Warmers, Fillers, ice-breakers and coolers 

by Jean Sciberras


What are they used for?

  • Useful when you've run out of other things to do, perhaps because the main activity went  much faster than expected and even having stretched it there is still seven minutes to the end of the lesson
  • Also useful at the start of a lesson particularly when you are waiting for some latecomer
  • Mid-lesson as a way of changing the pace
  • Can be quite separate from the surrounding lesson or they might connect in some way
  • Useful as a chance to recycle vocabulary from earlier lessons 
  • Provide an opportunity to work on activities that have a 'group-building' aim rather than a purely language aim 



First day warmer : Ask students to get up and stand in a circle (yourself included). Throw the ball to a student and say your name. The student who catches it says his/her name and throws it to another student. Do twice. Retrieve the ball, this time call out a student's name and throw. The student who catches it calls out another student's name and throws. Do twice. You can do another round but this time giving a piece of interesting information about yourself, e.g. I'm Jean and Iive lived in Perugia for 2 years... Throw the ball and the next student gives some information...



First day warmer : 

On the board write "During this course I hope to..." Students are given a couple of minutes alone to continue the sentence and write about their expectations. When they finish, they work in pairs to compare their answers. Finally feedback and common elements are written on the board. Once you know their expectations you're more likely to fulfil them. This will also be useful when planning your lessons. 


Warmer : 3 

Find someone who: Students are given a number of questions to which they should attach a name. Students get up and ask each other questions e.g. 

Have you ever eaten Japanese food?___________________ 

Have you ever been to Australia?______________________ 

Have you ever been scared?__________________________ 

Have you ever ____________________________________ 

If they get a "No", they should change person. If they get a "Yes" they should write down the name and ask another question. First person with all the names sits down. Have the students tell the rest of the class who they found.


Warmer: 4 

Chain Story: Revising past tenses: Begin telling a story. This can be the first few lines of a story from your course book, or improvised. Going round the class, each student has to add another brief 'instalment' to the story, e.g. "It was raining outside and I was watching TV. Suddenly I heard..."


Warmer 5 

To revise, introduce articles, adjectives, nouns: 

I packed my bag for alaska and in my bag I put 

An apple and a book 

An apple, a book, and a cup 

An apple, a book, a cup and a doll 

Suitable for beginner/elementary levels : go round the class using all the letters of the alphabet. 

For higher levels get them to put an adjective of the same letter in front of the noun... it can get tricky! Beware of wrong collocations! 

I packed my bag for alaska and in my bag I put 

An amazing album 

An amazing album and a beautiful beret 

An amazing album, a beautiful beret and a chunky choker 


Warmer 6 

Alone, students think of three adjectives to describe themselves. At this point they can use a dictionary, even a bilingual one. Their next task is to get up, go round and tell the others the three words. If necessary they should teach each other any new words. Feedback . A couple of expressions showing surprise - oh, really! I would never have thought so! But you don't look impatient!...etc, would be useful. 

By the way, I'm demanding, punctual and generous! 


Warmer 7 

Delphic dictionary - a way to introduce monolingual English dictionaries in the classroom! 

You might like to tell the students about the Oracle at Delphi in Greece. In Delphi there is a very old Greek temple, built around 2,500 years ago, which was very famous because the people in the temple, the priestesses, gave advice... however the advice was never clear! 

Brainstorm some of the students' problems and write them on the board, e.g, 

Will I have children? 

Will I change my job? 

Will I travel this year? 

Will I stay in Germany? 

Get an English-English dictionary. Put the dictionary on a desk, students close their eyes, randomly pick a page, spin their forefinger around in the air and then let it fall randomly on the open page. Student reads word and definition. The class suggests how the word and definition could be the basis of advice for the question he had originally asked and is now on the board, e.g.

My question is: will I ever meet my prince charming? 

The word and definition I find is actually "miracle - something lucky that you did not expect to happen or did not think it was possible" so an optimistic class would interpret this as "yes, you will!"

(idea adapted from How To Improve Your Mind by Andrew Wright) 


Warmer 8 

This warmer is useful especially if you want to change students' places. Students stand up and arrange themselves: 

> in the alphabetical order of their first names 

> in order of their birthdays through the year 

> in order of their surname, the regions they come from, the towns/villages they come from 

> in order of the distance they come to school 

> in order of the times they get up or go to bed 



Warmer 9

My neighbour’s cat 

Start by drawing a cat on the board 

Introduce it as your neighbour’s cat. 

‘My neighbour’s cat is an awful cat’ 

Write the letters of the alphabet on the board. 

Students take it in turns to find adjectives in alphabetical order. 

my neighbour’s cat ia an admirable cat 

my neighbour’s cat is a beautiful cat 

my neighbour’s cat is a cautious cat 

my neighbour’s cat is a dangerous cat…… 

This can be accompanied by clapping a beat. 

This activity is useful after a writing exercise where the tempo needs to be changed. Besides its validity on its own merits, it can also be used to recycle vocabulary. 


Warmer 10 

Jumbled poem 

Divide the board in two with a vertical line. Put students into 2 groups. Give each a card. They must read out their line but NOT show it to anyone. The aim of this warmer is to reassemble the poem. Should take about 5 minutes. The group who finishes first and gets the right order ‘wins’. 

The poem is stuck on the board and students have to think of a title. Later the original title is compared with the students’. 

Any poem could be used, but it would be useful to use a poem which would then lead either to a discussion of the topic or structure. 

Funeral Blues by W H Auden can, for example, be used before showing Four Weddings and a Funeral. It can be used to teach imperatives, to discuss taboo issues like homosexuality or death. These topics are to be discussed preferably if students ask for them or if you know your students well enough to know they will not be offended. 

A few lines from this poem: 

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, 

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, 

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum 

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. 

Let aeroplanes………………………….. …………………………………………… 

(this poem can also be found on New Headway Intermediate, Unit 12, page 123) 


Warmer 11 

Associations This is an activity useful for a review of vocabulary through imaginative association. 

Start by suggesting an evocative word, for example STORM. A student says what the word suggests to him, eg DARK. The next student suggests an association with ‘dark’ and so on. 

You could start with: sea, fire, tired, holiday, morning, English, family, home, angry…..’ 

If there’s time, after you have completed a chain of about 15-25 associations, take the final word suggested, write it on the board, and together with the class, try to reconstruct the entire chain back to the original idea. 

Warmer 12 


You need a tape recorder and a cassette of music you like and that you think will appeal to your students.

Play the music. The students write the story they imagine. Students read their descriptions to each other.

© Malta Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language