TEFL Tip Tuesday: 15 Warmers and Coolers That Definitely Work Online

One of the hardest parts of teaching English online is making lessons as exciting as they are in the classroom. It’s hard to go from face to face interactions to seeing your students as tiny icons on a Zoom call; something that made it easier for me was the bank of warmers and coolers that I have built up over the past two and a half years. Not every game is suitable for online, but through trial and error I have discovered the ones that definitely do work! Whether you have just started your TEFL journey through online teaching or have had to deal with the headache of transitioning from in-class to online these games and activities are guaranteed to spice up your lesson plans. This is by no means an extensive list, there are definitely more out there especially if you have a specific topic in mind but hopefully this list will be the perfect place to inspire more ideas. To make it easier for you to choose the right activities for your class and topic I have sorted them into categories; memory games, word games, sensory games and speaking games.

Memory Games

1. Name Ten

To play Name Ten all you need is for each student to have a piece of paper and a pen and a good memory of previously taught vocabulary. Give the students a topic and tell them they have to race to find ten words from that topic. Name ten can be used to revise anything from grammar points and parts of speech to vocabulary. It is a great way to test your students memory of the previous lesson or to refresh their minds before you start a more in-depth study on a topic. If you teach one on one lessons this game could be played against the clock instead of against the other students in the class.

2. Remember the Picture

This is a really simple game that can be used to introduce almost any topic. Using the share screen function show the students an image, make sure there is a lot going on in the picture. Leave it on the screen for a minute and tell the students to study it but not to write anything down just yet. Once the minute is over, stop sharing the screen and ask the students to list all the things they remember from the image. The student with the longest and most accurate list is the winner. If you are teaching a one to one lesson then give the student one minute to write down as many things as they can remember.

Warmer for a lesson on re-organising your bedroom.

3. The Teacher’s Cat

We’ve all played this game on long car journeys or rainy days and it is a great way to revise adjectives. If you aren’t familiar with the game then the rules are pretty easy; each student takes it in turns to describe the teacher’s cat but they must remember every word that has been used before and it is usually listed in alphabetical order starting with A and working all the way to Z. The game begins by leading in with the sentence “The teacher’s cat is a…” and followed by the adjective, then you can just keep going until you run out of letters. Listing the words from A to Z really helps the students to remember the words that have come before them and also means that they might have to get creative with their answers, especially towards the end of the alphabet! This game isn’t just for adjectives, just change the lead in sentence and you can apply it to almost any topic covered in an ESL classroom, for example; “I went on holiday and I packed…” for clothing and accessories, “I went shopping and I bought…” for food, “to get to school I travelled by…” for transport etc. (I recommend writing down the order of the students when you start the game as every time one of their cameras is switched off or a connection drops the order they are on the screen will change…)

Sensory Games

1. What’s On Your Right?

This was one of the first games I stumbled across while researching how to teach an online class and it is a great ice breaker for new classes. Ask the students to close their eyes and gently reach over to their right, they should pick up the first thing their hand lands on and then open their eyes. When everyone has their object ask them to explain what  the object is, how long they’ve had it, if it is special to them and where it came from. If you are teaching a group class, encourage the other students in the class to ask questions about the object too so they can get to know their classmates better.

2. How Many Sounds?

Students close their eyes and sit in silence for one minute while listening to all the sounds they can hear around them (make sure to mute all their microphones so that each student can focus on their own surroundings). After one minute students should open their eyes and list everything they could hear during the past minute. The student with the longest list is the winner in a group lesson. If teaching a one on one class then ask the student some questions about the sounds on their list.

3. Drawing Dictation

The first time I played this game was with an energetic group of students in an international school here in Yangon, it was a miracle if I could ever get them to focus for more than five minutes but this game had them silent and listening intently! It is the perfect game for online classes, all you need is a simple illustration. Tell the students that you are going to describe a picture to them and they must draw what you describe in their books. This activity is great for reviewing prepositions of place and it’s a lot of fun to see how differently each student interprets your dictations.

4. Find Something…

Find something, is Teacher Says meets I-spy. It gets the students up and out of their seats and puts their problem solving skills to use. The easiest way to play this game is to ask the students to find something of a certain colour, just like in I-spy they have to search their surroundings for an object that matches the description given but in this game they need to get it and bring it to the camera. To make it more exciting you can make it into a race to see who can bring their object back the quickest. Make it harder by asking for and object that starts with a certain letter, describing the function of an object or asking for an object that the student has owned for over or under a certain amount of years.

Word Games

1. Stop the Bus

This is a classic game and it always goes down well in class but I was a little worried about taking it into my online classes. Usually with stop the buss I get my students to work in teams but that format just doesn’t work well in a Zoom call so for online I get them to work on their own. To play ask the students to draw a table in their books (you can demonstrate this on the whiteboard function on Zoom) with enough room for five or six categories. These can be anything you want, for example; you could use the categories adjective, adverb, extreme adjective, verb, conjunction for a lesson on story telling. When the students have finished drawing their table explain to them that you are going to give them a letter and they must think of a word for each category that begins with that letter. The first student to complete the table should shout “stop the bus!” Check their answers, if they are all correct then they are the winner and you can play again with a different letter. If they have got any of the categories wrong then let the rest of the class keep working until someone completes the table.

