Are you encouraging students to be late?

Evening classes with adult learners can be a real joy. Unburdened by the pressure of exams or a set curriculum, students and teachers are free to explore topics of current relevance or of interest to the individuals in the group. Class sizes range from 4 to 8 students, motivation is high and students share their own experiences adding relevance and life to the lessons.

There are, of course, some challenges. One common problem here is punctuality. As students are coming to class straight from the office, a meeting that overran, a last minute conference call or an accident on the motorway all cause delays. Teachers often start these classes off by asking students how their weekend was, if they are busy at work or what plans they have for the coming weekend. The logic is that it gives students a chance to warm up and settle in, while allowing time for late-comers to arrive before the real business of grammar or vocabulary begins. You go around the class and ask each of the 4 or 5 students present for their contribution. It might only take a few minutes, but it might also throw up some interesting vocabulary or grammar review opportunities.

I’ve seen the ‘How was your weekend’ Warm-up in numerous lesson observations and experienced it as a student in evening classes for Spanish. I do it myself from time to time. But if punctuality is an issue, you might have to reassess the impact this low-key, relaxed intro is having on your class. What message does this type of warm-up activity give?

Starting the lesson with general chit-chat can signal to students that it is OK to arrive late. If the actual ‘teaching’ does not start for 10 or 15 minutes, they may feel that being a little late will not hinder their progress. After all, they are not missing much.

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To counteract this, we should ensure that the content of the class is just too important to miss.

I read somewhere about a study in America which showed that introducing some type of mental warm-up at the beginning of every class increased the number of students arriving on time. An example would be a question or dilemma for them to work out alone or in pairs. This ‘Welcome – Get Working’ intro has more of an impact.

Here is a selection of easy tasks to get students working as soon as they sit down. They can be done as 5 minute writing activities or pair work discussions. Adapt them to suit your lesson objectives. If you choose the pair work option, assign students partners as they come in. ‘Hi Stefan, nice to see you. You’re going to work with Tina today.

This prevents them from all sitting in exactly the same seats every week,  working with the same partner and rolling their eyes in despair if you ask them to try out a different seat/vantage point sometime. (Do all adults do this or is it just a local phenomenon?)

1. What’s the question?

Students come up with inventive ideas for questions that can be answered with the word given. Write 3 ‘answers’ on the board, or give them one ‘answer’ and ask them to come up with 3 questions. The answer is ‘often’. What’s the question?

The answer is ‘before you go’. What’s the question?

The answer is ‘with a monkey’. What is the question?    

Suggested solutions: Have you ever tried kangaroo meat? When should you apply for a visa to visit China? How did the man get the coconuts down from the tall tree?

2. Dilemmas

Jot down some ideas and then discuss with your partner.

Would you rather be good-looking or rich?

Which is better: the power to read minds or the power to be invisible?


3. Brain teaser

There are a lot of sites dedicated to these online. Look for brain teasers, riddles etc.

What 5-letter word becomes shorter when you add two letters to it?

The more you take, the more you leave behind. What are they?

It’s a stormy night and a plane takes off from JFK airport in New York. The storm quickly worsens and the plane crashes – half of it lands in the United States and the other half lands in Canada. In which country do you bury the survivors?

(Answers are at the bottom of the post.)

4. Review of last lesson

List three things you remember from the last lesson/ 3 key words from the last lesson. Share with your partner and explain why you think they are important.

5. Ideas for introducing the topic.

Pairs. Put 20 words on the board, somehow related to topic or taken from text you are going to read together. Students make as many pairs as they can in 2 minutes. Must be able to justify each pair. Justifications can be simple (both start with an s) or more complex. They then try to guess what the topic is.

Topic Test. A word or phrase related to the lesson on the board. Students have one minute to write down words related to the topic or facts they already know about it.

Missing letter note. Ask students to rewrite a note/sentence without using a particular letter. Example:

Rewrite ‘Your dinner is in the dog’ without using the letter ‘d’.

Rewrite ‘Don’t dare touch my pint‘ without using the letter ‘t’.

Suggestions: Your evening meal has been eaten by our canine pet. Rover, our animal pal, was scoffing your lovely supper.

Laying a finger on my lager would be a serious error. Hands off my beer.


These type of intros grab people’s attention, get them immediately interested and active, and show students that by being late they are missing out.

What kind of intro or warm-up do you do?

Post a comment to add to the list.

Punctuality never goes out of fashion.
Punctuality never goes out of fashion.


While I’m at it, here are some activities to end the lesson with.

End with impact – Revision, Consolidation, Self assessment, Reflection.

Bingo. Put 20 key words on the board. Students choose 9 to fill in their 3×3 bingo card. Teacher calls out definitions and students cross of the words. First to cross out all their words shouts Bingo.

Memory Game. Write 15 words on the board or on flashcards. Give students a couple of minutes to memories them, then rub them out or remove words. Alone or in pairs, students see how many they can remember.

True or False. Teacher writes statements on the board (a grammar rule or vocabulary definition). In pairs, students decide if they think they are true or false.

Reflection. Choose one of these questions: Students have a few minutes to reflect and take notes, before discussing with a partner. What three things have you learnt today?

What can you do now, that you could not do at the start of the lesson?

Under what circumstances might we need to use this knowledge?

What is the most important thing you have learnt today? Why is it most important?

How have you used your existing skills and knowledge in today’s lesson?

How might you combine today’s learning with something else you already know?

What difficulties might a student who was new to today’s topic encounter?

Write a quiz based on what we have learnt today. 

To what extent do you feel what we have learnt today is useful? Why?

Answers to Brain Teasers: Short. Foot steps. You don’t bury survivors.


5 thoughts on “Are you encouraging students to be late?”

  1. I love a good brain teaser for the end of a class. I have a box of Dingbats from when I was a kid – I stick one up on the board at the end of each day.
    I’m not such a big fan of warmers. I always just get down to business – I think it was in Scrivener’s Classroom Management Techniques where he asked something like: If the content of the class is important enough, is it necessary to warm up to it?
    I always figure if you’ve shown up for the class you should be ready to learn. I do teach full-time morning and afternoon classes though and not evening ones.

    1. Wow! Dingbats. That’s a blast from the past. I know what you mean regarding warmers. I also seldom use them for intensive classes. Students are there on time, they’re fresh and ready to get down to work. The adult weekly evening classes are often more a hobby for students here. Attendance can be irregular and people stroll in 20 minutes after starting time. Frustrating for teachers.

    1. Thanks for the nomination, Laila. I’ve been feeling a bit lazy, but this is the kick I need to get a post together.

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