Light-touch activities can help lower stress around public speaking over time and offer an entry point to young people who have typically felt silenced or have had challenges participating or thinking of what to say. While this list of warm-ups can be used in multiple ways to engage learners, we have categorized them by:
- Warm-ups for Personal Readiness (i.e. to ease individual anxiety and get ready for speeches)
- Warm-ups for Environmental Readiness (i.e. to build relationships, have fun, and get the class in the mood to speak)
- Warm-ups for Skill Readiness (i.e. priming the class to learn a specific speaking skill). In this list, we have included warm-ups for storytelling skills, debate skills, and presentation delivery skills.
All of these warm-ups can be adapted for different group sizes and length of time available. They can also be used for different grade levels and content areas, especially when prompts are adapted to best fit your class. You can also access this resource here for easy printing and modifying for your own classroom.
|Warm-Up Activity||Goal and Timing|
Run through tongue twisters of different lengths to practice consonants and breath control. Find tongue twisters in a quick internet search, such as this article.
Say the same tongue twisters using different emotions (i.e. sad, excited, angry, relaxed).
Repeat the tongue twister while using gestures and giving eye contact to different people or objects.
Repeat the tongue twister while varying volume and/or speed (i.e. slow and quiet, fast and loud, fast and quiet, slow and loud).
|Practice precise diction, sounding louder, emotional tone, eye contact, and variation in speed and volume.|
Can be done as a whole group: 5 minutes.
Warm up your voice, especially in the morning, end of day, or when you are sick.
Sigh using your voice, starting at the very top of your voice and sliding down to the bottom.
Yawn loudly (lift the roof of your mouth to make yourself yawn)Trill your r’s and buzz your lips.
Sing! (doesn’t matter if you think you can’t, it’s a good warm up regardless…)
|Practice healthy vocal habits and create a rounder tone.|
Do any combination of these activities as a whole class for 1-2 minutes total (if on Zoom, have everyone mute themselves while they try them).
Use physical stretches to relax any areas of tension and physical exercises to energize you.
Close your eyes and take deep breaths, tune into any places you notice tension and relax them.
While taking deep breaths, roll your shoulders, followed by rolling your neck and your wrists and ankles.
Reach up to the sky, reach to the middle, and reach to the ground. Slowly roll up.
Bounce in place, making sure your knees are loose.
Make a “big” face by stretching your face wide open and then a “small” face by scrunching everything.
Tense everything with shoulders up and fists clenched, then relax everything.
Do energizing things — run in place, do jumping jacks, wiggle yourself out.
|Helps cope with anxiety, establish a relaxed energy before speaking, and wake up the brain before speaking.|
Do any combination of these activities as a whole class for 5+ minutes total (if on Zoom, have everyone mute themselves while they try them).
Try having students lead these activities.
|Count the Sounds|
Close your eyes and listen deeply to all the sounds around you. Count how many sounds you can hear. After you’ve counted, turn those sounds into a song or a pattern (i.e. if you listen to a dryer for long enough, you can make it sound like a waltz).
|Helps cope with anxiety, practice listening skills, and quiet your brain.|
Do any combination of these activities for 5+ minutes.
|Walk to the Front|
In a group, line up in a single file line. One by one, practice walking up to the front of the room and land at a spot in the center with hands at the side. After pausing and looking at the audience, say “hello” or some other practice line using a gesture, then return to your seat. Repeat one by one, making sure to land at the spot in the middle first before talking and making sure hands are all at the side.
|Practice pausing to acknowledge the audience instead of rushing into the words, grounding yourself before speaking, and practice hands at side.|
For a group: 5 minutes. Practicing with the whole group helps to prepare for larger audiences. This can be split up with only a group of students doing it each day to not get too long and boring.
|Warm-Up Activity||Goal and Timing|
Each student is in the hot seat for 1-3 minutes, during which anyone can ask any questions they want to know about them. Before you begin, set up norms ahead of time: can always pass, it should be something you really want to know, no one can ask a question twice in a row…
|It can take awhile to go around to everyone in the class, so this activity works well in small groups, or just rotating volunteers in the whole group.|
To take this warm-up to the next level, you can try “storytelling hot seat”, where someone volunteers to tell a story inspired by one of three words the class chooses for the speaker. Students get to generate the topics and the storyteller gets to choose one and tell a story off the top of their head (or after 30 seconds to think).
