Sunday, 13 November 2011

MYSTERY warm-up

Here you have an example of some warm-up questions.

Boom Mystery Questions and my particularly fabulous ball which has LIGHTS that FLASH on impact.
This was the warm-up for the following class

Level: upper intermediate

Language task being worked towards: exploring and analysing a "mystery". 

Language focus: modals of possibility and deduction, (present and past)
(Language focus, in my classes, is modelled and 'noticed' as useful for the sorts of tasks students are asked to complete, but not insisted upon)  

TASK being worked towards:
Students will choose a mystery they find interesting - for example documented ghost stories, UFO sightings, the Bermuda triangle, diverse conspiracy theories, the pyramids, the Nasca Lines, etc. 

Investigate it and then make a presentation explaining and exploring
  • the story - what is the evidence
  • what "believers" claim to have happened
  • what "experts" and "critics" explain may have happened
  • finally what the students themselves believe must have happened.


In this case, we played BOOM!

A quick recap on how to play:
All you need to play BOOM are
  • slips of paper with some interesting and relevant questions, 
  • and a ball or throw object

Choose a BOOM number. This number, and all it's multiples will be replaced by the word BOOM as you toss the ball from person to person, each person must count off:

eg. boom number =3
1 - 2- BOOM! - 4 - 5 - BOOM! - 7 - 8 - BOOM! - 10 ....

When the ball is dropped, or thrown badly, or the count is messed up in any way, the person responsible takes a slip of paper and answers the question.


This was a very small class of adult learners. I find - perhaps even more than younger students, many adults - and certainly THESE adults - truly enjoy the chance to 'play' once more. Standing up from their places and forming a circle instantly gets them smiling and engaged.

These particular learners are very talkative, and not only answered each question, but spontaneously took on the task of being moderator leading a group discussion, asking other students what they thought and believed.

The group being so talkative, the activity which might take just 15 minutes, took all of 40! My classes go for 3 hours, so as long as students are engaged and producing meaningful language, I was happy to let them go for it.

If time is pressing you can always limit the number of questions answered to curtail the activity.



Walk! Stop and talk!....

When classes are large - and I consider anything over 10 students as large (and in the luxury of my status of working for myself with VERY small classes, I am tempted to write 8!) - any activity where only one person is talking at any one time should be minimized.

This is specially the case for a warm-up, which should be about students loosening up and using language meaningfully, working on the fluency, exploring the topic they will work with and 'activating' the language and ideas they already have for dealing with it.

If the warm-up is to go for 15 minutes, and you have 15 students, and say 8 questions, you may have a situation where only 8 students get to actually talk for a minute or so each, and 7 might miss out altogether.

So consider, instead of BOOM!, playing "Walk! Stop and Talk!"

  • something to write questions on for all the students to see.

Of course,  if you have some technology, you can take advantage of that and use Powerpoint prompts to discuss questions. Photos can also be discussed.


  • tell students to stand up and WALK!  - which is generally mill around. Though depending on the class, you might get them to do silly walks or what have you.
  • when they are sufficiently mixed up, write the question out, or project the question on the board and  call out STOP - AND  TALK! Students find a partner and discuss the question. 
  • If they deal with it quickly, you might have them WALK and find a new partner for the same question, or move on to the next as you prefer. 
The advantage over BOOM; all the students in a large class have had the opportunity to participate in personal conversation for the full 15 minutes of warm-up time. =)


A note on local references 
My questions include two local references: the first to Costa Rica's Pre-columbian stone spheres, the second alludes to the well-known phenomenon of local money launderers going from rags to riches overnight.

You are welcome to download and use the PowerPoint, but I recommend, wherever possible, adjust activities to include references to your own local context and culture, which will make the class more relevant and engaging to your learners.

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