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10 nifty starters for language lessons

I've spent a good few hours in recent weeks working on starters and 'do-now' activities for beginners and pre-intermediate level students (A1 to A2 in CEFR terms). So I thought I'd put together a set of ten examples of starters I could recommend. What they have in common is use of the target language (some focus more on output, some on input), retrieval of exisiting language, repetition, simplicityclarity and structure. The last three points are important. If you want to get the lesson off to that famous 'flying start' then students need to know precisely what they have to do. When they arrive with their heads full of stuff from the last lesson or just random stuff, then you need to get them switched on pretty rapidly.

For other blogs about MFL/WL starters you could check out this one by Rebecca Nobes, this one by Sabina or this one from MFL Classroom magic (the author is a former trainee of mine). Clare Seccombe has also curated examples here.

Worth mentioning is that these can also be handy fillers, plenaries or just part of a structured lesson plan.

So here we go...

1.  Start the sentence

That's the example in the slides above. Just show the end of a sentence and students must come with as many ways as possible to start it. They can do this in pairs, with the loser being the first person who can't do an example, or to a time limit (I like that). Ends of sentence can be designed to produce a limited range of possibilities if you want to force students to retrieve certain verb form, or you can make them more open-ended. You can design them to elicit specific tenses if you wish. Note that the focus is on verb retrieval and that the input is minimal, so this is definitely an output and retrieval task. the activity cab be done orally, on paper, or both.

2.  Finish the sentence

As in the above, but here the emphasis moves away from verbs and towards other language, so you could argue that grammatically it is more limited. The longer the start that you supply, the more restrictive the possibilities will be, so just a verb might do. Give them 'Je joue...' (I play) and they work with that, for example.

3.  Change one thing

I blogged about that here, so just go and see what I wrote there. Note that, as with some other activities in this list, you can vary the task to suit the class. So 'change one thing' can become 'change two things' or 'change one thing and add a new thing'.

4.  Mini battleships translation

This is the well known Battleships game, but in a reduced form so that the game can be played in around 5 minutes. So you could use more than one game if you wanted. Below is a slide from an example I posted on my site. This one is focused on retrieval and output since it requires translation. You could design them with just target language. I like that my example is focused on full sentences, not just isolated verb forms (which Battleships is also often used for).


every day with my parents

today with my friends

tomorrow with my friend Alex

this morning with my friend Jade

I go to the train station





I go to the park





I go to Paris





I go to the pool





5.  Mini gap-fill paragraphs

These are more focused on input and making grammatical or lexical choices. The added factor is the time limit you impose on the class to do each slide. Students could do these individually on paper or mini-whiteboard, or orally in pairs. Here is an example slide from my site.

If this is too easy for your class, just take out the options.

6.  The yes/no game

This is the one where students ask each other questions you supply (or they supply) and answers must be given without saying yes or no. I blogged about this recently here, so just go and take a look. I wouldn't try this with beginners, but you could do it with some classes who have had at least a couple of years of experience. It's actually a decent game for advanced learners too, with plenty of opportunity for improvisation and amusement.

7. Sentence making grids

These have something in common with sentence builders. Have a look this blog I wrote about these grids. A nice twist is to let students make silly sentences with unusual combinations of chunks. One again, I like that this starter is not focus on isolated words, but on chunked language. Remember that old idea of 'transfer' or 'TAP- Transfer-Appropriate Processing', whereby if you want students to use connected language, let them practise with it, not isolated words and verb paradigms, for example.

Here is an example of a grid.

8.  Odd-one-out

This old favourite can be played with isolated words, but I'd rather do it with sentences. In the slide below students select the odd-one-out, in pairs, orally, on just quietly. I would show a sequence of at least ten slides, with a time limit to encourage fluent recall and a sense of urgency. The teacher can give feedback immediately or at the end of the sequence of slides. The example below depends on students recognising that one pastime is different to the others. The emphasis is on input here.

9.  Spot the errors

There is always an issue around error-spotting tasks. Do they end up confusing students? Is there a risk that the incorrect forms are fossilised? I discussed this issue recently here. I would argue that there is a case for them once you think correct forms are embedded, and with the right classes. Students like to find mistakes. The process plays on the fact that our brains 'light up' when we see the unexpected. It is likely that error-spotting tasks strengthen storage of exisiting language. Below is an example slide. This task suits a written response, since the stress is on accurate spelling, as well as lexical and grammatical appropriateness. You can choose your incorrect senetnce to focus on common areas of difficulty, such as use of accents or confusion between tenses.

Here is an example. Every sentence contains an error.

10. Correct the sentence

This is not the same as the above. In this case the error is not one of written accuracy, but of incorrect choice of lexis. The inclusion of an image (from pixabay in this case) adds a little more focus for students, and allows for more exploitation if you choose to do it. Below are two slides from a set I made for the Y8 page of my site. As with some of the other tasks, students could do these in pairs or individually on paper or mini-whiteboard.

Here are two example slides:

If any of these are your cup of tea, give them a try! To reiterate, what I like about them is their simplicity, clarity and clear structure, not to mention, once again, that they embed target language use in your practice. They also make sense given the current vogue for retrieval practice at the start of lessons, so you could incorporate them in your scheme of work/curriculum plan.


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