Settling starters

Like most teachers, the new guidelines for schools mean that, from September, I will be a nomad with no fixed classroom. As the students are staying in the classrooms and the teachers move to them, we need to think about how we are going to start our lessons, how we are going to set the tone and make the space ours.

Having had the luxury of my own classroom with its own reliable technology for a number of years now, I am used to being able to set up a Powerpoint with a starter activity or a video clip or whatever. The reality will now be somewhat different. I will arrive to a class of students already in situ who may well be restless, having sat in the same seats all morning. Time to use some settling starters that don’t require technology and focus the students’ brains on MFL. For me, this means going back to activities which I used at the beginning of my career when you had an overhead projector if you were lucky! So here are some of those activities…

Sit down if..

All students stand up. They can only sit down if they give a word from a particular category (colours, pets, school subjects, etc). Change the category after every five answers or it gets too difficult and takes too long. If you want a speedy version of this, let a whole row sit down if someone on the row gets an answer right. Another version revises appearance vocabulary, e.g. sit down if you’re wearing glasses, have green eyes, have brown hair etc.

Writing in the air

This is one that I was taught on a thinking skills course, many years ago. Students hold their hand in the air, as if holding an invisible pen. You give them a word which they must “write” in the air in front of them. It does focus them and gets them to move a bit. A variation is to get them to write with their non-dominant hand. For beginners, teach them numbers 1-10 and then get them to draw the shape of the number that you say.

Show me

You say an item and students hold it up, e.g. Show me a ruler/a pencil sharpener/a glue stick etc. This can be very straightforward if you just ask for things that are on their table. You can make it more interesting by asking for things that only some may have and which require more vocabulary, e.g. Show me a key/a library book/a packet of tissues.

Heads, shoulders, knees and toes

This is an obvious variation of “Show me”. You say parts of the body and students point to it. If you stick to eyes/hair/nose, this can be done sitting down. If you have more space, getting students to touch their knees and toes is fun and has the benefit of them getting some movement.


This can be done one of two ways. Either say the opinion phrase and students hold thumbs up/down to indicate positive/negative or get students to do appropriate mime.

Alphabet games

One way to do this is to go through the whole alphabet with a theme, e.g. animals. One student must suggest an animal that begins with A, the next one that begins with B etc.

Or, give students a letter and get them to come up with as many TL words that they can which begin with that letter.

I have played categories with students. You give the class about four categories. Choose a letter and give the students a minute to think of TL words for each category. A good category for this is “in school” because they can use school subjects and pencil case items. Similarly “free time” is a broader category than “sport”.


Give the students a category and ask them to think of the most obscure item. They should write this down somewhere. Teacher then thinks of fifteen items in the category. Students whose item is not mentioned are deemed to have a “pointless” answer.

Number sequences

Teacher starts a sequence of numbers, students have to give the next number in the sequence.