Teaching EFL or ESL online is a great job, but you must have English teaching warm-up activities on hand before you start your classes. Have you noticed that your classes seem more engaged and motivated when you start with a fun and engaging exercise? This is even truer with online courses because there is no physical classroom. However, virtual classrooms can be impersonal so starting with suitable warm-up activities are essential.

What are the most important aspects to remember about English teaching warm-up activities?

They should be simple, short, fun, engaging and motivate your students to speak. Warm-up activities should start with lots of energy and communication-focused exercises.

Here are some online warm-up activities that require very little prep!

English teaching warm-up activities: Telephone, Gossip or also called Chinese Whispers!

Materials: None!

Instructions: You instruct your students that you will create a story together. The first student starts by giving a sentence, and the other students listen to what they’ve said and continue the story from where they’ve stopped. The aim is to develop a story with a start, middle, and end. Next, students make a line or circle, and the first student comes up with a sentence and whispers it to the ear of the second student in the line. The second student repeats the sentence to the third student, and so on. When the last student is reached, they announce the sentence they heard to the entire group. The first student then compares the original sentence with the final version. Although the objective is to pass around the sentence without it becoming garbled along the way, part of the enjoyment is that, regardless, this usually ends up happening. Start by allowing three rounds to complete the story and then challenge them to do it in less time!

Time: 5-10 minutes

Level: B1+

Online English teaching warm-up activities: The Odd man out (OMO) or The Odd One Out (OOO)

Odd Man Out (also called Odd One Out) is an excellent game for Online ESL classrooms. Children or adults can play it from beginners (A2) to advanced (C1) students. The OMO or OOO can also be played alone with a one-on-one ESL student. Its difficulty depends on the categories used. In the most straightforward version, players choose which word or thing is different from the others.

The categories version is more challenging because the students practice their English thinking skills.


Which is the odd one out?

  1. Angela Merkle
  2. Barrack Obama
  3. Emmanuel Macron
  4. Boris Johnson

Possible answers:

  1. A student could say that the OMO or the OOO is Barrack Obama because he is the only non-European Head of State.
  2. Some will also choose Barrack Obama as the OMO because he is the only African American Head of State on the list.
  3. Some may say it’s Angela Merkle because she is the only female head of state.

Which is the odd one out?

  1. English
  2. Spanish
  3. Mandarin Chinese
  4. Italian

Possible answers:

  1. A student could say that the OMO is Italian because it is not on the list of languages with the most native speakers.
  2. Some may say it’s Mandarin Chinese because it is the L1 (first language) in a non-European country.
  3. Others may also say Mandarin Chinese because it is the only language not written with the Latin alphabet.

There is only one correct answer in some versions of Odd Man Out, although you should not make it too easy for your students. For example, which of these words is the Odd Man Out?

  1. silly
  2. funny
  3. anger
  4. hungry

(Answer: Anger. However, anger can be used both as a noun or a verb. The other three other words can only be used as adjectives.)

Materials: Different categories are prepared beforehand, for example, countries, world leaders, languages.


Give the students groups of words or categories. Tell them there is a word or category that does not belong (Odd Man Out). This can be done individually, in pairs or as a group. You give them the rules. One rule is to provide the reason for their choice.

As you can see, such answers could be debated. You could make this into a multiple-answer question by helping students think about meanings and relations between words. This is an excellent way to practice their spoken English. It also encourages them to think beyond one-word answers. It is a great warm-up activity because, unknowingly, they are not just breaking the ice or warming up for the lesson ahead but also working on their spoken skills. They learn and enjoy themselves simultaneously, and that my friends are contributing factors to good learning.

Time: 10-15 minutes

Level: Any (You must choose vocabulary based on the class level.)

English teaching warm-up activities: Word association

Materials: Come up with a list of words. A list of words, 5- 10 is plenty.

Instructions: Tell your student(s) that you will say a word, for example, “London”. They have to say the first word that comes to mind when they hear this word. If we use the example I gave, that could be “Buckingham Palace”. Then you continue the game by naming a word you associate with the new word (“Buckingham Palace”), and you and your students go back and forth until you both run out of words. From there, you can choose another word or stop the game altogether. You can do this warm-up activity with one student, in pairs or with the whole class.

Time: 5-10 minutes

Level: Any (You must choose vocabulary based on the class level.)

During your Dual certificate Online Trinity College CertTESOL and EBC International TEFL Certificate course, you learn to make warm-up activities for your fun-filled and memorable career as an ESL teacher.

Travel, live and enjoy the world with your Dual certificate Trinity College CertTESOL and EBC International TEFL Certificate.