Looking at lead-ins

What is a lead in?

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It’s the beginning of the lesson. The students have arrived. They’ve got out their books. It’s time to start the lesson…but how? With a lead in. But what exactly do we mean and what should it achieve?

A lead-in should do exactly what it says – lead in to the topic / context of the lesson. The important words here are ‘topic / context’. We aren’t straight away trying to start ‘teaching’. Before we do anything, we need to get students interested, engaged and actively involved in learning. Interest, engagement, context setting and generating ideas are our aims at the lead-in stage. Put yourself into the students’ shoes for a moment. You’ve arrived at your lesson, perhaps feeling a little tired or thinking about other things going on in your life – so it could be difficult to jump immediately into learning. An analogy could be jumping into a car that’s been left outside in the cold all night, and expecting it to run perfectly.

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 13.05.36The car is like our brain – it’s likely to run a lot more smoothly if given a bit of time to get going. This is particularly true if we are teaching in a non-English speaking country. In this situation, it’s entirely possible that our students haven’t used English all day, or possibly even since their last lesson! So…let’s ease them in and do as much as we can to create some interest and a desire to speak English at the very beginning of the lesson. With this in mind, it can be a good idea to limit your own input as the teacher in the lead-in, and instead get the students speaking to each other.

How long should a lead-in last?

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There’s no set rule, but we do need to keep in mind the aim of a lead-in, so once we have got students interested and active, and set the topic of the lesson we should probably move on. Think of the lead-in as the starter in a meal…if we eat too much at this point, there won’t be room for the main course. As a guide a lead-in should probably last around 5-10 minutes.

What’s the difference between a lead in, a warmer and a filler?

Some people use these interchangeably, but they do have different aims. We’ve already discussed the aim of a lead-in. A warmer is also about getting students ready to learn and getting them active at the start of the lesson, but it doesn’t relate to the context for that particular lesson and is more likely to be a stand-alone or general activity, such as a short language game, with the aim of waking, or warming everyone up. So, in theory, it could be possible to have a warmer and then a lead-in. Warmers are particularly handy when you are beginning with a new class, or on a Monday morning when people need energising. A filler is something that a teacher might have up their sleeve to use when there is a short amount of time left in a lesson or before a break, when they have done all the work they needed to do to achieve their lesson aims, but some time still remains. Here the teacher may need to have a short (hopefully meaningful!) activity to fill this gap.

Lead-in ideas

There are many ways to create interest and engagement. Here are a few. Can you add any?

  • Predict what the topic / story is about from pics
  • Imagine / create the conversation going on between people in pics
  • Fold a picture related to the topic in half – students guess what’s in the other half then unfold and check
  • Show a picture for a minute that relates to the context then hide it. Students discuss what they can remember before being shown it again to check.
  • One or two simple discussion questions related to the topic for students to talk about in pairs / small groups
  • A short (perhaps 1 minute) video clip – don’t forget to set a task before they watch
  • A short recording of an unidentified sound/s or music that relates to the topic
  • Students or the teacher mimes and others guess something such as the name of a job, or a verb, or something else related to the class context
  • The teacher gives students a set number of words from the context and they predict why they are important
  • Students have an introductory sentence about the topic / context and they work together to unjumble it.
  • Give students a simple opinion question (e.g. Which are better, dogs or cats?) and give them four minutes to find as many people who agree with them as possible




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