After some time (a couple of minutes or when you observe that most pairs have, let’s say, a minimum of 5 pairs of words), pause the activity. Ask how many points each student got, i.e. how well they know each other. In the next stage, change pairs. The students take their original lists and swap them with their new partners. The new partner then guesses what the student’s preferences are plus they speculate and give reasons why they think so.

As I said, no preparation is needed but you can create a nice PP presentation with pictures of the options. You can have photos from magazines or other visuals at hand, which, I admit, may be more suitable for young learners. However, I used the simple version of the activity with all my classes (12 – 18 year-olds), i.e. writing the pairs on the board/paper, and it was absolutely sufficient. The good thing about this activity is that it is highly personalized; the students can decide what they want to talk about and avoid what they don’t want to discuss. Also, when I tried it myself during the said workshop, it was quite challenging and enjoyable because I had to make an effort – I had to come up with the options and actually think about what I prefer and why.

If you decide to try the activity out, enjoy! 🙂


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Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages and levels for almost 30 years. You can find out more about me and my passion for teaching here on my blog.

One thought on “The perfect warm-up activity”

  1. I must say that you are a godsend for me! Yesterday I taught one of my private students adjectives and their opposites, and now I have a great way to review all the vocabulary the next time I see her 😊 Thank you, and welcome back!

    Liked by 1 person

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