Have people go around and tell a story about something themselves. The next person has to say “speaking of…” and relate back to the storyteller before them. Prompts can be adapted to be more specifically about certain events or details about a person.
|Practice relating and connecting to people as opposed to only thinking about what you are going to say next — also, get to know one another.|
For one group: timing depends on the group size, but don’t spend longer than 10 minutes total. Timing can be shortened by splitting up into smaller groups or even working in pairs.
|Tell Me About a Time When… |
Tell a 2-minute story describing a memory of an event. Prompts should be concrete and short (i.e. it was cold, it was raining, you were lonely, you lost track of time) and stories should be true.
|Practice remembering specific moments and sharing an element of who you are.|
For pairs: 8 minutes total — 2 minutes per story plus transition time, plus 2 minutes of preparation time
Take a prompt and add on to it to create your own twist. For example, the original prompt might be, “Tell me about a time you were a leader…” and your twist might be “I am going to tell you about a time I was a leader….but didn’t feel like one.” Tell a 2-minute story about that twist. To come up with twists, it can help to think about the opposite of the prompt or an unexpected way of thinking about it. Note: this warm-up works best when the original prompt is a sentence starter, rather than a word.
|Practice remembering specific moments and sharing an element of who you are AND thinking about prompts in unexpected ways to engage the audience.|
For pairs: 10 minutes total — 2 minutes per story plus transition time, plus 4 minutes of preparation time
In a large circle, create a group story by going around and having each person state a word or phrase that comes next in the story. Saying one word each will result in a more random story, while saying a phrase each can help practice story structure.
|Practice listening and relating to earlier ideas and laugh about something silly.|
For one group: 4-6 minutes. There is no set time because you can end the activity whenever you want, but it should be long enough to create a viable story and short enough so it doesn’t get old.
Skill Readiness: Storytelling
|Warm-Up Activity||Goal and Timing|
|What is Going On? (student-facing slide deck)|
As a group, examine the photo given to you and decide what is going on in your photo. Together prepare a 1 minute story about what is going on and then share it with the class. When coming up with your story think about:
What do you think is happening?
Who are the people?
What in the picture supports that idea/theory?
What led up to this moment?
What might happen next?
|Pictures capture a moment in time but they are not the whole story. Storytelling is also about the stories we see, not just the stories we tell. It is a window into how we experience the world. Practice describing what you see.|
For small groups: 15 minutes total — 5 minutes for group time, 7 minutes of sharing out and discussion, a few minutes for transition, no prep time.
|Joyful Stories (student-facing slide deck)|
Par 1 – Telling a joyful story: In pairs, choose 6 things that bring you joy that correspond to the color you were given. Paste an image of all 6 (3 per person) in a slide and present out to the whole group about the items you chose, explaining why those items bring you joy.
Part 2 – Telling stories on the spot inspired by pictures shared: Students pick a picture from a different color that one of their classmates chose for their slide, and tell a 2 minute story about it. Start your story with, “Speaking of…” Listeners share something they learned or remember from each presenter’s story. Note: If virtual have listeners type in the chat what they learned; in-person call on a couple people to share.
|Get to know one another, practice expressing emotions and connecting with other people’s stories. |
For pairs: 10 minutes to create slides with 6 images.
For sharing out, you can do it in small groups to save time, or choose only a handful of students to share out to the whole class (10-15min).
Part 2 can happen on a different day or even a few students each day for a week.
|Three Words |
Get the group (or a partner) to brainstorm three words. These can be three unrelated concrete words (i.e. cactus, roller coaster, spaghetti) or three unrelated abstract words (i.e. bravery, fear, hope, awe). Tell a 2-minute story inspired by one of those three words. Do not combine the words and it isn’t important to necessarily mention the chosen word.
|Practice coming up with a story based on a theme or using simple words as symbols for something deeper.|
For pairs: 12 minutes total — 2 minutes to brainstorm words, 2 minutes per story plus transition time, plus 3-4 minutes of preparation time. To save time, words can be decided ahead of time.
|What am I?|
Tell a 2-minute story describing an object in the room in great detail without saying what it is. The listener gets 3 guesses to figure out the object. A more difficult version is to describe something not in the room.
|Practice describing specific detail.|
For pairs: 8 minutes total — 2 minutes per story, 2 minutes of guessing time, plus some transition time, ideally no preparation time
|Ordinary into Extraordinary|
Tell a 3-minute story about something really mundane and unremarkable and make it dramatic, suspenseful, or intriguing (i.e. what you had for breakfast, your journey to class, putting something in your bag). Prompts can either be given or generated by the speaker and should be true (even if there is some exaggeration).
|Practice making something special and interesting, even when it doesn’t seem like it.|
For pairs: 14 minutes total — 3 minutes per story plus transition time, plus 5 minutes of preparation time. Keep these stories on the longer side to achieve goal.
