How to choose effective lead-in activities to boost learner motivation

What are the main characteristics of a successful warmer?

Here are 7 tips on choosing warm-up tasks for the EFL classroom

    This blog post will mainly focus on the various aspects of a successful lead-in task, on how to introduce our lesson’s main goals and topic to our students by activating their previous relevant knowledge and by boosting their willingness to actively participate in the lesson. The characteristics mentioned below mainly refer to the ‘warmers’ used in the beginning of the lesson to familiarize our students with the main theme of the lesson, but can also be applied to the ‘warm-up’ tasks we use throughout the lesson to introduce a more specific topic or activity.

  1. Task authenticity

    Penny Ur (1991:11) stresses the importance “effective presentation” plays in promoting language learning. In order for our learners to “absorb” the input, we need to present it in a way that can be easily “perceived” and “understood”. In a good lead-in activity learners are “alert” and focus their “attention to the material to be learnt”.

    Task authenticity and the use of a variety of resources play a crucial role in helping us grasp our learners’ attention from the very beginning of the lesson. Our warmers need to be brief, dynamic, powerful and unpredictable to some extent in order to make a first good impression to our class. We therefore need to select attention-catching materials and realia that will be relevant and meaningful to our class and will foster student participation.

    Tasks can vary from whole class discussions based on a stimulus (such as a brief video/audio track, a title, an abstract from a book/article) to student interaction activities (such as games/role-play, hands on materials, mix & match exercises, reading puzzles, a brief writing task, etc.).

Below you can find (and download) some ideas on various activity types that can be used as warmers in our EFL lessons.

2. Catering for the different learner styles/needs

It is important to keep in mind that we must always personalize our lesson’s content based on our learners’ specific age, needs and learning styles. Nobody is willing to pay any effort to learn something that is not meaningful or relevant to them. We must therefore make sure that we catch our students’ attention from the very beginning of the lesson by choosing topics and activities that they can relate to.

     Respecting the different learner styles is also important here. We will gain the attention of visual types, for example, by using realia or by writing something on the board, whereas kinesthetic types will learn through interaction with others. Teachers need to therefore check the stimuli and the strategies that seem to be effective in their classrooms and choose the lead-in activities accordingly in order to cater for their learners’ needs.

3. Making lesson goals clear

    As the name indicates, the main focus of lead-in tasks is to lead our learners towards discovering what our lesson’s overall aims are. Through this brief activity, our students are introduced to the main topic of the lesson and are preparing themselves for that comes next. A quick revision of previously taught structures that could come in handy for the upcoming activities or the pre-teaching of key vocabulary and grammar are essential at this stage.

    In order to foster language acquisition we need to adequately prepare our learners and to make sure that they know what they are doing at all times. Our instructions must therefore always be clear and we should always check comprehension, as we need to make sure that the students understand what the subsidiary goals of each task are.

4. The importance of cohesion and context

    Our overall lesson needs to be well structured and this cohesion needs to be visible from the very beginning. During the ‘warmer’ stage we must therefore set a meaningful context for our lesson through the use of authentic tasks and materials that are interesting and at the same time relevant to our students.

5. Encouraging brainstorming – learners as discoverers – eliciting- activating schemata

    Activating our learners’ ‘schemata’ and prior knowledge on the lesson’s topic should be one of the main goals of every lead-in activity. We must focus on eliciting the information from them, on finding out what they actually know on the subject through whole class discussions, brainstorming or even creating mind-maps on the board.

    In his book The Practice of English Language Teaching, Jeremy Harmer (2001: 161) stresses the importance of “discovering” and “noticing” in language acquisition. In his words, it is the “things we discover for ourselves” that are “absorbed” more effectively than the things we are being explicitly taught. Our students need to therefore receive only the necessary stimuli from us and discover the rest of the information themselves through guesswork and interactive tasks that will help them predict what the lesson will be about.

6. Promoting student interaction

    Starting from the lead-in stage, we must try to ensure maximum learner involvement and participation. Engaging our students in brief, purposeful pair work or group work tasks will not only increase student talking time (STT), but will also keep them alert and focused.

7. Boosting our learners’ motivation- triggering their interest

    As Ur (1991:23) points out, boredom leads to “learner inattention, low motivation and ultimately less learning”. Watkins (2005:106) describes motivation as an “essential part” of successful language learning and stresses the importance of creating a “relaxed and friendly atmosphere” in the classroom that will make our students feel secure and will allow them to “experiment with language use”.

    We must therefore try to keep the students alert from the very beginning and “feed their inquisitive minds” by finding ways to boost their interest and their willingness to discover new information and actively take part in the learning process. The teacher’s attitude also plays an important role here. We must try to be a source of inspiration for our class and find ways to instill our passion for language learning to our students and at the same time encourage them and keep praising their efforts.


Harmer, J. (2001). The practice of English language teaching. Longman.

Ur, P. (2012). A course in English language teaching. Cambridge University Press

Watkins, P. (2005). Learning to teach English: a practical guide for new teachers. Delta Publishing

Published by Joanna Nifli

Greek-Canadian ELT teacher and freelance translator with work experience at the United Nations and the European Parliament. Holder of an MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (MA TEFL), the Cambridge CELTA and an MA in Applied Translation Studies from the University of Leeds. Interested in innovative pedagogies in language education, TESOL, teacher training, applied linguistics and related topics

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