Many of the warmers I use have their basis in playground games (see Please, Mr Crocodile: Adapting Playground Games). The ones I use the most are variations of ‘tick’ and ‘tag’ (UK & US names, respectively). They’re probably my favourite, as they’re easy to explain, quick, fun and there are no losers. Warmers like tick and tag help develop motor skills, keep students healthy, and encourage teamwork. And another big plus is that they detach children from computers, televisions, smart phones …!

If you work in an academy, it might be a good idea to describe these as ‘interesting activities’ or ‘a different way to learn grammar’. Don’t call them ‘games’. You need to give a rationale; make it clear why you’re doing the activity. This will avoid parents complaining that they haven’t paid good money just for their kids to ‘play games’. In these days of high-stakes exams, that’s a likely scenario. There’s a lot of pressure on students, and parents don’t always realis just how much you can learn by ‘playing’.

Tick and Tag Version I

Put the class into pairs. One person is ‘it’ and has to tag his/her partner, who then becomes ‘it’. There are just two rules: you can only walk,  and once you have been tagged, you have to turn 360° on the spot. Remember to focus on the instruction word ‘walk’ rather than saying ‘Don’t run’. (If you say that, the likelihood is that the only word the students will hear is run!). I only play this for a maximum of 2 minutes.

Version II

I always give my activities a clear context/framing, rather than just play for the sake of playing. The one I use for this version goes like this. I tell the students that I was watching Liverpool Football Club training, and this is an exercise they use to increase awareness about people around them.

Everyone is a ‘ticker’  and when I say ‘Go’, everybody starts to tick someone else. If you get ticked then you sit down. The last person standing (ie. unticked) is the winner.

Version III – Stuck in the mud

This time you have a group of tickers, 3 or 4 for a group of 30 students, and the aim of the activity is for them to tick the rest of the class. This time when you’re ticked, you’re ‘stuck in the mud’. You stand with your feet wide apart and your arms raised to form a star shape. The rest of your classmates have to try to free you. You can vary the way that they can do this. The most difficult (but the funniest) way is to crawl through their legs, or you can duck under their raised arms. Here’s a group of British school children playing the game, to give you a clearer idea.


You can put a more linguistic slant on tick and tag by getting them to say a word or phrase to free each other. Use language items connected to what you’ve been doing in class. For example, verbs in the simple past / colours / body parts / number / farm animal.

To finish off, I ask the students how the tickers could have been more successful, and eventually someone will suggest that they should have worked as a group. The message that you’re sending to the class is that they will be more successful if they work together and help each other, rather than working alone.

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