Want to make your classes explode with Spanish?
Here’s a little life secret: It’s the things we do every day that matter more than what we do once in a while.
So what does that mean for Spanish teachers like us?
Warm-ups. Every day.
Yup, you heard me right. You know, the short, harmless little activities that we Spanish teachers should be including at the beginning of every (and that’s “every”) Spanish class?
No matter what they look like, these little guys are packed with power.
So to start off all your classes with a bang, we’ve got ten great warm-up ideas for you below. But first, let’s look at why you should never skip a warm-up.
Why Warm-ups Are an Absolute Must for Any Spanish Class
They help students focus. Warm-ups help students get out of Facebook mode and into Spanish mode. These short activities get them ready to think about Spanish, not the last text they received from their BFF.
They get students interested in the material. Warm-ups are fun activities that will make students want to learn more. After doing a set of hilarious and utterly impossible tongue twisters as a warm-up, how could you not be interested in the pronunciation of the “d” sound between vowels?
They help students review what they have learned in the previous class. Use warm-ups as a handy tool to sneak in some old material right before starting new material. They’ll thank you for it on the exam. Well, maybe.
They help students to get ready to speak. After all, it’s not exactly easy to go straight into speaking Spanish after you’ve been speaking English all day. Warm-ups let them know it’s time to get down with the español!
They are low-stakes and help to lessen performance anxiety. Warm-ups are all about enjoying the language, not being tested on it. Make warm-ups a light-hearted activity that students can play around with and know they don’t have to worry about getting an A, B, C, D or F for their performance. No letter. No number. No plus or minus. Just warm up.
Just like your car in the winter months, a runner preparing for a marathon, or even a two-year-old who hides in her mother’s dress every time she sees a stranger, warm-ups are an essential part of many areas of life, and Spanish class is no exception.
Don’t have any snazzy warm-ups on hand? No problem-o! I mean… problema. Just check out the ten ideas below. You’re sure to find something you can cut and paste into any class at nearly any time during the term.
10 Awesome Warm-up Ideas to Start Your Spanish Classes with a Bang
1. Greet and speak
Have students greet at least two people sitting around them and find out what they did over the weekend/last night/last week or their plans for that day/an upcoming weekend/vacation, etc. Then, call on students to report their findings to the class:
“Jack vio ‘Star Wars’ en el cine.” (Jack saw “Star Wars” at the movies).
“Ramona llamó a una amiga por teléfono.” (Ramona called a friend.)
You can also ask students to talk about something they did not do or some plans they do not have. This often makes the warm-up more interesting and can result in some hilarious responses.
2. Improv time
For this warm-up, students put into practice a grammatical point or expression previously covered in class by doing impromptu mini-dialogues of 30 seconds or less. If you have been studying the present tense and food vocabulary, you might have students pretend they are in a restaurant and need to order food. One person is the waiter and the other is the customer.
If you have just studied commands and daily activities, have one student play the role of an angry roommate who tells his friend what he or she wants done around the house. These improv situations, in addition to making great warm-ups, also help students become more comfortable speaking spontaneously. You can even ask students to perform the dialogues in front of the entire class.
You might even give students some conversational phrases they can incorporate into their dialogues.
3. Vocabulary lists
Write a vocabulary word on the board and have students work in teams to write as many related words as possible in one minute. Students love competition and this is a great way to get them “into the game”—literally—before starting class.
If students run out of words before the time limit, encourage them to be creative and think “outside the box.” For more advanced classes or to add an extra layer of interest to the activity, you might try giving students words that are difficult to relate to other concepts.
An example of a word list could be something like the following:
negro: noche, gato, malo, misterio, color, pelo, etc.
4. Give your opinion
Write a debatable statement or question of the day on the board and have students work in pairs to discuss and then present their opinions on it. Here are some examples:
- Yo creo que la mejor mascota es el gato. ¿Están ustedes de acuerdo? (I think cats make the best pet. Do you agree?)
- Los niños no deben tener teléfonos celulares hasta que tengan 15 años. ¿Están ustedes de acuerdo? (Kids should not be allowed to have cell phones until they are fifteen. Do you agree?)
When students report back to the class, have them tell you their own opinion as well as that of their partner.
5. Film clip
Show a brief film clip and then have students give their reactions to it before beginning a new learning unit. The film should relate to the content of that day’s lesson. You might ask each student to write and share a one-line reaction to the clip. Film clips are an awesome way to get students interested in whatever you will be talking about for the day, plus they get them interested in seeing the entire film!
If you don’t want to waste time browsing YouTube for something useable, check out the curated library of videos on FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized Spanish learning lessons.
6. Ask around
For this warm-up, pose a question that includes a grammatical point your students have seen, and then have students ask the question to as many people as possible in three minutes.
Some possible questions include:
- ¿Qué harías si tuvieras un millón de dólares? ¿Por qué? (What would you do if you were a millionaire? Why?)
- ¿Prefieres vivir en la ciudad o en el campo? ¿Por qué? (Do you prefer to live in the country or the city? Why?)
If you have trouble coming up with interesting questions, check out this cool website which has compelling questions on nearly any topic you can think of.
A variation: Have students stand up and find someone in the class who meets certain criteria (someone who has bungee jumped, someone who is not afraid of spiders, someone who never eats breakfast). They should try to find as many people who fit these criteria in a certain amount of time. The vocabulary and grammar can reinforce what students have been studying in class.
Have students brainstorm a topic in small groups or as a whole class. This might be related to that day’s grammar, culture or vocabulary lesson. Allow them to express themselves freely, without any restrictions. The longer they brainstorm, the more likely they are to fully engage in the grammar, culture or vocabulary topics for the day.
If you feel like being very high-tech, you can even have students brainstorm using mind maps. The mind maps can later be displayed for the whole class to see and discuss. MindMeister for Google Drive offers some great mind mapping capabilities that students can also collaboratively use.
8. Random objects
Choose a few items from your bag or purse at random and tell students a story about them (why you have them, what you use them for, why they are important to you, how you acquired them, etc.) Then, have students work in groups to do the same.
This is a great way to both practice the past tense and for students to learn interesting things about one another. A variation on this activity could be that you ask students ahead of time to bring in an object or two that they feel best represents them or that is especially important to them. This way, students are not limited to discussing the things they happen to have with them, which will likely be very similar (books, iPhones, student ID cards, keys…)
9. Write a story
For this warm-up, students must work together to write a group story. Have them work in pairs or small groups. The first group writes the first sentence of a story and then passes the sheet of paper to another group who writes a second line.
The second group then folds the paper to hide the first line and then passes the paper to the third group to continue the story. The story writing continues until several lines have been written and a conclusion has been formed. Call on one group to read the complete story aloud.
A variation: Have students do the same activity, but working individually instead of in groups. The story can be written among four or five students.
10. Pretend you are
Give students a statement and a mood (angry, happy, excited, etc.) and have them go around the room and practice saying this statement to people in the tone of voice they would use if they were in this mood.
After a few seconds, have them exchange moods with someone else and repeat the activity. You can have them do several moods in two minutes or so.
A variation: Give students a conversational skill such as “greetings” or “leavetakings” and have them perform these as if they were in a certain mood.
So, there you have it. Ten warm-ups that get students ready for class and require virtually no prep time. What more could you ask for?
Remember that these warm-ups can be adapted to any Spanish class no matter what the focus or level. And once you find warm-ups that work particularly well, you can always repeat them during the course.
They’re a fast and easy way to get students engaged and on task. Plus, they’re short and sweet and won’t take much time away from the day’s lesson. Warm-ups: Guaranteed to make your classes sizzle!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach Spanish with real-world videos.