Lead-in X Warm-up. What and when?

Hello Exam Seekers,

This week a friend asked me about the differences between Lead-in and Warm-Up. She has just started the CELTA Course and was ready to prepare her first lesson plan when she came up with a question:

Should I prepare a warm-up or a lead-in? Or both? What’s the difference?

Well, I decided to prepare a text specially to answer this question. I have already mentioned both Warm-Up and Lead-in while talking about the parts of a lesson plan before, but today I am going to make it clearer.



As the name says, it is something for you to warm your body or mind up. Whenever you start an activity, have in mind that you go from an immobile state to a moving state, and if you don’t have your muscles awaken, you might have problems later with muscle distension or sprain a part of your body due to moving it without having it warmer.

This also happens with our minds. If you are teaching EFL (English as a Foreign Language), that means that all your students don’t speak English as a first language, so they need a “kick-start” to make their brains understand that they are going to start talking in English and make them start to think in English. For that, you need a warm-up.

Warm-ups are types of tasks created to energize so you can make your students move around or start saying simple things in English to allow the body and mind to wake. Therefore, it is one of the first things you do in class.



Let’s imagine that you are in a conversation about food and you are telling your friends that you like and dislike certain types of food, suddenly one of your friends starts saying that the economy is not going well. That might sound odd at first and you start thinking “what does that have to do with anything?“.

It might take you a while to connect his speech to yours and try and understand how fruits were related to the economy. That happens because your friend didn’t give a warning before starting the topic. In his mind, everything might have made sense and might be all connected, but to other people that might not be as clear as it was for him, and that’s why we need a lead-in.

As mentioned before “it is pretty much the ‘introduction’ of the topic through an activity that involves a brief discussion, some questions to help access the student’s schemata regarding the topic and so on“. Even though you have been speaking in English for a while, from fruits to the economy is a huge gap that you have to fill in with an introduction or an idea to make your brain ready for this specific topic or activity. You have to give a lead-in before starting any topic – that is “lead the way” -, and it usually comes at the beginning of the lesson. You can also give it in the middle of a lesson if you are changing topics and it’s required that your students start thinking and talking about other things, however it never comes before a warm-up.


When and what to do?

As you can see, if you are preparing your CELTA lesson and you don’t know if you have to prepare a warm-up or a lead-in, have in mind that all lessons must have a lead-in. You always have to prepare students’ minds for the topic: you always have to set the contexts. However, if you are not the first teacher to teach the students that day, it’s not necessary that you have a warm-up. It usually happens at the beginning of the lessons. Unless, of course, your students had a break and they are sleepy. If you feel that you need to wake students up, give them a warm-up. (Again, not while teaching the CELTA volunteer students. You won’t need a warm-up in the middle of the lesson, that definitely uses the time you don’t have!)

Remember that both warm-up and lead-in are 5-min activities. It is not necessary that you take too long with that. Here are some examples of tasks for you to use with your students:


  1. Name games: If your students don’t know each other, or you don’t know their names you can always have name games as ice breakers. With a ball in hand, say your name, then pass the ball to a student having him/her say his/her name, tell them to pass the ball on until everybody has said their names. Once this is done, you can take the ball back and do this activity again, but adding some other piece of information, for example, you can say your name and add the name of the student you are giving the ball to, and the students have to do the same. This is a game in which you can have many variations, the point is to make them start speaking in English and moving (obs: make this game standing up).
  2. Likes/Dislikes games: This is a variation of the previous game. You can use the ball and use the same strategy of passing the ball on and on, but now, students have to say things they like and/or dislike. It’s good that for each round with the ball you say a topic: pets you like, foods you like, etc.
  3. Hot Potato: Everybody has played this as a kid. Get a ball and give it to the students, ask them to pass the ball to each other in a circle while you play some music at the back. When you pause the song, the student holding the ball should say a sentence in English. You can make them say something personal, or about a topic… it’s up to you.
  4. Board game:  Form two groups and give them a separate space on the board. Board the word “animals” (or other topics) and ask them to make a mind map related to the topic. Each student should leave his/her group and run to the board to add information. Give them a minute to do so.
  5. Musical Chairs: this one is another that every child must have played. For this warm-up, play a song and ask students to walk around some chairs. There must be chairs enough for all students but one. When the music stops, everyone sits down and one student will be left standing. Ask a question for this student, or make the student write something on the board.
  6. Miming: Separate the class into two groups and ask for a volunteer from each group. Give this volunteer a piece of paper containing the information you want them to mime. You can work with professions, present continuous, etc.


  1. Are they related?: Show some pictures of the topic you are going to work with and allow your students to talk about them for 2-3 minutes. you can let them discuss these questions: Are these pictures related? Why are these pictures related? What do these pictures have in common?
  2. Song activity: If you find a song related to your topic, give a song to the students and ask them to: write what they feel, draw what they listen to, comment on specific parts of the song, etc.
  3. What happened?: Show pictures telling a story or that could tell a story and ask them to create a story in pairs. Or tell them to, in pairs, answer one of the following questions: What do you think happened here? Who are these people and what has happened? What do you think is the story behind these pictures?
  4. Making lists: Ask students to make lists about the topic you are going to work with, in pairs.
  5. Sharing: Tell them to share some (personal) information about the weekend or about likes/dislikes, etc. usually related to the lesson topic.

Do you perceive any difference between the warm-ups and the lead-ins I listed here?

Keep in mind that when you give your students a lead-in, you are sensitizing students to the topic and connecting it to the previous lesson. That is, differently from the warm-up, which can be very open as a game and is focusing on making students awake, the lead-in is more “closed” and it’s attracting the students’ attention to what is going to be taught. The options of answers are more restricted.

That’s why I wasn’t able to give more examples of lead-in, because of its restrictiveness. You first choose the topic, and once you have it, you can choose many different ways to activate their schemata. 🙂 While warm-ups are basically pedagogical games – which really helps you to build rapport as well.

Another thing to keep in mind is that whatever you give them, it has to be focused on them. The students are the focus of the lesson. Put a picture or a topic on the board and let them discuss it for a couple of minutes. Don’t intervene. If you are giving them a miming game, ask them to do the mining and answering. The teacher must be seen less and less to allow students to use the language more and more.

I hope that this has been useful for you. If you still have questions about lead-in and warm-up, write in the comment session below, ok? I will definitely make a post listing types of activities that can be used in class, but if you have any suggestions, I’d love to know. Write them in the comments below.


That’s it for today! Please like the post and follow the blog on:

You can also listen to this post at Anchor!!!

Have a great week,
Patricia Moura


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