18 more ways to introduce your lesson topic

This term I’ve tried out a few different ways to introduce a lesson. These ones have worked well. They might be worth reading if you’ve exhausted my previous list!

  1. Song lyric gap fill

Example: 3rd conditional, regrets

Do a short gap fill on part of a song related to your topic. Mine was on some lines from Frank Sinatra’s My Way:

Regrets, I’ve had a few… (0.55 – 1.06)

  1. Sporcle

Topic: Geography

Sporcle is full of great quizzes in various formats. Anyone with a log-in can make a quiz so they are not all great, but there are some good formats, especially matching and typing tasks. These are good for collaboration (with an interactive whiteboard) and for testing prior knowledge. We were learning about Africa the other day so I got my students to match the country name to the location on the map using this quiz. They had 3 goes at it, eventually getting half correct. Each go took about 4 minutes.

Don’t tell football mad students that there are an abundance of Premier League quizzes on the site – unless you’re in need of a highly motivational end of class reward!

  1. A short performance – miming

Example topic: past perfect

Students watch a teacher do a short mime at the front of class and speculate about what happened. I mimed that I was watching the football, drinking a coke, I suddenly realised that a spider had crawled into my glass! I jumped up and ran out the room. Explain what happened, board the target language and go from there…

  1. A short performance – character acting

Topic: any book/story/news article involving a character

Tell students that you will be in role as a character from the story they will read today. Sit at the front of class. Students have 5 mins to ask you any questions they want. They will have no idea who you are, so will start with simple things like ‘what’s your name’, ‘how old are you?’, etc. As they get more information, the questions will flow (especially if your manner/behaviour is interesting!). After the performance, give students a few minutes to discuss what they learnt about the character, whether they like them, etc.

Recent examples

I was a builder who had won the lottery

I was a vampire (who REALLY didn’t like the light in the classroom!)

  1. Sights and Sounds

Example topic: sports

This was an activity from the teacher’s book for English in Mind, which I adapted.

Tell students to think of their favourite sport.

Ask them:

How do you feel when you play the sport? How does the sport smell?!

How does the sport look?             How does the sport taste?

If you could ask the sport a question, what would you ask?

What would it say?

It sounds ridiculous, but you’ll be surprised how creative some students can be!

  1. Wheel decide Me/not me

Example topic: food

I mentioned me/not me in the previous post. I’ve adapted it by adding various items into Wheel Decide, spinning the wheel, and letting students have a brief 30 second discussion on if they like the food or not, and why. Could be used for any topic really. You could also make the options a choice, like ‘bread or pasta?’ Ok, so Wheel Decide is a bit gimmicky, and isn’t really necessary for this task, but it is good fun I think. Give it a go!


  1. Bespoke stop the bus

You know the game where you think of a word beginning with a certain letter for each category? Just tweak this to suit your lesson topic and reveal prior knowledge of the students

Example topic: survival

Stop the bus categories: a tool, a wild animal, a way to get attention, etc

  1. Giving gifts

Example topics: special occasions

This is my favourite lead-in ever, but it’s a bit restricted to certain topics. Give each student a piece of paper with a present written on it (I-Phone, tickets to see Arsenal, a carrot, etc). Use pictures instead if you wish. Students shouldn’t look at their present so only their classmates know what it is. Students then mingle, offering their ‘presents’ to various classmates by holding the paper in front of them and saying ‘here you are’. Classmates read what’s written on the paper, then respond to the offer (without giving away what the present is). At the end of the activity, students sit down and discuss the responses they received and what they think their present was. Finally, reveal the present and let them laugh! Note: if you restrict responses to just ‘thank you’, this is a great way to introduce the attitudinal function of intonation.

  1. Qzzr quiz / Kahoot quiz / Plickers quiz

Qzzr allows you to create simple multiple choice quizzes. Kahoot allows students to log in and answer questions against each other. Plickers is explained in this post, and is well worth trialling.

  1. Which picture best represents…

Example topic: emotions

A nice way to start things off, and pretty versatile. Which of the pictures below best represents happiness? Why?


  1. Know, Want, Learn

This is a good way to start a topic or module. Give students the topic title, and hand out a table like this. Get students to write down 2 or three things they already know about the topic, then a few things they want to know. At the end of the module, get students to reflect on what they’ve learnt. I’ve heard about this activity done in various ways, but thanks to Pippa Simmons for bringing it up in a recent CELTYL training course.new5

  1. Mind maps

I don’t use mind maps as often as I used to, but they’re a great way to check prior knowledge.

