No one rolls out of bed and starts running a marathon without warming up. Why? Because your muscles wouldn’t be warm enough for you to safely perform your best. Similarly, failing to start a lesson with a warm-up doesn’t allow students time to exercise their brains and start thinking about the topic.
Lesson warm-ups are important for helping students move into a learning frame of mind where they can effectively focus, participate and learn. Here’s what all teachers should know about lesson warm-ups, and how to plan them.
What is a Lesson Warm-Up?
Put simply, a lesson warm-up is an activity that helps get students in a learning frame of mind. Warm-ups, or warmers, are any activity completed at the beginning of class specifically intended to prepare students for learning, explains British Council’s TeachingEnglish. Warm-ups should be short, yet dynamic activities.
Warm-ups activities help students shift their frame of mind into the subject they’re about to learn. ESL educator Kristina Lim says warm-ups are important for an foreign language classroom to do because students may not have used that language at home or at all that day so far. It takes time and mental stimulation to start thinking about the world in another language, so a warm-up activity effectively supports this transition.
It’s best to complete warm-up activities in the first five minutes of class, explains the team at Busy Teacher. Warm-ups should also involve participation, as the goal is to boost student confidence in their own learning. The best warm-ups involve some form of collaboration and inspire students to either think about a new topic, or consider a previously-learned topic in a new way.
Why Do Lesson Warm-Ups Matter?
Lesson warm-ups are also important because they enable students to shift into the thinking, reasoning and learning frame of mind they need to succeed in school. Warm-ups are also a great way to spark conversation and discussion, explains elementary resource designer, Alyssa Roetheli. “These questions or prompts provide students with the opportunity to explore the content either through research, conversation with their peers, or a class discussion. It is often these questions that may spark an interest or passion in students that they want to pursue further.”
Lesson warm-ups are also important for reiterating previous lessons and reinforcing important concepts in student minds. Roetheli points out that students need to hear concepts three to five times before they really stick, so warm-ups provide another opportunity for these lessons to stick.
Another benefit of warm-ups is that they help ease student anxiety on the day of a big test or project. For example, teacher Sylvia Cossar suggests a game called bananas, where one student asks questions at random at the other student can only answer with bananas.
“The purpose of the game is to not laugh, as the first one to laugh loses. Of course, this makes the students laugh that much more, and the result is a reduction of stress and test anxiety,” she writes.
Additionally, warm-ups are important for morning classes where students may be groggy from sleep, or distracted by the events of the morning. A warm-up activity helps them ease into the classroom and the expectation of learning in a low-key way that isn’t stressful. Plus, this helps the non-morning people catch up to the same level as the early rises, Cossar adds.
For older students and more advanced subjects, warm-up activities are a chance to make math problems less abstract so that important concepts are more approachable. It also makes students more comfortable and confident about asking questions and speaking in the math classroom, says eighth grade math and science teacher David Gillingham.
He says warm-ups foster “an understanding that math is a collaborative process where we generate and build on diverse ideas, and where challenges are opportunities to learn from each other.”
Lesson Warm-Up Ideas for Teachers
There are many ways you can warm up student minds and introduce them to the topic. Retired ESL teacher Revel Arroway suggests that your warm-up could involve physically warming up students through stretching and bending exercises. This can boost blood flow to their brains, release tension and improve alertness. Or, you might use music or a game to engage students in a fun, active way. Another idea is to create a group activity students can engage in together.
The point is that there are many ways to warm up the classroom, and the best activity for your students will depend on the subject and their learning styles. Here are a few specific activities for getting students alert and engaged early on.
This is a great activity for younger students and foreign language class students. It’s also effective to use at the beginning of the year when students are still getting to know each other. Students arrange themselves based on similar qualities, says the team at VIP Kid. You can give students one or multiple criteria to follow, such as names, where the students would line themselves up alphabetically.
This is another activity for younger students and foreign language classes, although it can also help students warm up their creative writing skills. It involves showing students a picture and giving them 30 seconds to describe what they see.
“Make sure it has lots of little details in it, preferably one where you could spend a good minute or so describing every last detail to your friend,” suggests teacher Ivan Berezowski. Then, take the picture down and tell the students to describe what they saw to their partner. After that, split the class into two teams and have one student from each team write as many things as they saw in 30 seconds. Points are awarded for every correct detail.
Pick a Side
For a deeper, more thoughtful warm-up appropriate for high school students, consider picking a side. During this activity, teachers choose a debate question or political issue and ask students to consider their stance and pick a side, explains the team at Teaching Channel. It’s best to choose issues with two clear sides. Then, students on each side will take turns making an argument as to why they hold that stance and how it relates to the issue.
Time at the beginning of class can be used to create a study guide, which warms students up while also helping them later on. Teacher Jason Deehan says he uses questions from previous classes as a form of review, especially those covered a few weeks ago and may have since been forgotten.
“The students are trained to write down the questions and then answer them completely. These questions and answers will be returned to the students later and form part of their study guide for summative assessments.” So, skipping questions or writing incomplete answers will hurt students in the long run, Deehan adds.
Around the World
Math warm-ups are helpful for switching from a different subject into math. Early childhood educator Holly Mitchell suggests a game called “Around the World.” In it, students sit in a circle, with one student standing behind a class member. The teacher asks a math question and the student who answers correctly first moves around to the next student in the circle. This is a lighthearted warm-up that gets students into the right frame of mind before their math lesson.
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