15 min warm-up to get ADULT learners creative and engaged

15 min warm-up to get ADULT learners creative and engaged

Adults learners, being adults, walk around all day with their problems and insecurities weighing on their minds. You see, being an adult ain’t no fun, oh no, it is a serious business, and thus a serious attitude at all times is also required. Furthermore, all these problems circulating adult minds need to be dealt with in the future so, adults being adults, they are very efficient at energy management – mainly preserving it throughout the day and using only as a last resort.  


Indeed, adults being adults, they are all about efficiency. They pay you for the lesson and expect monumental results from you. But for them your lesson isn’t the highest life priority so you’ll only gain a part of their energy (and attention) to do your monumental task.


That is, unless you claim it yourself.  

You see, this silly adult learners attitude is very easy to hack.

Your first tactic is to put them in a positive mood. Feeling happy is the natural remedy for the obsessive mental chatter and the simplest way to turn attention to the present. In evolutionary biology, if an animal feels positive that means there are no immediate threats in its environment and so its mind relaxes, opens to new experiences and imagination. Interestingly enough, good mood is quite energy expensive, however, it feels so good that it’s a price we’re happy to pay.


Second tactic is engaging attention by hijacking the Ego. Every single person on this planet is locked in their Point of View, their Ego, and the obsessive mental chatter that steals most of our attention is mainly subjective: how I feel, what I should do, how I can help my kids, what’s happened to me. It makes perfect sense because attention is the stuff of the brain and the brain’s job is to keep itself alive. So the trick here is to channel adult learners attention by allowing them to focus on themselves. No mind will resist such juicy opportunity.


Hence, here’s a 5 step strategy to get use these two tactics to your advantage.


Psychological reasons for each step are highlighted in orange. Reading it isn’t essential to the warm-up procedure, however its aim is to provide helpful context.  



First, show them this photo and ask individual students which animal they’ve seen first (also ask them to indicate where that animal is in the picture). Picture: http://bit.ly/2WmIOuO

Ask them to write their one animal at the bottom of an empty notebook page (or any other sheet of paper).You may also linger on this drawing for a few minutes trying to find all the hidden creatures.

This is the first exercise because it’s easy, visual and personal. The way human psychology works is that we generally tend to engage the most with our eyes and topics which relate to us.


Second, starting from the animal they’ve written at the bottom of the page they will create a 10-element chain of associations (going upwards, from the bottom to the top of the page).


So for example: zebra —> black —> hole —> physics —> stephen hawking —> wheelchair —> wheel —> farming —> wheat —> yellow


I just went from zebra to yellow in 10 associations. Instruct your students to do similar.

This exercise engages the very nature of the human brain which works by neural associations. It engages both hemispheres & long term memory. It’s important to do it from the bottom to the top as this direction is associated with imagination (you look up when trying to imagine something), as opposed to downwards which relates to storing information (you look down when trying to remember something you’ve learned). We’ll need creativity so that’s what we’re trying to encourage.


Third, sit your students in a circle of max 8 people (if there are more in your class split them up into more circles, good number is 5 – 8 per circle).


Say you’re going to play a game where they cannot laugh or smile. 

So everyone should put their best poker faces on but at the same time try to make everyone else smile by moving eyebrows or making silly arm gestures or using their whole body.


The last one to laugh/smile wins

The sole purpose of this exercise is to put your pupils in a good mood.

 From the evolutionary perspective, being in a good mood is always beneficial to learning and imagination (because there’s no threat) as opposed to bad mood which is beneficial to analytical thinking and planning (because there is a threat).



At this point they should already be in a positively creative state, however there is more you can do…


Fourth, ask them to think of a celebrity, and best if it’s their crush, and imagine they are going on a date with that person. Money is not an issue at all. What will they do?


Have them discuss this in pairs.


This should further their good mood as imagining pleasurable scenarios is well… pleasurable. Furthermore, this exercise will engage their imagination again and prompt them to speak English.



Fifth, go back to the first animal they’ve seen on the picture. This time encourage them to discuss in pairs the meaning behind this first sighting.


Tell them that the animal they see first says something important about their own personality.


Have them try to guess what that means.


Then share the thoughts in a plenary discussion.


The main focus of this exercise is to grab adult learners attention. If they are discussing something that may help them learn something new about themselves it’s unlikely anything else will be on their mind.


Secondary reasons for this are to engage their imagination and have them speak in English.


The plenary discussion at the end is important because it encourages interaction of the whole class.




At this point your adult learners are well warmed up and ready for whatever you’ve got prepared. That said, there is still one more ace you can pull.




Sixth, play this video and without even saying anything watch your students karaoke the hell out of this one.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMo1lLjKAlM (I love rock’n’roll – joan jett)


Or alternatively this one:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv-pYB0Qw9A (happy – pharrell williams)




Now they are yours!

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