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The "Warm-Up" as the locomotive of the lesson

By: Mubarak Abdessalami

What is warm-up?

          Among novice teachers, countless are those who wonder how a good lesson normally should begin. It seems that they find it quite challenging to handle this step quite effectively every time they want to start a new lesson. The several questions that are there to answer before the onset are what make the starting point hard to cover effectively. The problem is that the ideas are missing and lessons are too frequent. Most of those questions are really opaque and disconcerting.

          It is normal for one who wants to plan a lesson to ask several questions about the objective of the lesson, the material devices to use, and all the other paralinguistic features and technical procedures and mechanisms needed to accomplish the task in a minimum of time and a maximum of profit. The components of the lesson Skelton are known to all those who work in the field of teaching, but the little bits needed for the final construction of the lesson are the most wanted but the most disturbing. Among these bits are the way the route to a given lesson should be paved and the way the lesson should close. The rarest and the most challenging is however the opening move.

          Teachers differ in their approaches. Some of them prefer to start by a review of the previous lesson. Others might favour doing the reviewing informally through a question, a picture reading, a quick chat, a quiz or a game. This is what we could simply call the warm-up to distinguish it from the lesson introduction. The very step that immediately follows the warm-up is the introduction. Therefore, the warm-up, pedagogically speaking, comes first and it is more than just a review so as to bridge the gap between the previous and the current lesson or to set the tone for what will follow: This could be included in ‘the introduction’ phase. The warm-up can be seen in terms of an almost separate but subordinate activity or practice allowing the teacher to provide the students with a comfortable learning setting and help them get in the mood for class. It is mostly used for that purpose, but it can also be used to stimulate the students into paying more attention and keep involved along the lesson steps. Thus, a joke, a short story, a riddle or whatever does no evil save for its appropriateness eventually should always depend on the class situation.

          Despite the various forms the warm-up can take, it is an indispensable step to prepare and launch the tasks in the appropriate frame of utility. It is vital for the good procession of the lesson to use a corresponding warm-up that fit the lesson requirements. It is advisable that it should be somehow connected to the other constituents of the lesson and its objective so as the students don’t feel any disruption in the course of the lesson. However it should neither be too much demanding from the students and shouldn’t bear any kind of threatening tasks that require them to make a heavy mental effort to generate new content. The students need to be settled in a relaxing not challenging atmosphere. The teacher will build up an ambiance of confidence and mutual trust. She will, in some way, just chat with the students or talk about the weather or even tell them about what happened to her while she was coming to school but she should not forget to pitch hints that have tight connection with the lesson from time to time. The students will get interested and will get aware that tuning into an English airwave is needed. This is a sort of English mind set. What comes after is all that the teacher should scrupulously handle because this is the locomotive of the whole lesson. Once the warm-up stage is done perfectly well everything will follow in the same pace and atmosphere.

Be inventive and creative

          It is usually considered unimpressive to switch on classes by giving instructions about what the lesson would be about or by a review of the previous lessons in a formal, rigid and staid manner. These two introductory techniques when repeated, the students will get used to them and subsequently generate a huge refuting desire in the pupils. They will know beforehand what the teacher would do first, then and after that and so on until the end. Both ways are in need of a simple preparatory step paving the way to any of these actions. I mean warm-up and introduction are to be intermingled in one phase to tile the way for a smooth presentation stage. This opening activity is not only indispensable to English-mind-set the pupils but also a powerful component to bring the kids closer to the ambiance of the English lesson and setting them to get involved.

          More importantly however is that the diversity of this opening move will create a sense of curiosity and eagerness for the pupils who will be restless until they come to the English lesson to see what the teacher has prepared for them this time. It is somehow an enigmatic technique in stimulating the pupils into longing to come to school and love the things they discover. This activity is generally assigned in a versified manner every time at the beginning of every new session. The diversity and creativity in handling this step is crucial in the making of good lessons and interesting tutorials.

          Some teachers may regard the warm-up as mere waste of time because, according to them, it might lead to commotion in the classroom especially if there are some tardy students coming in. Or else it might affect the prepared steps of the lesson plan because, once again, it could cause the lesson to deviate from its normal surge. I don't think any of these worries are actually justifiable if the warm up is prepared, itself, as a part and parcel of the lesson plan. The warm up is a fundamental step on which the whole lesson would generally be based. I'd even assert that the success of any lesson relies, to a great extent, on how well the warm up step is carried out. The warm up, as a crucial opening move, is so important that it leads the whole class into involvement and concern. In brief, it is a major constituent of the lesson that ignoring it could greatly damage the normal course of the lesson.

          The warm up is so rich an activity that it is hard to limit to certain number of forms of actions. All depend on the lesson type, the level of the pupils and the nature of the activities which will follow. So its richness is not limited. And its variety allows the teacher to choose among a huge number of different sets of activities. Nonetheless, in order that both the teacher and the pupils enjoy and take profit from it, it should be designed to be funny and compelling.

Warm up with beginners!