Tell a 2.5-minute story about a person you’ve encountered in your life. The story should be true and at least 1.5 minutes of the story should be spent describing them (i.e. what they look like, what they said, what they smelled like, how they made you feel). The conclusion of the story should be 2 or 3 sentences max about why they stand out in your memory. The person doesn’t have to be especially important.
|Practice bringing people to life and using the 5 senses to engage listeners.|
For pairs: 9 minutes total — 2.5 minutes per story plus transition time, plus 2 minutes of preparation time. Make sure the bulk of the time is spent on the person and not why they are important.
Guide a group or a partner around the room, telling brief stories inspired by objects in the room (like a tour guide in a museum). The story doesn’t have to be a specific length, but can be loosely inspired by the object or a literal story about a personal relationship with that object.
|Practice relating a story to something specific and concrete.|
Can be any amount of time and can be done in pairs or as a group, either with one person leading or switching off and taking turns.
In a group circle, ask the audience to select: 1) a main character; 2) a setting; and 3) a problem. Have the storyteller tell a 2-minute fictional story involving the audience’s choices.
|Practice telling a story in front of a group in a low-stakes, fun environment.|
Can be any amount of time, depending on the number of storytellers selected.
Skill Readiness: Debate
|Warm-Up Activity||Goals and Timing|
|This or That|
This is an icebreaker that helps address the common struggle to commit to an argument, where binary prompts are posed and each person has to explain their choice. For example, “Hot or Cold”, “Savory or Sweet”, or “Animals or Plants”.
|Practice committing to an argument and explaining their reasoning. Students can generate topics or you can use topics from units of study (i.e. ocean or desert).|
Great with a whole group to get to know each other and practice skills, but can also be done in small groups or pairs: 5-10 minutes depending on size.
|Apples to Apples|
For this drill, you will need a deck of cards from the “Apples to Apples” game. If you don’t have this game, a long list of random words will do. Split students up into pairs and have each pair choose a card (or random word from the list) and come up with a debate topic for the word on their card. Each pair gets to choose another pair to debate against about their topic, or you can assign pairs, topics, and sides randomly.
Debate structure: 5 minutes of preparation followed by 2 minutes for the pro opening, 1 minute for questions, 2 minutes for the con opening, 1 minute for questions, 1 minute for the pro closing, 1 minute for the con closing.
|Practice debate structure and taking turns saying arguments.|
Keep this activity low-stakes, light, and without too much preparation — the point isn’t to be perfect but to help students feel like debate is something they can do.
For tips for coming up with topics, tell students to make their topic into a sentence that takes one side to an extreme. For example, common prompt structures include: “____is better than ___.” “We should ban ____.” “_____are the most important ______.” Any prompt is welcome as long as it is clear.
|20 Questions |
This fun game involves the class asking closed yes or no questions to try and guess the person, place, or object that another classmate has in their mind, which lowers anxiety around asking questions.
|Practice asking questions, lowers stakes since there is no “wrong answer”. Fun way to get the whole class working together. Can use unit themes that the word must relate to.|
Any group size but fun with a large group: 15 minutes.
|Morality on the Spot|
Students get into groups of 4. Give each group 4 index cards, labeled with different roles, “Presenter”, “Clarifier”, “Elaborator”, and “Devil’s Advocate”. Students draw a card to decide what role they will be taking in a short 5-10 minute conversation about a moral issue. Give each group an index card, which includes a controversial question on an issue of morality that will be the focus of their conversation (these cards can be created by the teacher initially, but can later be generated by students once they get the hang of the routine). Note: the choice of topics is one of the most important pieces for teachers to prepare — see the list of “Morality on the Spot Question Prompts” in Resource 14 of our Presentation Guide. More detail on each role includes:
Presenter: This person kicks off the conversation by introducing the issue along with an initial opinion with reasoning. They offer opinions throughout the conversation and also bring the conversation to an end by summarizing what was covered after time is up.
Devil’s Advocate: This person offers opposing points of view or “what if” situations that provide a different perspective on the issue. They don’t have to necessarily debate the presenter, but instead be the person to push everyone’s thinking.
Clarifier: This person asks for clarity throughout the conversation, asking for definitions and for detail about what people mean by their points or questions.
