What’s Missing?

Claire Ryan

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Question-and-answer, vocabulary, guessing game, warm-up activity, online lesson
  • Learner English level: Beginner and above
  • Learner maturity level: Elementary School and above
  • Preparation time: 0-5 minutes
  • Activity time: 5-10 minutes
  • Materials: Whiteboard, marker pen, eraser, vocabulary list

A good warm-up activity will get students thinking and speaking in English. A great warm-up activity will do this while also helping to review and reinforce their previously learned vocabulary and grammar points. If you can do both, you’ll ensure your students are having fun and improving their English ability with ease. This activity combines a warm-up with a chance to review vocabulary from previous lessons. This lesson can be adapted for both a classroom setting or an online lesson using a platform such as Zoom. All you need is a whiteboard—or the whiteboard function in Zoom—plus a marker pen, eraser, and a good memory of your students’ previous lesson topic! 



Step 1: Use a whiteboard to jot down some key words that students have learned recently. 

Step 2: Elicit the vocabulary from the students as you take note of it. In an online lesson, take advantage of the Zoom whiteboard function and copy and paste a list of vocabulary onto it.



Step 1: When you have written 10 or so words, show the whiteboard to students for 15 seconds and give them a chance to memorize it.

Step 2: Take the whiteboard away and erase one word. If using the Zoom whiteboard function, unshare the screen for a moment while you erase one word.

Step 3: Show the word list to the students again. The first person to guess the missing word is the winner. 

Step 4: Rewrite that missing word, show the board to students again, and repeat the process with the other words. 


Option 1: This warm-up can easily be adapted for higher level students by adding some extra challenges. Encourage students who guess the missing word to give a definition of the word for an extra point. A student who can use the word in a complete sentence will receive a bonus point. 

Option 2: If it’s the first lesson or if there isn’t a large amount of vocabulary to review from the last class, you could use categories instead, such as animals, colors, or shapes. 

Option 3: For larger class groups, divide students into smaller groups and allow one student to play the role of the teacher. This can easily be done using the breakout room function on Zoom, which can be monitored by the instructor. Students can write the words on the whiteboard and erase them, with the others in the group guessing the missing word as before. 



This warm-up activity does double duty for instructors, as it gets the class thinking in English while also reviewing any language that was taught in previous lessons. This means that students are ready to start their class with a solid foundation upon which to build. It is easily adaptable for both online or classroom settings, using whiteboards in the classroom or the Zoom whiteboard function in online lessons. 

The group variations also allow students to feel empowered by giving them the confidence to use their English freely in front of others. This is a particularly great activity for young learners. The guessing element may seem simple at first glance but, in my experience, a list of 10 words is challenging for children to remember and recall. This allows the game to run for a long time, until you are sure the key vocabulary has been assimilated.