          The warm-up designed for beginners is not actually that complicated, but it is not to be taken too lightly either. It is advisable that the warm up be amusing, actively and passionately yet purposefully done. Once the learners get acquainted with the basic commands "Sit down" and "Stand up", which is basically Total Physical Response, a very long range of vocabulary items, commands and imperatives could be useful appropriately. For example,

          Once these basics are mastered, the beginners could be exposed to some longer and compound commands such as,

          These activities are not only facets of the warm-up stage but a sort of preparation for pupils to get familiar with words and expressions they don't take in their usual lessons but they are likely to encounter in the coming lessons. Moreover, they may use these things in their writing papers later on. These commands' "jargon" could be used in sentences later on when the students could express themselves properly. They may even try to coin new eccentric statements such as:

          They also could exploit these command trainings seriously in such interesting sentences like:

          Teachers should not underestimate the learners’ ability to expand the language utilities. Their imagination fields are fertile. So never be astonished if one of the pupils, addressing one of his classmates, says for instance:

          Things like these are not expected from the kids in the very early stages of learning, of course, but it is with the above stated procedures that the pupils can think, visualize, invent and manipulate the language, later, and generate a multitude of astonishing witty utterances. Some may argue if these really help build up a good perception of the language use for the learners. I simply say that learning is taking place and that’s the objective.

Calling the roll

          When the teacher calls up names to check for absent pupils, the students’ usual answer when they hear their names a sort of a lazily voiced:

          This will accelerate boredom with time; therefore, it also may be subject to a lot of modifications so as to be used as a component of the teacher's warm up. The teacher thinks of something else the kids could say instead of "here" or "present". She asks her pupils to say neither "I'm here" nor "present"; but one of the following (preferably each per day)

          Thus, the boring daily routine can interestingly become exciting and the pupils will enjoy that and may possibly expect the roll calling impatiently to know what the theme the next day would be like. In this sense, creativity is principally one of the various teaching processes. Many boring activities can successfully be converted into stimulating and funny ones by just a little "endeavour". So, let's think of other practical things we can exploit to make our lessons" openings livelier, energetic, encouraging, cheerful, fantastic and eventually warming … (up).

With higher levels

          The warm-up could be as motivating for advanced levels as for beginners; still with some modifications in the approach. Young learners, in general, are not as animated, energetic or sparkling as adolescents. So, because higher levels students are older, calmer and own some good English language background, this opening scene becomes more crucial but somehow flexible. Apart from its multifunctional character - as we have shown previously, namely:

          The warm-up with higher levels has its own particularities. It is not only receptive, but productive to some extent. The students now can be allowed to participate and make some untiring cognitive efforts. No physical response is needed but some gaming practice can entice and stimulate them to keep connected with the mood and procedures that are taking place in their immediate surrounding to be fully present and ready for the task.

Example #1

          With higher levels, the warm-up should be dealt with in terms of cognitive exercises based on group or pair work. For instance, the teacher will divide her class into small groups of four and ask them to guess what a given picture represents. The learners are not allowed to see the picture but the teacher gives some clues about it. These clues could only be but one word e.g.:

          "The picture represents ...

          ... What is it?"

The students will cooperate (within small groups) while competing (with the whole class) to guess intelligently to be the first to guess the right response. The teacher can allow the learners to ask questions to know more about the picture under consideration e.g.

Or better, the teacher may want to invite one of the students to see the picture and don't show it to the whole class until someone guesses what it is. This student could respond to the other students' questions by "YES" or "NO" only.

The teacher should previously have set rules that any quickly made wrong guess from a student will eliminate the whole group from the game. This is essential so as to enhance motivation for communication.

Example #2

          The same activity could be developed to include vocabulary items and particular grammar aspects. This activity may look something like this:

The teacher will just write a word on the board. This word could be a noun, an adjective, an adverb or a pronoun. The students have to make a sentence using that same word but in its different appropriate positions in the sentence. For example:

The students have to construct meaningful statements using the adjective "new". It is not advisable to name it as such. It should be referred to as "a word" rather than an adjective.

The different positions of the word are to be focused upon so as the less proficient students assimilate them well otherwise the challenge backdrop, which would be in favour of making the warm-up interesting, would collapse. There's no dare the teacher provides some assistance at the beginning. The teacher has to expect over-generalization while giving the students new words (which should not necessarily be adjectives) and has to deal with that calmly and open-mindedly.

          From hitherto given examples, it becomes evident that the efficaciousness of the warm-up stems from the willing and commitment of the teacher to formulate it as a valuable component in the planning of a successful lesson. The teacher’ sense of creativity, compulsion, craft and innovation will surely lead her intuitively to create and generate as many activities as time allows making of her opening move a bridge paved essentially to lead the students to the subject matter warm enough to undertake the lesson. The warm-up, therefore, is the corner stone in the building of any lesson whatsoever topic or skills it deals with.


          The warm-up, hence, is the starter. It can pave the way to any activity or tutorial more efficaciously than just rigidly giving instructions or directions to the learners who do not yet realize that an English lesson is about to launch. The warm up is incontestably versatile and multifunctional. Its utilities are unlimited and its flexibility allows tutors to always find a way to make learners physically and mentally prepared to get involved and participate enthusiastically in the making of the lessons. In a word, the warm-up (let's borrow this gastronomic term) is the 'appetizer' of any given lesson or activity.

          All in all, nothing can be achieved overnight; but ideas coming from different sources and accumulated classroom experiences can eventually bring about a lot of alternatives. These ideas, I hope will quench the inquiring teachers' thirst and enrich their teaching methods. A final word, make sure your warm up stage should be prepared because the warm-up has often the power to quake your previously set lesson plan, so beware and always keep a contingency plan in case the considered warm up step didn't work.

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