Elaborator: This person adds to the ideas of any of the other students, building on their questions, opinions, or challenges. This role does not have to take their own stance.
|Students practice presenting, sharing their opinions, questioning, responding, and summarizing ideas without preparation. |
These activities can be done in small groups for a faster, more low-stakes version (10-15 minutes), but can also become more high-stakes presentations when done for the entire group.
This activity is a grown-up version of show-and-tell, asking students to share their areas of expertise, talent, strengths, interests, and experiences. For an easy version, students can get into groups of 4; for a harder version, this can be done with the entire class. To get everyone started, the teacher provides a prompt related to expertise, like the following:
My special talent is….
When I was a child, I was interested in…
I felt proud when…
I feel like I lose track of time when I….
My favorite hobby is…In school, I became interested in ____ when…
One of the hardest moments I’ve faced lately is….
My superpower is…
People turn to me for…
I am good at…
Please note that students often struggle with saying that they are good at something, especially as they get older. When introducing the activity, discuss why it is hard to talk about yourself and why it is difficult to remember your personal strengths and interests. Discuss why it is still worth it to develop this skill, including needing to write about strengths in personal statements and talk about them in job interviews and networking situations.
|Students practice presenting and speaking about their interests and strengths.|
For the activity itself, spend 5-10 minutes having someone share a story related to the prompt. Afterwards, everyone else can choose to either ask questions or relate to the story with their own personal experience connected to the initial story, which can then roll into a conversation. This activity can be repeated as a routine over time and can also be linked as a warm up for larger projects, like personal statements or personal essays.
In a circle, have one person state an argumentative claim in a complete sentence with reasoning. For instance, “Schools should increase funding for mental health services because dealing with stress helps students do better academically.” The next person in the circle then restates the claim, but with fewer words. The next person builds on the new version but with more powerful words (i.e. “Schools are responsible for students’ mental health to prevent academic failure.”) Repeat until the claim is concise with powerful words and then have someone start a new claim.
|Construct more concise and powerful claims.|
In pairs, students can just go back and forth to practice: 5-10 minutes. This can be done individually as well. You will have to talk to yourself (which is still okay!), stating a claim and then whittling it down to fewer words with a more powerful impact. You can also do this in writing, but it is more difficult out loud, so it’s worth doing (even if it is a little weird).
One person says that a certain statement is true (they don’t have to believe it), such as “Gorillas would make great pets.” The other person has to respond by saying why this statement is true, such as “Totally! Gorillas can help you reach things up high and they always have bananas, which are a great source of potassium.” Switch roles with new statements each time.
|Practice giving warrants and reasons for your arguments. For more difficulty, you can increase the number of reasons you have to give.|
Great for the whole class or smaller groups: 5-10 minutes. Possible variations: To introduce argument structure, one person states a claim of their choice like, followed by the next person adding on a reason why and the next person saying why it all matters.
|On the Flip Side|
This is similar to “Justify It”, except that after one person makes a statement, the other person responds on the other side with an opposing statement, starting with “On the flip side…” For instance, if one person said “Gorillas would make great pets”, the other person would say, “On the flip side, gorillas would not make great pets because they are wild and unpredictable and could pose a great deal of danger.”
|Practice coming up with counterarguments off the top of your head.|
For the whole class or smaller groups: 5-10 minutes.
|Pulled from the Headlines|
Find a random news article from your favorite periodical — this can be serious but can also easily be from a tabloid magazine. Skim the article and then summarize it out loud to someone in 1 minute without any preparation. The summary should be intriguing as well as clear and to the point.
|Practice summarizing content out loud.|
For pairs: 10 minutes. This can be done individually by audio recording your summary and listening back. You get used to the sound of your voice and improve your work.
Write 10 “problems” on 10 index cards, one problem per card (students can also write these with some guidance and examples). These can be societal problems (i.e. “There are too many homeless people in the Bay Area.”) or light, ordinary problems (i.e. “The living room is too cold.”). Shuffle the deck and draw a problem card and then set the timer for 1 minute while you suggest a course of action and why you think it will work to solve the problem.
|Practice justifying proposals and plans for action.|
This activity works as well in any size group without any variation, including by yourself: 5-10 minutes.
|Blow up the Balloon|
In a circle or small group, one person makes a statement (i.e. “Traffic in the Bay Area is at an all-time high.). The next person adds on by saying, “which leads to…” and the next person adds on by saying, “which leads to…” Each result should be increasingly bigger and more impactful to “blow up the balloon” (i.e. getting totally ridiculous).
|Practice stating short and long term impacts. This is a great activity to pair with debate and argumentative writing. Students practice coming up with the impacts of an issue and therefore, why their argument is relevant and important.|
For any size group: 5-10 minutes. By yourself, you can practice by listing as many impacts as you can following a statement, before getting ridiculous (or “popping the balloon”).
