4 Ways to Connect Warm-Ups to Content

If you try this activity with your students, we’d love to see what you do. Share your journey via the #Inspired2Learn hashtag on your preferred social platform.

Discipline: With some modification, these activities can be applied in any class or subject area.

Age level: All

Time: 5-10 minutes (Some of these activities can take longer depending on your goals.) 

Starting class does not have to connect to the content you are teaching depending on your goals. You may be planning an opener that builds community, one that helps to gauge the mood of the room, or one that simply gets students up and moving. These are all very good goals and they may not directly link to the rest of the class which is just fine given the purposes. But it is equally good to consider openers that can launch you into a course of study right from the start. Here are a few examples: 

Mental Math

Mental Math is something we do all the time as we figure out how to double a recipe, how many pounds of something to buy at the grocery store, how many miles we can go above the speed limit, how much we have to stretch our budget until the next pay period, how many hours we have until lunch. We do math all the time in our heads, and we get better at it with practice. That’s why it’s such a great thing to do with our students. 

Mental Math can be scaled and adapted to any grade level and it’s not a bad idea to try this regardless of the subject you teach because it warms up our synapses and gets us problem-solving which is a good primer for whatever you might be doing in class. 

Mental Math is pretty much just what the title implies. It’s math you do in your head, and as such it doesn’t involve writing things down or showing a math problem in front of the room. However, if you have students who cannot process auditory information you may want to show images of the numbers to help them be successful. Here is an example of how a math problem might sound: 

Five plus five.
Divided by five.
Times two.
Minus six.
Plus eight.
Equals… Thumbs up if you’ve got it.
Who would like to share their answer?  

In order for Mental Math to be a joyful and not painful learning experience, you don’t want to call on students without their permission. You will have students processing at all different speeds and you want to pay attention to how quickly you are going and how well they are keeping up. The “thumbs up” component enables everyone to participate without having to say what they came up with. If they were wrong, they learn this via the person who shares their answer. If that person has the wrong answer you can say, “Did anyone get a different answer? Who can walk me through theirs?” 

This is not a gotcha game, the goal is simply to exercise those Mental Math muscles. The more you do this, the better everyone will become. Try doing a few problems each day and see how everyone progresses. Eventually, invite students to be the leaders. 


Visual Thinking Strategies

This activity is quite flexible and simply requires finding a compelling image related to what you are teaching and inviting students to look at it. 

Visual Thinking Strategies is an approach to inquiry, discussion, and art/imagery appreciation that is grounded in 3 simple questions: 

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • If the student needs to elaborate to make their statement more clear ask: What makes you say that?
  • If the conversation comes to a halt you may ask: What else can we find?

As the discussion is taking place the facilitator should… 

  • Paraphrase each student’s observation.
  • Point at what the students are observing.
  • Make connections between the student’s observations.

The point of this is not to “get it right” but to continue to look deeper and deeper at an image building student expertise in their own perceptions. You can choose images to consider that relate directly to the content you are studying. Here are some examples: 

  • A piece of artwork from the period of history you are exploring.
  • A photograph of certain scientific phenomena (i.e. space telescope imagery).
  • An illustration from a book you are reading aloud or the cover of a book you are about to begin. 
  • A picture with several shapes that you’re studying the properties of in geometry. 
  • A photograph of people in a city where they speak the language you are teaching. 

You can do this exercise as a warm-up to begin class, or consider a deeper dive into the image with an activity like Seeing With Different Eyes


Digital Summaries 

There is a whole online genre now of social media personalities summarizing plotlines in movies and tv shows with added commentary unique to their perspectives. You can tap into this phenomenon by inviting students to quickly create their own plot summaries of what they learned in class yesterday. If you start class with this activity it is a good way for them to practice recall and you can look at what they’ve created after the fact to get a sense of how well what you taught is sinking in. 

Students can easily create these summaries using Flipgrid, which most school firewalls will still permit. It would be neat for them to create these summaries on social media platforms but that can get complicated as it is generally not a great idea for teachers to follow student accounts and you may not be able to see what they have posted without following them. A workaround can involve creating an account just for your class that students have access to but you will want to check to make sure this is something your school will allow.


