10 Warm Ups for Lesson Plans

Help Your Students Prepare to Learn with Ice Breaker Activities

Multi-ethnic teacher and children in science lab
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Beginning your lesson plans with a five-minute warm-up or icebreaker can serve to focus your students on a new topic, open up creative thinking, and help them to apply the learning in new ways. The feedback you get from students also gives you an instant reading on where their heads are. 

Teacher Standing in Front of a Class of Raised Hands
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Understanding your students' expectations is key to your success. Use this icebreaker to find out what expectations your students have about the new topic.

Find out what your group knows about a topic before you begin a new lesson. Divide them into teams of four and present the topic. Ask them to brainstorm and list as many ideas or questions as they can come up within a given amount of time. Here’s the kicker---they cannot speak. Each student must write his or her ideas on the board or paper you’ve provided.

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A Few of My Favorite Things

At the risk of having the song stuck in your collective classroom head all day, this icebreaker is a good one for customizing to any topic. Whether you’ve gathered to talk about math or literature, ask your students to share their top three favorite things about whatever it is you’re there to discuss. If you have time, go back around for the flip side: what are their three least favorite things? This information will be even more helpful if you ask them to explain why. Will your time together help to solve any of these issues?

Magic wands open up amazingly creative possibilities. Pass a "magic wand" around your classroom before you begin a new topic and ask your students what they would do with a magic wand. What information would they want to have revealed? What would they hope to make easy? Which aspect of the topic would they want to fully understand? Your topic will determine the kinds of questions you can ask to get them started.

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If You Won the Lottery

What would your students do to effect change in your given topic if money were no object? This warm up lends itself well to social and corporate topics, but be creative. You might be surprised by its usefulness in less tangible areas as well.

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Clay Modeling

This warm-up takes a significantly longer time, but depending on your topic, it just might be the magical experience people remember forever. It works especially well when you're teaching something that involves physical shapes, science for example. I know one teacher who used clay to teach plate tectonics. Have your students save their "warm-up" models in baggies and modify them after the lesson to show their new understanding.

Learners come to your classroom full of powerful personal experiences. When your topic is one that people are certain to have experienced in different ways, what could be a better introduction to a lesson than real-life examples? The only danger here is in controlling the time factor. If you're a good facilitator of time, this is a powerful warm up, and unique every single time.

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Super Powers

Super Powers is a good warm-up for topics that involve a lot of mystery. What do your students wish they could have overheard during a historical event? If they could become very small, where would they go to find an answer to their question? This might work especially well in medical classrooms.

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This is a fast ​warm-up that's easily adaptable to any topic. Ask your students to come up with three words they associate with the new topic. The value in this for you, as a teacher, is that you'll discover very quickly where your students' heads are. Are they excited about this? Nervous? Unenthusiastic? Completely confused? It's like taking the temperature in your classroom.

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Time Machine

This is an especially good warm up in history classrooms, of course, but it could be used very effectively for literature too, even math and science. In a corporate setting, it could be used to understand the causes of a current problem. If you could go back in time, or forward, where would you go and why? Who would you talk to? What are the burning questions?