4 great strategies for starting early morning classes

It’s those five seconds when I first enter the classroom…

In those first five seconds I can gauge exactly how the class is going to go that day. Will what I loosely refer to as my plan come to fruition? Will they want to cover the material in the course book? Are they unhappy about something? Will they be happy filling in gaps in grammar worksheets, or are they up for something a little more creative? Will I have to ‘up’ the teacher talking time to accommodate tiredness, or are they on the ball and ready to learn?

It’s those five seconds when I first enter the classroom…

Naturally, as I’ve been teaching for many years now, I’ve learned to pick up on the ‘warning signs’, but most of the information you’ll need to figure out how class will go today is there in front of you. Those early moments in the day, and I’m speaking particularly to those of us who teach relatively early in the morning here, are an absolutely vital part of the class. Judging how responsive your learners are going to be is a great first step, but, sadly, most of us still have those course book pages to cover, regardless of the state of those people in the room!

It’s those five seconds when I first enter the classroom…

Learners sometimes need something to get them going early in the morning

OK; you’ve assessed the physical and emotional state of your learners. Well done, you’ve got the vital information you need to proceed. The next thing you need to do is start off in a positive way, because these early exchanges are going to set the mood for the rest of the day. Here are four strategies I’ve used for getting the day off to a great start:

1. Let’s get physical

Stretching and physical movement are great ways to wake up sleepy learners and they get everyone moving. If you’re working with young learners, there are many simple things you can do:

  • Lead the class in some simple stretching exercises. For example, get learners to touch their toes, and then reach for the sky.
  • Put on some lively music and let the kids do some free dancing for five minutes.


If, like me, you teach teenagers, you can completely forget doing the above. There are, however, less embarrassing alternatives available to you:

  • Look at the vocabulary you’ll be using in class. Using your whole arm, spell out a word in the air. Make the motion big, so that everyone can see it. Spell out the word with your right hand, then your left, and then both hands. This simple activity does a great job of reinforcing vocabulary and exercising both sides of the brain.
  • Do some kind of running to the board activity. Brainstorming as many words as learners know about a given topic in a minute is a great way of getting learners out of their chair.

Why do this?

Both of these alternatives – along with the initial suggestions – stimulate the brain, jolt the body out of its stupor and inject a bit of energy into proceedings. They are also less risky for teenagers who face a lot of pressure not to appear foolish among their peers.

2. Solving the riddle

Find a fact or puzzling situation, or a series of facts, that is appropriate to whatever it is you’re working on.

  • For younger children, pick facts about animals or kids who live in other parts of the world. For instance, you could set up the following clues for a whale:

I live in the sea but I’m not a fish.
I am a mammal but I don’t have legs.

  • For teenagers, go for facts that relate to science, social studies or, preferably, whatever you’re currently studying. These prompts could introduce the Jovian moon Europa:

I’m part of the solar system
I’m not a planet
I orbit Jupiter
People think life could exist on me

Have a short discussion about the riddle, such as what learners consider to be the answer, or what they find surprising or interesting.


This activity can work well as a way of introducing certain aspects of grammar. For example, I use this technique for introducing modals of speculation.

Why do this?

Giving learners those few minutes to think about the subject has the additional benefit of enabling you to take attendance and generally get organized for the day’s classes.

3. Let’s draw

Look at whatever the subject is that you’ll be covering today. Think about this carefully and think about what concepts can be visually represented from this topic.

  • Distribute some blank paper, one piece to each person, or to a pair or group if you want collaboration.
  • Tell learners to draw whatever it is you want to focus on.
  • Display the finished items on the walls of the classroom.


Get learners to produce something more complex, by proposing a situation, such as ‘the threats to the rainforest’ and then have all learners draw something on the whiteboard, collaborating on one large piece of artwork. Each learner can subsequently explain their contribution to others.

Here’s an additional variation from the wonderful Vicky Saumell (from the comments section below): A variation to this could be to split the board in half and have students draw on one half and others write topic-related words on the other side. They choose which side of course, to cater for the artists and the linguists.

Why do this?

This is a really fun activity which works equally well with teenagers as with younger learners; just remember to make sure that everyone knows you aren’t looking for an artistic masterpiece!

This activity acts as a great gateway for introducing new and unusual vocabulary. For example, I have to teach with a long listening on the decline in elephant populations in Africa and India. The simple act of getting learners to draw an elephant enables me to introduce words such as tusk, ivory and trunk, which are all important in the listening activity. Actually, I describe this in more detail here.

Another great benefit of this activity is that it is motivating for those who aren’t linguistically the strongest in the class, i.e. it gives the chance for people to shine who wouldn’t normally do so. Furthermore, it is great for stimulating creativity.

4. The classic ball toss

This one dates back to one of my first experiences from my CELTA course back in the day. Get your students sitting in a circle, or any similar formation which allows them to see one another. This one is nice, as it starts the day of with a seemingly simple activity, yet which can be adapted for many situations.

  • Write today’s topic on the board. Tell learners to think of a word that comes to mind related to the subject you will be discussing today.
  • Each student randomly throws the ball to another learner, who delivers a one-word response to the topic.
  • Continue until each learner has had a turn.


These two ideas increase the level of difficulty:

  • When someone receives the ball, instead of giving a word related to a specific topic, they should give a synonym, opposite, or, for instance, if it is an adjective, either the noun or verb form of the word.
  • Another variation of the word association is to make each word a continuation from the previous learner, so that each person adds to an ongoing sentence.

Why do this?

This activity will get learners thinking about the lessons to come while also having a bit of fun. Another bonus of this activity is that the seemingly simple action of throwing and catching increases alertness among the class. Never let anyone say this is childish!

A final word

While these are activities that I’ve found to work well at getting learners up and moving first thing in the morning, never forget that they can be used at other times, too. I often find that learners are ‘up for it’ in the first class of the day and then start to lose energy in the second lesson. As I said at the start of this post, don’t be afraid of employing these activities when you see energy starting to dip!

Any suggestions?

If you have any other ideas for how to invigorate early morning classes, I’d love to hear them!

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31 thoughts on “4 great strategies for starting early morning classes”

  1. Hi Adam!
    Loved it! Especially the collaborative drawing on the board. A variation to this could be to split the board in half and have students draw on one half and others write topic-related words on the other side. They choose which side of course, to cater for the artists AND the linguists.

    1. Thanks, Vicky.

      That is a really great variation on my idea and I like how your suggestion caters for more people. I’m going to edit the post to include this!

  2. Hi Adam!

    These are great ideas, thank you! Especially for those of us who teach early morning classes but are not exactly morning people 😉

    I like how you included variations, to make them work for a wider audience.


    1. Thanks, Ceci. You’ve picked up on my secret ‘between the lines’ message, i.e. these are great ways of energizing a tired teacher first thing in the morning, too!

  3. Thanks a lot for your information.I need your advice .Have about 50 student in the the class and they are about 13and14 years old.this big number prevent me from achieving all my lesson aims.H ow can Ideal with them?

  4. These are great ideas! I am teaching teenagers in a summer school and find they are often tired in the morning (and the afternoon…) and need a bit of help to wake up. I like to do a kinaesthetic matching or anagram game first (matching words to pictures, words to definitions, antonyms, synonyms… anagrams of vocabulary to revise or lead in…) and make sure that everything is printed or written on brightly-coloured paper. The brighter the better! It helps to engage the learners’ attention and get them to focus on the activity.

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