9 ESL Warmer Activities for online classes

When teaching ESL, it’s important that you start your class with a fun and engaging exercise to make sure your students are prepared to get into the main contents of their English class. This is more so online when your students won’t even have the journey to your class to get themselves mentally prepared to speak or hear English. This is where ESL warmer activities come in handy!

What are the key things to remember about warmer activities? Well, they are short, fun activities that get your class started off with great energy and get your students speaking and using their English. It should be communication-focused and also can be about anything – completely different from the content of the subsequent lesson.

Here are some great ideas for online warmer activities that require either no or very little prep!

We’ve suggested the best level to use them with but you can modify and adapt them to any level.

1. ESL Warmer: How do you know them?

Materials: The teacher and students just need their mobile phones.

Instructions: Have your student(s) take out their phone and you take out yours.  You’ll then both open up your contact list. Tell them that they need to say the alphabet out loud starting at A, and stop them at a random letter.

Once you have the letter, you both find the first person on your contact list whose name starts with that letter.  Then you both tell each other how you know them. You can ask questions and then repeat for a couple of rounds.

If you have a group online, get them to do it in pairs, or one by one with questions about this person from the rest of the students!

Time: 5-10 minutes

Level: A2+

2. ESL Warmer: Story chain

Materials: None!

Instructions: Tell the student(s) that you are going to create a story together. The first person starts by saying a sentence and the other person listens to what they’ve said and continues the story from where they’ve stopped.

The objective is to tell a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end, going off what each other have said and connecting everyone’s ideas.  If it’s a one-to-one class, participate with your student.  If it’s a group class, get them to do it together!

Start by allowing for three rounds for them to complete the story and then challenge them to do it in less time!

Time: 5-10 minutes

Level:  B1+

3. ESL Warmer: I’m going on a picnic

Materials: None!

Instructions: This is a fun and simple game that can be played with students of any level!  You start by telling the student(s) that today you are going on a picnic and you’ll need to bring things with you.

For example, start by saying the phrase “I’m going on a picnic and I am bringing apples.”  Then instruct that the next student should repeat the phrase, say what you are bringing, and then add an item to the list, for example, “I am going on a picnic and I am bringing apples and sandwiches.”

The next person will have to repeat both items and add their own. Play with your student in a one-to-one setting or have your students do it together in a group.  It is a fun memory game!

Time: 5-10 minutes

Level: Any

4. ESL Warmer: Odd man out

Materials: Groups of categories prepared beforehand, for example; jacket, shirt, socks, pants, car.

Instructions: Give the student(s) the groups of words and tell them that there is one that doesn’t belong (‘the odd man out) and they have to find which one it is and then suggest an alternative word that would go better with the group.

Using the example group above, the odd man out is ‘car’ and a better alternative could be ‘dress’.  This can be done individually and in pairs!

Time: 5-10 minutes

Level:  Any, using the level-appropriate vocabulary of course.

5. ESL Warmer: Tell me 10 things

Materials: Prepare ideas of categories beforehand, for example; fruits, desserts, clothing, landscapes, verbs, adjectives, etc.

Instructions: Give your student(s) a category and then tell them to give you 10 things that could go under that category, for example: If the category is a fruit, they could name apples, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, etc.

Have them do it individually or in pairs and see what they come up with.  You could use it as a simple speaking activity or add the element of competition and make it a game to see how fast they can come up with the words.

Time: 5-10 words

Level: A2+ (could be appropriate for lower levels by modifying the categories and/or amount of words)

6. ESL Warmer: Word association

Materials: A list of words, 5- 10 is plenty

Instructions: Tell your student(s) that you are going to say a word, for example, ‘breakfast’.  They have to say the first word that comes to mind when they hear this word. Using my example, that could be ‘toast’.

Then you continue the game by naming a word you associate with the new word (‘toast’) and the two of you go back and forth until you can’t think of any more words, from there you can change the word or stop the game.  Play with your student, do it in pairs or as an entire class.

Time: 5-10 minutes

Level: Any (vocabulary being taken into account)

7. What do you know about X?

Materials: List of words, people, events, topic, etc.

Instructions: Tell your student(s) that you are going to give them a topic, for example, cars. They will have 30 seconds to prepare some ideas of what they want to say and then they have to speak for 45 seconds straight about the given topic.

In a one-to-one class give the student various topics or in a group class be sure that everyone has a chance to go. If you know the student well, you can adjust topics to their interests to make it more fun.

Time: 5- 10 minutes

Level: B1+


8. 20 questions

Materials: None!

Instructions: Tell your student(s) that you are going to think of a word and that you won’t tell them what it is.  They have 20 questions to figure out what it is and they must ask only yes or no questions.  See if they can guess your word and if they are struggling, give them hints. Let the student(s) take turns and get them to try and guess each other’s words.

Time: 5-10 minutes

Level: Any, as long as they have learned basic question forms.

9. A  to  Z

Materials: None!

Instructions: Tell the student(s) that you will start saying the alphabet and that they have to tell you when to stop.  Imagine you stop on F, they have 30 seconds to write down as many words as they can think of starting with the letter F.

After they have finished see what they have come up with.  You can do it as an individual activity, in partners, or even make it a competition and assign points for original words!.

Time: 5-10 minutes

Level: Any

We teach tons of warmers during our TEFL course to best prepare you for being a fully-prepared and professional ESL teacher. Do you have any other warmers you’d like to share with our community? Email us or leave a comment on TtMadrid Facebook or Instagram.