Every minute counts: A warm-up speaking and listening activity to build fluency

Adrian Leis, Miyagi University of Education

Quick guide

  • Keywords: Speaking, fluency, bottom-up listening, warm-up
  • Learner English level: Beginner to advanced
  • Learner maturity: Junior high school to university
  • Preparation time: 30 minutes (at the beginning of the semester), 1 minute (before classes)
  • Activity time: 5 minutes
  • Materials: Counting cards (Appendices), stopwatch


The first few minutes of a class are often seen as what make or break students’ attitudes for the rest of the lesson. A warm-up activity usually creates an atmosphere where students feel relaxed enough to actively participate in class. However, this time can go beyond this, giving the instructor an opportunity to implicitly introduce the focus of the lesson and grasp what students already know about what they are about to learn. The first few minutes of the lesson should be an appetizer the teacher serves to students, leaving them hungry for more in the main course of the lesson. The following activity is a one-minute speech done at the beginning of each lesson throughout a course to help students prepare for the grammatical or situational focus of each lesson. Although speeches often increase anxiety rather than helping students relax, this activity is done in pairs, giving students an opportunity to speak without the concern of many eyes on them. With carefully chosen speech topics, instructors can gain an idea of students’ prior knowledge of the lesson focus. Finally, the activity helps train students’ bottom-up listening skills, vital in improving listening accuracy (Wilson, 2008). 



Step 1: At the beginning of the course, distribute the counting cards (Appendix A, Appendix B). 

Step 2: Think of a topic for the one-minute speech before each class.



Step 1: Casually talk for 1 minute about the topic of that lesson. If the lesson is focusing on ordering food, for example, the topic could be my favorite restaurant. If the grammatical focus of the lesson is the past tense, the topic could be related to the previous weekend or a recent vacation.

Step 2: Have students get into groups of two (S1, S2), swap counting cards and decide who will speak first. (Students should make a new partner each lesson.)

Step 3: Announce the topic for the one-minute speech and gives students 20 seconds to think about the topic and what they will say.

Step 4: Strictly time the students using a stopwatch. S1 speaks for one minute while S2 counts each word uttered by S1. The counting should be done as a tally in the middle pages of the counting card. The roles are then reversed.

Step 5: Have students return their cards to each other and record the number of words they spoke using the graph on the back page of the counting card.

Step 6: Have students write a short reflection in the middle pages of their counting card about how they can increase the number of words they spoke.



The one-minute speech activity is effective for several reasons. It allows students to share their own thoughts and knowledge about the topic to be covered in the lesson, giving an indication to the instructor of what needs emphasis in the lesson and what does not. The counting component strengthens students’ bottom-up listening process while also giving explicit feedback on the progress of the speaker’s fluency. The graph works to motivate the students to speak more as they see their score increase or decrease each time. Reflecting on their performance and how to improve their fluency encourages students’ metacognitive skills, including the use of strategies to use time, effort, and concentration effectively (Efklides, 2006). With regular use of this activity, I am sure both you and your students will be encouraged by the progress that can be made.



  • Efklides, A. (2006). Metacognition and affect: What can metacognitive experiences tell us about the learning process? Education Research Review, 1, 3-14.
  • Wilson, J. (2008). How to teach listening. Edinburgh Gate: Pearson Education.



The appendices are available below