Good warm ups for English class are fun but not a complete waste of time. Below are some activities that work well for business English classes.
The Question Game
This is a great warm up for getting students to practice asking questions. Students sit in a circle or around a table. One student starts by saying the name of another student and asking that student a question. The student that was asked the question does not respond to the question. Instead, she says the name of another student and asks that person a question. Students continue asking each other questions. A student is out of the game if she cannot generate a question within five seconds. The game continues until only one student is left.
More difficult version: Students are restricted to asking only certain types of questions (“Have you ever questions,” second conditional questions, indirect questions, etc.).
Describe the Word to a Partner
The teacher writes vocabulary words on small pieces of paper. Students work in pairs. The pieces of paper are placed face down in front of the students. Student A starts by picking up a piece of paper and describing the word to Student B. Student B has to guess the word. Once the correct word is guessed, the students switch roles. The winners are the two students with the most correct guesses after 10 minutes.
More difficult version: Students have to guess abstract nouns, phrasal verbs, adjectives, and adverbs (words like “clever,” “determination,” “come up with,” etc.).
Describe the Picture to a Partner
Student A gets a picture. Student B takes out a blank sheet of paper and something to write with. Student A describes the picture to Student B, and Student B has to draw the picture. Student A cannot use gestures to describe the picture. Student B is allowed to ask questions about the picture. After five minutes, the class votes on whose drawing is the best and most resembles the picture.
More difficult version: For advanced students, difficult-to-describe images can be used.
Describe the Video Clip to a Partner
The teacher chooses a short video without dialogue (e.g. a Pixar film or old silent film). Student A watches the first two minutes of the video while Student B puts his head down or leaves the room. After the first two minutes of the film, the teacher pauses the video and Student A describes what he saw to Student B. Students then switch roles for the next two minutes of the video. At the end of the video, the students must put together an accurate summary of everything that happened in the film.
More difficult version: Students describe what is happening while they are watching the video.
Students are given three words and have to determine what word collocates with all three words. For example, if the words are “super,” “mainframe,” and “personal,” the word that collocates with all three is “computer.”
Also try this odd-one-out collocations game.
The Expert Game
One student is chosen to be an “expert” on a certain topic (female fashion trends, child psychology, baseball cards, aliens, etc.). The other students ask the “expert” questions about her area of expertise. The “expert” must immediately answer everyone’s questions by making up the information on the spot. Students should be encouraged to be creative and to try to convince the class that they really know about the subject. To make the activity more fun (and challenging), the teacher should choose topics that the students know absolutely nothing about.
Taboo is a word guessing game by Hasbro. A player chooses a card and has to make his partners guess the word on the card without saying the “taboo” words. For example, a student may have to make his partners guess the word “pool” without saying the words “swim,” “water,” or “bathing suit.” Students work in pairs or groups of three and compete against other groups. Students can use the actual game cards from Hasbro or cards that the teacher creates. For ideas, see these sets of game cards:
The teacher reads a statement and students have to decide if they strongly disagree, somewhat disagree, somewhat agree, or strongly agree. Each corner of the room is reserved for one of the four possibilities. After students hear the statement, they must go to the corner of the room that corresponds with how they feel about the issue. The teacher then asks students to explain their opinions.
More difficult version: Students in the strongly agree corner debate the students in the strongly disagree corner.
The teacher chooses a category that is relevant to what the class is studying. For a business English class, the teacher might pick “positive adjectives for people,” or “company slogans.” Students go around in a circle and have to name something in that category. If a student can’t think of something in five seconds, he is out of the game. The game continues until only one person remains.
How Long Can You Talk About…..?
The teacher gives a student a topic that she must talk about without pausing (e.g. “a mistake I’ve learned from,” “someone I look up to,” “a project I’m working on,” “time management,” etc.). The teacher uses a timer and the student tries to talk as long as possible without stopping. This activity can be done in small groups to maximize student talking time.
Would you Rather…?
This is a simple warm up with little preparation. The teacher writes “would you rather” questions on the board and students discuss them in groups. Students explain their answers and then think of their own “would you rather” questions to discuss with their group.
This is a classic game that works well with beginners. One person thinks of something and the other students ask yes/no questions to try to guess what it is. Students can ask a maximum of 20 questions.
