Adam Simpson is back with another instalment of our series focusing on tips for professional development after your initial teacher training. This time he looks at 5 great writing warm up activities… and what they lead to.

As I developed as a teacher over the course of my career, my attitudes regarding when to do what kind of activity changed a lot. This was down to a lot of self-reflection and experimentation! One big part of this was implementing writing activities at the start of classes.

Warm up activities that get learners writing can be fantastic for getting the creative juices flowing while also giving a focused start to your lesson. A writing task at the start of class can be an effective way of leading into explicit grammar teaching, or can just as easily be followed up with speaking activities.

What’s more, many such activities are easy to adapt to be suitable for any type of learners, both adults and kids. Indeed, adding an entertaining element to writing activities will make them fun for everyone, as well as making them low pressure tasks which enable learners’ writing to flow freely. Here are five of my favorites.

1. If you had three wishes…

Ok, everyone in the world knows this classic set up: a genie has just granted three wishes to everyone in the class. Basically, this activity expands on the age-old question of what you would wish for if you encountered your own genie in a bottle. Learners write as detailed a description of the three wishes they would want in whatever time you give them. To make them think and develop their language, encourage them to move beyond simply naming the wish to describing it in detail; they might also include their reasons for wanting that wish. While they are writing, they will hopefully be asking for help with the new vocab they need to complete their writing, so be ready to monitor like crazy!

Where can you take this?

As we know, genies aren’t real, so this is a perfect way to go over the ‘unreal conditional’: ‘If I had three wishes, I would…’ Depending on what they know, you can teach this for the first time or look at how they’ve tried to use it in their writing – and error correct accordingly – if it’s a structure they already have knowledge of.

2. People profiles

This one needs a little bit of preparation, in that you have to cut out pictures of people from different magazines before class. If you like this activity, you might want to consider mount the pictures on card and laminating them for durability (I still have a set of pictures like this from when I did my CELTA course!). Basically, learners select a picture from the pile of images you place in the middle of the room and write about who the person is. They should make up the person’s name, background and what they are doing. This activity is fantastically simple but really helps in developing characters and helps get the creativity flowing. Another option is to take this writing activity into the real world. Find a busy spot and pick out a person as the inspiration for the writing activity. Again, be ready to monitor and supply all those new and wonderful adjectives learners will need to complete their descriptions.

Where can you take this?

You can examine the new adjectives used by the learners. Alternatively – this is what I like to do – you can recycle the vocab in a game of ‘guess who’ in which one learner verbally describes a famous person to the rest of the class who have to guess who it is. Another thing you could do is extend the writing with a look at some common verb + gerund phrases; ‘what is the person good at doing?’; ‘What is this person interested in doing at the weekends?’

3. Looking at the world from different perspectives

Instead of writing from a human’s perspective, learners engage in a quick writing warm up from an animal’s perspective. They should write about, for example, a picnic from a bee’s point of view or about living in a zoo – or being hunted by humans if it fits – from a lion’s perspective. This helps learners to move beyond their own view of the world and gets them to delve deeply into the topic assigned. Writing from the perspective of others can be a challenge. This activity approaches the task in an entertaining manner to practice the skill.

Where can you take this?

This is something I’ve done with great effect whenever there is a unit involving the natural world in a course book. Such topics can initially be a bit dry or hard for learners to relate to. This task does such a good job of getting learners to see the situation from the animal’s point of view that they become much more invested in the course book material.

4. The psychology ink blot test

We’ve all seen them: those ink blot pictures often used in psychology also can work well in writing. In terms of preparation, you need to find lots of different ink blot pictures (a simple Google search will uncover hundreds of such images). Alternatively, any abstract shape can work just as well for this writing warm up activity. Learners write about the ink blot describing what it is while being encouraged to write in as much detail as possible about the object in the picture.

Where can you take this?

The aim of this task is to encourage creativity in deciding what is seen in the picture and in the description of the object, therefore, this work really well as a lead in to a speaking activity in which learners have to justify their reasons. Additionally, you could use this as an opportunity for teaching language for agreeing and disagreeing.

5. The writing jar

The preparation for this one is really simple: write individual words on small pieces of paper. It works best if you choose lots of different words that purposefully wouldn’t go well together. Fill the jar (a mug or envelope would work just as well) as much as you feel necessary with words. You can take this a couple of ways at this point; 1) learners each pick three to five words from the jar, or; 2) you pick three to five words from the jar for everyone. The task is simple: learners must use all of the words selected in a quick story or paragraph. Fitting five vastly different words into one story requires a creative approach to the writing warm up.

Where can you take this?

This is actually really good for examining the writing process itself, especially in terms of paragraph construction. You might want to showcase mind mapping or the use of a graphic organizer as a planning tool, and then encourage learners to go through some sort of brainstorming and planning process before they start writing.

Now it’s your turn…

If you use any of these ideas, please let us know, especially if you do something different to what we’ve suggested!

Image credit: Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash / Text added by TDSIG