Creating a Sensory Teaser

So often we introduce concepts in class using visual content which can be compelling enough, but what might you to do teach about the Civil Rights movement using some sense other than sight? How might you inspire your students to write poetry using their sense of smell? Can you dive into an exploration of experimental design using students’ sense of touch? 

Creating a sensory teaser is one way of pulling students into a lesson in an unexpected way. Think about a concept you are about to teach and run through your senses to see if there is something you could share with students briefly at the start of class that might get them hooked into the learning to come. Here are some ways to do this: 


  • Play a song with lyrics related to the theme or that was written about or in the time you are studying. 
  • Play a sound effect related to the topic and have students guess what the sound belongs to (i.e. a cricket chirping for a study of insects, a gavel banging for a study of the judicial system) 
  • Play a speech, an excerpt from an audiobook, a radio clip, or part of a podcast to introduce a topic. 


  • Give students small objects to study and reflect on related to your theme (i.e. gears for a study of the industrial revolution, round objects for a study of pi, leafs for a study of trees)
  • Consider the classroom environment as a tactile space, what can you do with lights, wind (fans), heat (space heaters), or physical objects like desks (covering with fabric or tin foil) to create physical experiences that might serve as launch pads for what you’re studying? 

Olfactory / Gustatory

  • You have to be careful with food when it comes to allergies but think of the possibilities with an ice cube! (Writing about sensations, observing the change in the state of matter when it dissolves on the tongue, considering how cold it is in some places on earth) 
  • If there is food mentioned in a piece of text you are about to read, can you bring some of that food in? If you are worried about allergies from eating it – as long as it doesn’t have nuts (which can be problematic even in air particles) can you bring something in for students to smell? 
  • Consider essential oils that have smells that might be evocative of what you are studying (herbs if you’re learning about plants, smells related to scenes in literature, and scents in general for a study of senses in science). You can even do things where students smell something and decide if it smells good or bad and collect class data that students then graph for a fun math experience. 

The overall idea here is to think outside of the usual way we expect students to absorb content and appeal to different senses. We are more likey to be engaged when multiple senses are involved and engagement is key to motivation when it comes to learning.

Standards Addressed by this Activity

Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Knowledge of Language:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice

Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP1 Mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution. They analyze givens, constraints, relationships, and goals. They make conjectures about the form and meaning of the solution and plan a solution pathway rather than simply jumping into a solution attempt. They consider analogous problems, and try special cases and simpler forms of the original problem in order to gain insight into its solution. They monitor and evaluate their progress and change course if necessary. Older students might, depending on the context of the problem, transform algebraic expressions or change the viewing window on their graphing calculator to get the information they need. Mathematically proficient students can explain correspondences between equations, verbal descriptions, tables, and graphs or draw diagrams of important features and relationships, graph data, and search for regularity or trends. Younger students might rely on using concrete objects or pictures to help conceptualize and solve a problem. Mathematically proficient students check their answers to problems using a different method, and they continually ask themselves, “Does this make sense?” They can understand the approaches of others to solving complex problems and identify correspondences between different approaches.

Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP2 Mathematically proficient students make sense of quantities and their relationships in problem situations. They bring two complementary abilities to bear on problems involving quantitative relationships: the ability to decontextualize—to abstract a given situation and represent it symbolically and manipulate the representing symbols as if they have a life of their own, without necessarily attending to their referents—and the ability to contextualize, to pause as needed during the manipulation process in order to probe into the referents for the symbols involved. Quantitative reasoning entails habits of creating a coherent representation of the problem at hand; considering the units involved; attending to the meaning of quantities, not just how to compute them; and knowing and flexibly using different properties of operations and objects.

Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP8 Mathematically proficient students notice if calculations are repeated, and look both for general methods and for shortcuts. Upper elementary students might notice when dividing 25 by 11 that they are repeating the same calculations over and over again, and conclude they have a repeating decimal. By paying attention to the calculation of slope as they repeatedly check whether points are on the line through (1, 2) with slope 3, middle school students might abstract the equation (y – 2)/(x – 1) = 3. Noticing the regularity in the way terms cancel when expanding (x – 1)(x + 1), (x – 1)(x2 + x + 1), and (x – 1)(x3 + x2 + x + 1) might lead them to the general formula for the sum of a geometric series. As they work to solve a problem, mathematically proficient students maintain oversight of the process, while attending to the details. They continually evaluate the reasonableness of their intermediate results.

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