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10 Warm Ups for Lesson Plans

Engage your students with an ice breaker and they'll learn faster

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Beginning your lesson plans with a five-minute warm up or ice breaker can serve to focus your students on a new topic, open up creative thinking, and help them to apply the learning in new ways. The feedback you get from students also gives you an instant reading on where their heads are. Here are 10 ice breaker games for adults that make great warm ups in lesson plans.

1. A Few of My Favorite Things

Cocopop by Deb Peterson
Deb Peterson
At the risk of having the song stuck in your collective classroom head all day, this ice breaker is a good one for customizing to any topic. Whether you’ve gathered to talk about math or literature, ask your students to share their top three favorite things about whatever it is you’re there to discuss. If you have time, go back around for the flip side: what are their three least favorite things? This information will be even more helpful if you ask them to explain why. Will your time together help to solve any of these issues?

2. Brainstorm Race

Stockbyte - Getty Images
Stockbyte - Getty Images
Find out what your group knows about a topic before you begin a new lesson. Divide them into teams of four and present the topic. Ask them to brainstorm and list as many ideas or questions as they can come up with in a given amount of time. Here’s the kicker---they cannot speak. Each student must write his or her ideas on the board or paper you’ve provided.

3. Expectations

Jack Hollingsworth - Getty Images
Jack Hollingsworth - Getty Images
Expectations are powerful, especially when you're teaching adults. Understanding your students' expectations is key to your success. Use this ice breaker to find out what expectations your students have about the new topic.

4. If You Had a Magic Wand

If You Had a Magic Wand
Mats Bergen - Getty Images
Magic wands open up amazingly creative possibilities. Pass a magic wand around your classroom before you begin a new topic and ask your students what they would do with a magic wand. What would they want revealed? What would they hope to make easy? Which aspect of the topic would they want to fully understand? Your topic will determine the kinds of questions you can ask to get them started.

5. If You Won the Lottery

Driving by Jim Vecchione - Getty Images
Jim Vecchione - Getty Images
What would your students do to effect change in your given topic if money were no object? This warm up lends itself well to social and corporate topics, but be creative. You might be surprised by its usefulness in less tangible areas as well.

6. Play-Doh Animals (or whatever)

Play-Doh Animals by Matt Stroshane - Getty Images
Matt Stroshane - Getty Images
This warm up takes a significantly longer time, but depending on your topic, it just might be the magical experience people remember forever. It works especially well when you're teaching something that involves physical shapes, science for example. I know one teacher who used play-doh to teach plate tectonics. Have your students save their "warm up" models in baggies and modify them after the lesson to show their new understanding.

7. The Power of Story

Digital Vision - Getty Images
Digital Vision - Getty Images
Adults come to your classroom full of powerful personal experiences. When your topic is one that people are certain to have experienced in different ways, what could be a better introduction to a lesson than real-life examples. The only danger here is in controlling the time factor. If you're a good facilitator of time, this is a powerful warm up, and unique every single time.

8. Super Powers

The Hero's Journey by Rebecca Emery - Getty Images
Rebecca Emery - Getty Images
Super Powers is a good warm up for topics that involve a lot of mystery. What do your students wish they could have overheard in an historical event? If they could become very small, where would they go to find an answer to their question? This might work especially well in medical classrooms.

9. Three Words

Woman playing piano by Jupiterimages - Getty Images
Jupiterimages - Getty Images
This is a fast warm up that's easily adaptable to any topic. Ask your students to come up with three words they associate with the new topic. The value in this for you, as a teacher, is that you'll discover very quickly where your students' heads are. Are they excited about this? Nervous? Unenthusiastic? Completely confused? It's like taking the temperature in your classroom.

10. Time Machine

William Faulkner - Getty Images
Getty Images
This is an especially good warm up in history classrooms, of course, but it could be used very effectively for literature too, even math and science. In a corporate setting, it could be used to understand the causes of a current problem. If you could go back in time, or forward, where would you go and why? Who would you talk to? What are the burning questions?

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