Five Best Starter Activities For Your English Lessons

In this post, I answer every language teacher’s most commonly asked question, “How do I start my lesson creatively?”
So, in this post, I share some practical lesson starters (starter activities for English lessons) that you can use to introduce the lesson creatively and engage your students. The suggested starter activity ideas are classroom-tested and are research-based to help you keep your students engaged and improve their learning throughout the lesson.

What are the starter activities?
To help new teachers here, a starter activity is a short introductory activity at the beginning of
the lesson that engages students as soon as the lesson begins.

Why use starter activities?
Starter activities get the students on task as soon as the lesson begins. These activities last for about five to ten minutes and help the teacher introduce the lesson creatively while setting the tone of the lesson. If planned carefully, starter activities help you manage your class effectively, promote creativity, interaction, and classroom community building.
Whenever you plan to use a starter activity in your lesson, always ask yourself
these questions:

  • Why am I using this starter activity?
  • Does it serve any purpose or am I just using it for the sake of it?
  • Will this activity help build the target language skill?
  • Is this activity suitable for my students considering their background and language proficiency level?
  • Is it practical to use this activity in my class?

While you can use any type of activity as a starter activity, it is always a good idea to relate the starter activity to the main lesson and get your students thinking. Not only will this give you freedom of choice while introducing the lesson, but will also help you manage your class well. This is because when your students are engaged in the starter activity, they will be less likely to get distracted and will learn the lesson with great interest. 

Starter Activities For English Lessons:

Here are the five best starter activities for your English lessons:

  • Pennies For Your Thoughts
  • Picnic Game
  • One-Word Story
  • Key Terms
  • Conversation Cards

01. Pennies For Your Thoughts

To use pennies for your thoughts as a starter, give each student two pennies and ask them to notice the differences between the two. You can easily alter this activity according to your lesson and its requirements. For example, you can give students two pictures (related to the topic) and ask them to notice the differences between the two and share their thoughts. You can also give students two similar sentences with slight variation and have them notice the differences and discuss them.

02. Picnic Game

The Picnic game can serve as a great starter activity in your English classroom. The classic version includes having each student say, “I am going on a picnic and I am taking…” to this they add a word beginning with ‘A’. The next student uses the same sentence starter and adds a word that begins with ‘B’ and the game continues.

There can be many benefits to using this game in any language classroom. One, you can use this game as a great icebreaker using the classic version. Two, you can allow your students to practice the target language skill. For example, you can use the target vocabulary using a predefined word bank or idioms instead of having your students use words beginning with the alphabet. Additionally, you can practice present continuous tense (I’m taking…..) for the drill. Moreover, you can use this activity when introducing direct characterization. For example, once your students share what they are taking to the picnic, you can ask other students to infer the speakers’ personality traits based on their responses.

03. One-Word Story

The one-word story is a popular starter activity as it promotes interaction between students who work in groups. The teacher begins by saying a word aloud and each student (upon their turn) in the group speaks a word. The game continues until all the members of the group have spoken a word. The challenge is that the students have limited time for the activity, and by the time the last student has his/her turn, the story should make sense. Take a look at the following example:

  • Teacher – a year ago
  • First student – I
  • Second student – met
  • Third student – a
  • Fourth student– witch

You can also pre-plan and assign each group a word bank with the target vocabulary to reinforce the vocabulary they have already learned.

04. Key Terms

Key Terms is a widely used starter activity in many English and content area classrooms. The teacher begins by writing a key term on the board and allows students to think, connect to their prior knowledge, and share as many words that relate to the displayed word as they can. This allows the teacher to assess students’ vocabulary and prior knowledge about the topic. You can also adapt this activity to promote collaboration and student interaction. For example, you can prepare chart papers and write a different key term related to the topic on each chart paper. Then the students can work in groups and write as many related words as they can. So, by the end of the lesson, you can invite each group representative to show their chart paper and share the keywords they generated during group work time. To extend the activity, you can ask related questions and assess their prior knowledge about the topic.

05. Conversation Cards

As the name suggests, Conversation Cards work as great conversation starters about the topic under study and promote peer interaction in the class. Based on the level of your students, you can create Conversation Cards by drawing speech bubbles on different pieces of paper and writing a conversation starter on each of the cards. You can pair up your students and have them exchange their ideas using the prompt. As always, you can alter the activity to suit your students’ level and requirements. To use this activity effectively, you should be observing and taking notes as the students talk about the given topic so that you know if they are on task.

Starter Activities For English Lessons – Suggested Books:

For more ideas on starter activities, you check out the following books:

I hope this post inspired some of you to try these starter activities in your language class. If you try any of the above starter activities in your lesson, I’d love to hear from you.

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