Have someone discuss 2-3 arguments about any simple prompt (i.e. “Spring is better than summer.”). Listeners take notes using as few full, real words as possible — the goal is to try use abbreviations, symbols, and codes to represent ideas.
|Practice fast note-taking.|
This activity can be done easily in pairs, but can also be in a whole group: 10 minutes. By yourself, you can do the same thing by taking notes on a podcast, newscast, or YouTube video. These sources can also be used to practice note-taking as a whole class.
Give everyone a topic and set a timer for 4 minutes for them to silently outline 2-3 arguments on both sides. Repeat with a new topic, but this time set a timer for 3 minutes to outline both sides. Keep repeating with new topics, but reduce the outline preparation time each time.
|Practice quick outlining skills and avoiding perfectionism.|
This activity can be done in any size group or in pairs: 10-15 minutes. By yourself, you will need to prepare index cards with debate topics and set the timer for yourself. Quick debriefs can help in between topics to see what was easy and what was challenging, and to address any sticking points.
Skill Readiness: Delivery
|Warm-Up Activity||Goal and Timing|
|Tell Me About a Time When…(eye contact version)|
Tell a 2-minute story describing a memory of an event. Prompts should be concrete and short (i.e. it was cold, it was raining, you were lonely, you lost track of time) and stories should be true. Tell the story to another person, trying to use eye contact in a comfortable way (looking away or down at appropriate moments, and communicating the emotion of the story while looking at the other person. At the end, have the other person give feedback on whether the eye contact felt natural.
|Practice natural eye contact, and get feedback on eye contact.|
For pairs: 5 minutes.
If on Zoom, have them practice giving eye contact directly to the webcam.
|Guess the Color |
Note: To understand this warm-up, please read “Vocal Technique for Presenters” (Resource 11: Presentation Guide).
Play video clips of famous speakers and have students guess what color their voice is.
Read passages of text and have students identify what color the text should be, given the tone required to communicate the message.
|Practice identifying different vocal colors, emphasizing the message that words/messages require different tones to make them stand out, and how speakers switch vocal colors throughout a speech to convey different meanings.|
This can be done as part of a discussion about tone, so total time depends on the number of clips used and how long you have.
Note: To understand this warm-up, please read “Vocal Technique for Presenters” (Resource 11: Presentation Guide).
Using a book of fairy tales (or any other random text), select 2-4 lines for practice. First, read the text aloud in a flat voice with little emotion. Then, try reading the text aloud using different colors of your voice — first, try reading as “red” (passionate and excited), then try “gray” (urgent and forceful), then “blue” (serious and calm), then “green” (breezy and conversational), and finally “orange” (kind and encouraging). After you’ve tried each color, practice switching from one color to another in the middle of the text. For an extra challenge, have others guess which colors you are applying to the text.
|Practice using different vocal colors, including ones that don’t come as naturally, and transitioning in vocal tone.|
Students can practice simultaneously, individually in front of the group, and independently when first introduced to vocal colors. For continued practice, pairs or small groups can work together, guessing the colors applied to the text: 4-6 minutes.
Open a text to any random page and read the content. Without any preparation, try rewording or paraphrasing the text in your own words. Repeat this activity, trying to reword the content in as few words as possible, without any filler words. If working alone, audio record yourself and listen back to hear if there are any distracting habits.
|Practice being concise and breaking filler word habits. Paraphrasing helps you speak from notes without getting caught up in trying to say the exact words you’ve written.|
For pairs: 4-6 minutes
In a group circle, have one person start with a simple argument or statement of opinion, like “Blueberries are the best fruit because they are good for you and full of antioxidants.” The next person says the same exact sentence, but tries to say the statement even more confidently (volume, facial expressions, and landing the ends of sentences help here). Repeat for 4 people and then have someone create a new sentence.
|Practice speaking energetically and confidently, landing the ends of sentences and not losing volume at the ends of sentences. Practice doing more than you think you’re doing to sound confident.|
For groups: 5-10 minutes. This is a great way to practice speaking more confidently by using exaggeration.