Starting

coffee cropped

Image courtesy of Cloud2013

One of my first jobs I ever had was working in a camera store in a shopping mall as a salesperson. Every morning, my boss would come in carrying a tray of coffee from McDonalds for everyone who was working that morning. One of the guys I worked with would smile, take the coffee, thank her, and then promptly put the coffee on the back counter. After a few weeks, I started to notice that he never actually took a drink from the cup, but the cup would eventually disappear. One morning, I watched to see what would happen. He grabbed the coffee as per usual and put the cup on the back counter. About an hour later, he took the cup with him to the photo lab and dumped the coffee down the sink. I asked him what he was doing and he simply said, “I don’t drink coffee.” He proceeded to tell me that he didn’t want to hurt our manager’s feelings, so he never told her. This went on the entire time I worked there and I suspect that it continued on long after I was gone.

For the manager, she thought she was being helpful and for the most part she was. I am sure all of us appreciated the gesture, but if she had taken the time to ask, she would have found out that most of us didn’t even like the coffee that much and would have appreciated something else instead. I am not trying to sound ungrateful, I am simply showing how a simple question could have made a difference in this situation instead of continuing to carry on in the way it had always been.

I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the things I do in class that I believe to be productive / helpful / important for learning a language. I used to do this more often, especially when I first started as a teacher. At that time, I would ask someone else what to do and they would explain how they went about things and I would just assume that there was a valid reason for it. Sometimes, I was given an explanation, but I never really took the time to verify it on my own.

One of those things that has been passed down from teacher to teacher and is a staple in pretty much every TESL training course is the warmer. By definition, a warmer takes place at the start of class and is a short activity that gets the class started. I have my reasons for using warmers, but here are some of the ideas I have collected from other teachers on why they believe it is important to use warmers:

  1. It prepares students for the topic or content of the day.
  2. Students can review content from previous lessons that are required for that class.
  3. It helps students switch from their own language into the target language.
  4. It allows time for latecomers to enter.
  5. It fills time.
  6. It helps students relax before starting the lesson.
  7. It helps the teacher find out what mood the students are in.
  8. It helps the teacher find out what students know about a topic or anything else in particular.
  9. It provides some scaffolding for students to work from in that lesson.
  10. It activates their brain cells.
  11. It helps students have a positive attitude towards the lesson.
  12. It can break the ice for any new students, especially in a situation where there is continuous intake.

I am sure there may be some other reasons I haven’t considered here, but this list makes up a major majority of the reasons. I don’t agree with all of these, but there are some in there that I would believe to be true and are reasons I have given when asked why I use warmers.

The problem here is that I can’t give a good solid scientifically studied reason here. All of these ideas are based of what I think are true or seem logical. It seems reasonable to me that it would help me as a teacher to find out what students know about a topic. It seems obvious to me that it would help students switch into the target language. It makes sense to me that it would prepare students to move into the topic or content of the day. I think all of these are achievable, but the question is if there is a need for a warmer or not. Could this be done as part of a larger activity or lesson segment without the need for being separate? What does research say about any of these ideas? Do they have any merit when tested?

I have to admit that I haven’t found any direct studies on the use of warmers, but there are some connections that could be made in regards to code switching, scaffolding, motivation, and studies on neuroscience in regards to brain cells. Instead of me trying to defend or convince you one way or another, I am turning things over to you. I am linking to a Google Form where you can enter in your reasons for using warmers along with any evidence you believe supports your reasons. To be honest, I am not sure anyone will submit anything, but hopefully it will at least cause you to think about it and maybe push you to look into evidence to support your reasons.

I look forward to hearing your ideas and responses. If this works, I hope to do this again some time with a different topic. Any thoughts you have in regards to this idea is always welcome. Oh, and for the record, I didn’t like the coffee either.

Google Form on Warmers in the Language Classroom

 

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One thought on “Starting

  1. Occasionally I use warmers, but I find that my students are pretty goal-focussed, and they’re anxious to start reviewing their homework, which I have them do in pairs, and then as a class. One thing that I do with every single class I teach is that I begin by asking them “What’s new?. “Nothing” is never an acceptable answer. It’s very interesting what is memorable for each student, and this often generates a great deal of discussion and vocabulary, because they’re talking about what’s relevant and interesting to them

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