In whiteboard function students should be able to type their own answers into the table.

2. Word Finder

This is basically Boggle but with an end goal; it does require a little bit of prep before class but it is worth it for any class who likes a bit of a competition. It is definitely a game for higher proficiency learners but I didn’t want to miss it out because of that. It’s has been a popular choice for my young learners over the past few weeks and is a great way to get their minds engaged and ready to learn English. To play, choose a nine letter word related to your lesson topic, mix up the letters and place them in a three by three grid (this is the part you need to prepare before the lesson). Students then work against the clock (five minutes is usually long enough) to find as many words as they can from those nine letters; one point should be awarded for each word found, with two points awarded to students who guess the word that uses all nine letters. I would recommend playing the game yourself before class just to make sure there are enough words to be made from your nine letter choice that the students will understand.

3. One Thing in Common

I think I originally came across this word game in a brain training puzzle book, it works with compound words and phrasal verbs and is a great way to build vocabulary. Compound words are two smaller words joined together to create a new longer word and phrasal verbs are when you use a verb along with either a preposition or adverb to create a new meaning for the original verb. Present the students with three seemingly unconnected words and tell them that they all have one thing in common. That one thing is that there is a word missing from the front of them. The word is the same for each of the words given and the students must work to connect these three things together creating either a phrasal verb or compound word for each one. If playing in a group lesson the student who finds the connecting word first is the winner.

Can you solve the puzzle?

4. Word Snake

This is another game I wasn’t sure about translating well to the online environment but it has worked surprisingly well for my young learner classes. Word Snake is a really easy way to practice vocabulary; start the students off with a word of your choice and tell them they must now think about a word that starts with the last letter of the previous word. You can make it harder by asking the students to use words that are from the same topic or easier by letting them use any words they want. The game can go on for a while so try to set a time limit or word number limit. This activity can be done solo or as a class depending on what skills you want to focus on, you could decide that every student gets to go twice for a small class, once for a larger class or set a word limit of 25 words if students are working solo/in a one to one lesson. You can use a template and annotate it with each word the student suggests for a more interactive variation of the game, play in the chat box of Zoom or ask the fastest student/student with the most words to read their list outloud whichever works best for your class. Whatever way you decided to play you are guaranteed a quick game that gets everyone warmed up to learn!

Speaking Games

1. Two Truths, One Lie

A great warmer for an introduction lesson two truths, one lie is one of my go to games when I have new students in my class. You’ve probably played this game yourself before and it is a really fun way for students to get to know you as well, so join in! Everyone takes a minutes to think of two true things about themselves and one thing that could be believable but is actually a lie. Take it in turns to read your sentences out to the class while the students guess which one is the lie. Just don’t do what I did the first time I played this game and forget to make one of them false…

2. Would you Rather?

Would you rather? is a great game to play when giving a lesson on passions and hobbies but it doesn’t have to be limited to that topic alone. Think of two or three “would you rather?” questions and model them for the class, ask them which thing they would rather do and why and then get them to think of three questions of their own. This is a great activity for a breakout room if you have a larger class but can also be done as a whole class or one to one. If you use breakout rooms then ask the students to report back to the rest of the class with what they learned about their classmates.

3. Just a Minute

Just a minute is the perfect warmer or cooler for classes that need to work on their public speaking skills. Explain to the students that they are going to have just a minute to talk about a subject. Give the students the topic and two minutes to make any notes that they think might help them in the activity. Before they begin, make sure students understand the difference between writing in full sentences and writing notes for reference. Next each student should take it in turn to talk about the topic for a minute, use a timer to make sure they do talk for the whole minute. If they find themselves running out of things to say remind them to look at their notes or give them a nudging question and encourage them to keep talking, even if it doesn’t make much sense. To make it harder give each student in the group a different topic so they can’t take notes from the students who go before them.

Just A Minute. Topic: My Treasure. A Student chose her cat and melted my heart!

4. Taboo

I love taboo! It is one of the best games for building vocabulary and really gets students thinking creatively about how to describe things. To use this activity in online lessons utilise the private chat function on Zoom, send the word that the student has to describe to them via the private chat. If you want to make it harder then you could send them a list of synonyms that they also can’t use in their description. If you aren’t using Zoom then try emailing the students a list of words to choose from before class; this requires a bit more planning than the Zoom chat version but should work just as well. Make sure to explain in the lesson before that you are going to send them a list of words for next lesson and that they should look at them but not tell anyone what words they received. They could use the time before class to practice describing each thing if you want to use this game a larger activity on synonyms and adjectives.

For more TEFL Tips check out these posts:

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