Brilliant Beginnings

Teenage students have a famously short attention span, and with plenty of other distractions around them, you need to get them hooked as soon as they walk into the classroom. That’s why I often say that a lesson can be ‘won or lost’ in the first five minutes.

In this week’s blog post, I’m going to show you four quick ways to engage your students’ interest and make them want to find out more.

1 Visual Cues

A big, colourful, impactful picture related to the topic is immediately attention-grabbing. Keep your eyes open for amazing photographs – (the National Geographic Facebook page is a great place to start!) and build up your own library of useful links and images. Then use your image in a way that makes students ask questions and want to find out more. For example, if you want to introduce the topic of transport, how about using an image like this:


Ask students to discuss these questions:

Is this a real photo or does it come from a film?

What are the people doing?

How do they land?

Get them thinking about the photo before you reveal the story behind it – these are real-life ‘Jetmen’ making a flight over Dubai. They take off from helicopters and land using parachutes. Then you can move onto the lesson, eliciting more vocabulary for means of transport.


2 Guess the link

Think of five things that are tangentially linked to your topic or target language. Let’s imagine you are about to cover ‘going to’ for future plans. Write five phrases about your own plans for this evening on the board. If you can make one or two of them slightly unusual (even if they’re not strictly true), all the better. Here’s an example:

  • watch TV
  • feed my pet snake
  • practise the flute
  • phone my aunt
  • eat three bananas

Get students, in groups, to guess what links the five activities.

You don’t have to use phrases, you can use photos, words, quotes or even actual objects which you bring into the classroom. You can also mix and match different ideas. In the example below, ask students to look at the photograph, read the title and the quote and then guess how these three elements are connected.

The main idea is to introduce the topic in a fun context that immediately gets students thinking.


3 Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a fast, collaborative activity that switches students’ brains on and encourages participation from everyone. It’s also useful as a diagnostic tool to find out how much your students already know about a topic / lexical set. To use brainstorming effectively you need to:

  • make your instructions simple and clear
  • accept all suggestions (evaluate or make corrections at the end of the brainstorming session)
  • make it fast (set a time limit and give students a final ten-second countdown)

The most obvious way of using brainstorming at the beginning of your lesson is to brainstorm vocabulary around a certain topic. Students can work in groups and then feedback their ideas to you, or you can accept suggestions from the whole class (this could get noisy!). Write the suggested vocabulary on the board. You could then ask students to build a word map from the ideas on the board. You can also brainstorm facts (Where does water come from?) and ideas (How can we save water?)


4 Quizzes

A quick round quiz game is a great way to get students involved and vocal. Pitching the level is important, though. If the questions are difficult, consider offering multiple choice answers. For simpler questions, challenge students to come up with the answers themselves. So, if you’re about to teach a lesson on food, you could set some questions like these:

1 Name three orange vegetables.

2 The main ingredient in a ‘hash brown’ is

a) egg b) potato c) spaghetti

3 What country do ‘tacos’ come from?

Students can compete in teams or individually. You could even set up term-long teams which then accrue points over the term every time they participate in a team activity.


So now you have four brilliant beginnings and no excuse to start your lesson with, ‘Get out your books and turn to page …’! What do you think? Have you got any great ideas for warmers which have worked in your classroom? Comment below and help us all to inspire our teenage students.

All of the examples in today’s post came from National Geographic Learning’s Impact, a five-level series in American and British English that helps teenage learners to better understand themselves, each other, and the world they live in. Katherine is a coauthor of Impact.

Stay tuned for Katherine’s next post in her series about motivating teenage learners called Get ‘Em Moving! 

It’s not too late to sign up for Katherine Stannett’s webinar The Creative Classroom on October 5th. Click here to register!


Author: Katherine Stannett

Katherine Stannett is based in West Sussex, England and is an author with over twenty years of experience in editing, writing and developing materials to teach English. She specializes in writing for children and teenagers at all levels and is particularly interested in the development of 21st century skills. She is an author of National Geographic Learning’s Look, a seven-level series for young learners of English, and Impact, a five-level series for teenage learners of English.


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