  1. Noughts and crosses questions

Example topic: Australia (Kangaroos)

There’s nothing like a game show style introduction to a topic. Think of nine questions on a topic. Draw a noughts and crosses board. Students work in teams, they choose a number and you ask the question. Noughts and crosses is ‘tic-tac-toe’ by the way…

Where do Kangaroos live?

What do Kangaroos eat?

How do Kangaroos move?


  1. Real English interviews

I found this site recently, and I think the interviews give quite a good introduction to various topics. There’s a lot you can do with them as listening tasks too, so I’ll just link it and let you explore!

  1. Pictures around the room

Example topic: various

I find any task that gets my YL students up and moving straight away is always a winner. Put 12 pictures around the room related to your topic or target language. Recently, I used adventure sports. Students write down what they think the sport is. Again, assesses prior knowledge, gets them thinking and moving, gets them engaged.

There’s plenty more you can do than just naming the sports. The students could walk around and decide which sport looks the most exciting, most boring, etc. Students could write questions they have about the sports on post-it notes and stick them on the pictures. What else could you do?

  1. Quizlet scatter game

Example topic: jobs

I’ve used Quizlet a bit this term (my boss told me about it). It’s a good tool to help you review vocabulary – you make your own flashcards, writing definitions, using stock images to represent words, etc. It has a good ‘Scatter Game’ feature, where it takes the words from your list and their corresponding pictures, then randomises them on the board. You must drag the words to pictures using your interactive board pen. If the word and picture match, they disappear. The first team to make everything disappear are the winners. This is a better tool for reviewing, but I don’t see why you can’t use it as a lead-in to check/activate prior knowledge too.

Here’s a link to the ‘jobs’ scatter game I used recently

  1. Degrees of separation

Example topic: the Beaufort scale

Do you remember that game where you had to link other famous actors to Kevin Bacon in no more than 6 steps? Something like that anyway. You can adapt this into a pretty good lead-in to a topic. Give learners the lesson topic and get them to think of steps that connect them to the topic. Here was a good example from my learners last week.

Last week the topic was adventure sports. In the lesson we learnt about windsurfing. You need wind to windsurf. The Beaufort scale is about wind.

  1. Where in the world?new4

Example topic: the Mayans

A good one from my boss the other week. Give students a few pictures related to the topic, in this case Mayan temples and pyramids. Allow students time to discuss the pictures, and think where in the world they might be from. Display a world map, and have students mark on the map where they think the pictures were taken. Either reveal the correct answer or let students find out for themselves later in the lesson.

So, I tried all of these this term. My favourite was Wheel Decide as both my YLs and adults found it funny. It livened up the start of class. Degrees of separation was creative but YLs took a while to get going so it wasn’t the most snappy. Sporcle and Quizlet were better at other times in the lesson as stirrers. Overall, the picture activities generated the most discussion and interest. I hope you find something new to try in the list above. Enjoy!

Categories: General, Lesson Ideas, lists, other

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15 replies

  1. Some wonderful ideas Pete. Great work again and looking forward to meeting up later this month.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So many great ideas, thanks for sharing them! Not sure how old your younger learners are, but here’s an idea I’ve been using with my 10-year-old, who’s lucky enough to have an individual class with me for 90mins once a week 😉 I select a number of objects that have something to do with the lesson topic and hide them around the classroom before the lesson. When my student enters, his task is to find as many objects as possible that he normally doesn’t see in that room. I give him a couple of minutes to go crazy, then we name each object he’d found, and finally it is his turn to figure out what we’re going to talk about in class. My main motivation here is to energise my student from the start and get him excited about the class (90mins!). It’s also a nice way to revise/learn new vocabulary. Downside: might not work well with bigger groups of kids.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Peter,

    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be putting up a post about it on today’s TeachingEnglish Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil, if you’d like to check there for likes and comments.



  4. A really simple activity I like to use to introduce a theme is to put a key word on the board and then have students do a quick word association. They can do it in groups or have them call out words. If you get an odd association, ask why the student said that. For example, brainstorming on family, a student said, “Pasta salad” and then told a great story about how her mom makes this special pasta salad on holidays and birthdays.

    You can collect all the words and make a word-cloud poster for students to refer to later or to use as a reference for teaching vocabulary on the theme.


  5. Thank you so much for compiling these fantastic ideas, Peter. They will surely add spice to my classes!

    I also want to add that the New York Times has a ton of teaching resources. One popular activity is their weekly “What’s Going On in This Picture?” which is posted (captionless) on Mondays along with social media discussion opportunities. On Thursdays the caption and back story are revealed. The photos are wonderful and lead to excellent discussion and vocab work.

    Note: the link to Real-English.com is broken in #14.

    Liked by 1 person


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