The Breakfast Club: A warm-up activity for basic level students

Warm-up activities put students in the right frame of mind to study and use English. Ideally, these are 5-to-10-minute communicative exercises that encourage interaction, collaboration, and self-expression.  They are especially practical after a weekend-break and in longer lessons that allow an hour or more of class time. But even if you teach relatively short lessons of 45-minutes or less, a good warm-up activity can either be condensed or saved for a time when the language focus of that activity relates to a lesson topic in your syllabus. Then the warm-up activity seamlessly becomes part of your lesson plan.

Here’s one warm-up activity for you to consider. I call it The Breakfast Club. (Yes, I’m a fan of that John Hughes film from the ‘80s.)

Level:    High beginner to low intermediate

Language focus: Question formation in the simple past tense

Objective: To form small groups based on what students have in common

STEP 1 – The first part of this activity tests students listening comprehension. This is especially good for students who have yet to fully wake up or who are quiet by nature. They aren’t immediately asked to produce language, but merely respond. The teacher asks a series of questions about the students’ recent past actions. Students who can answer affirmatively to a given question form a small group. The teacher’s goal is to ask enough questions so that a number of small groups with roughly even numbers form. Model:

T = teacher

  • T – Who had breakfast today? …Almost everyone! Okay. All of you who had breakfast, please stand here to my right. You are now a group. You are The Breakfast Club.
  • T- Now listen to my next question. Who drank coffee this morning? …Just a few of you. All right. You four can stand here on my left. You are now a group. You are The Coffee Club.
  • T – Okay. We still have two students sitting. They aren’t in a group. So let’s see. Can I get them in a group? Everyone, listen to my next question. Did an alarm clock wake you up this morning? …Wow! Many of you woke up with an alarm this morning. Okay. All of you will be a group in the back of the classroom. You are The Alarm Clock Club.
  • T– Now only three people are in The Breakfast Club and no one is in The Coffee Club. Let’s see. Can I get a few people back in The Coffee Club? Who had more than three cups of coffee yesterday?…Ah-ha! Two of you! You two can come back here on my left and be in The Coffee Club.
  • T – The Alarm Clock Club is quite large. Can I make it smaller? Listen to my question. How many of you in The Alarm Clock Club went to bed after 11:00pm last night? …Okay. About half of you. So those who went to bed early are still in The Alarm Clock Club. The rest of you are a new group. You are The Night Club.  You can now sit down in your small groups.

STEP 2 – In their small groups, students must now produce language. They must ask one another questions relating to the group topic. Each student will have a turn answering questions from the group. Each member should pose a question to the student whose turn it is. Model:

                The Night Club

                Student A – When did you go to sleep last night?

                Student B – I went to sleep around midnight.

                Student C – Why did you go to sleep so late?

                Student B – I wanted to watch TV.

                Student D – What time did you wake up this morning?

                Student B – I woke up at 8:00.

Do you have a favorite warm-up activity? Please share it.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Maverick says:

    Thanks again, jennifer. It’s a great idea. I enjoy so much you videos and try your tips out. I’m a english teacher in a public school in Brazil. Thank you so much.

  2. Paola says:

    Thanks so much for this creative idea. Still can you answer a question for me? Is it possible to have STEP 2 if i haven’t introduced to my Ss the simple tense grammar? thanks!

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      You have two choices:
      1. Use the activity as is. If you have students with various learning experiences, some may have covered the simple past at some point with another teacher. Others may have at least been exposed to the simple past enough to have formed some conclusions/ patterns of their own. This would allow you to hear what they are able to produce and see how accurate their current knowledge is before you start your own instruction on this topic. Students will use what language they have to communicate the necessary information. Those who don’t have knowledge of the simple past may still be able to communicate ideas using base verbs or present tense forms. Just be sure to follow this activity with a “study” segment in your lesson plan so you can comment on the language they produced and provide further instruction.
      2. Modify the activity. The questions can be in the present tense. Focus not on what they did that morning, but what they usually do in the morning. Examples: Do you eat a big breakfast? Do you drink coffee? Etc.
      Good luck and have fun!

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