More difficult version: Students can only ask certain types of question (questions in the simple past, for example).
Students work in pairs. Student A asks Student B questions. Student B answers the questions but does not elaborate. The idea is for Student A to continue to ask follow-up questions to get more information.
Student A: Have you ever been to France?
Student B: Yes, I have.
Student A: Did you enjoy your trip?
Student B: It was okay.
Student A: Were you there on a business trip?
Student B: No.
Student A: Were you on vacation?
Student B: Yes.
Student A: Who did you go with?
Student B: My family.
This warm up forces students to ask for more information and keep a conversation going.
The teacher brings in some controversial statements and students have an impromptu mini-debate.
Example statement: People should only check their email three times a day because email can be a major distraction in the workplace. Student A has two minutes to say why he agrees with the statement. After Student A’s two minutes, Student B has two minutes to explain why she disagrees with the statement.
More difficult version: Students must argue in favor of something they disagree with.
For ideas, see these debate topics for business English.
Love it or Hate it
The teacher has a list of things and students decide whether they love or hate the things on the list. Students have to choose either “love” or “hate” and can’t be undecided or in the middle. Students then explain their position and argue with the opposing side.
Sentences with Difficult-to-Pronounce Words
The teacher keeps track of words the students are having trouble pronouncing. The teacher then makes sentence strips using these words. Students take turns reading these difficult-to-pronounce sentences.
For example, if students have trouble pronouncing the words responsibility, prioritize, comfortable, educate, and extremely, the teacher might make the following sentence strips:
1. This office chair is extremely comfortable.
2. We need to educate people on how to prioritize their responsibilities.
For ideas, see these commonly mispronounced words.
Error Correction Races
The teacher puts students in two teams and gives each team a list of sentences containing mistakes. Students race to see which team can correct the entire page first.
More difficult version: The teacher Includes some correct sentences as well as sentences with multiple mistakes.
For ideas, see these error correction exercises:
exercise 1 (beginner)
exercise 2A (intermediate)
exercise 2B (intermediate)
exercise 2C (intermediate)
exercise 3A (advanced)
error correction for Spanish speakers
common mistakes in emails
common mistakes in emails 2
common mistakes in emails 3: collocation errors
A “one-upper” is slang for someone who listens to someone talk about an accomplishment or experience and then says something better or more interesting. For example, if someone says “I met the CEO,” a one-upper might say “I had the CEO over to my house for dinner.”
For this warm up, one student starts with a statement, and the next student has to “one-up” that statement. Students continue in a sequence with each person one-upping the previous person.
More difficult version: Students have to use only one particular grammatical structure.
Synonyms/Antonyms/More Intense Words
Students work in pairs. The teacher gives students a word (good, for example). Students have to think of synonyms, antonyms, and more intense words (terrific, great, wonderful, horrible, awful, etc.). The pair of students that thinks of the most words wins. This warm up helps students avoid using the same bland words over and over again (good, nice, bad, interesting, etc.).
Students are put in groups and have to rank the items on a list. All members of the group must agree on the order.
With your group, rank the following jobs in terms of difficulty:
1) financial accountant 2) human resources representative 3) salesperson 4) congressman 5) professional athlete
Can’t Say Yes or No
The object of this warm up is to not say “yes,” or “no.” Students ask each other questions to try to get the other members of their group to say “yes,” or “no.” The other members must answer the questions, but without saying “yes,” or “no.” It’s a fun activity that requires students to think on their feet.
Fact or Fiction – Storytelling
Students are placed in small groups. Each person tells two stories, one true and one completely made up. The other members of the group try to guess which story is true.
Here’s the Answer, what’s the Question?
The teacher writes the answers to a few questions about his life on the board. Students have to guess what the corresponding questions are.
For number one, guesses might include “How many brothers and sisters do you have?,” “How many jobs have you had?” “How many years have you lived in this country?” etc.
More difficult version: Students are limited to certain types of questions (past perfect, future conditional, etc.).
Intriguing conversation questions can also serve as a warm up for business English classes. See these business English conversation starters for ideas.
If you have any additional TEFL warm ups or activities that work well with adult learners, let me know in the comments section below.