Here are 50 starter activities which can be used in the GCSE English classroom. All are tried and tested, most involve very little preparation. I hope you find something useful!
Language starter activities
1. Dictionary definition – Put a key word / term on the board and ask students to write their own dictionary definition of the word.
2. Match up – A simple activity where students must match up key words with their definitions. If you have time you could ask students to create the cards.
3. Anagrams – Display some key words as anagrams and ask students to work them out and then write down a definition. I’ve always used this website to create my anagrams as it is far more creative than I could be!
4. Sorting activity – Give a pair of students a set of cards and ask them to sort them according to category. I like using this activity to revise parts of speech.
5. Create a writing prompt – Give each student a piece of paper. At the top they should draw a sketch of a character. Pass the paper along. The next person adds three adjectives to describe the character. Pass it along. The next person writes another piece of information about the character, and so on. After a final swap, students plan and develop a narrative based around the character.
6. Proof reading – A useful starter is to give students a passage which contains errors they have to try to find. If they need some guidance, you could tell them how many / which type of errors are included.
7. Sequence activity – I find structure one of the most challenging aspects to teach so this is a useful starter. Simply give students a passage which is cut up into paragraphs and ask them, in pairs, to put it in the correct order. This can lead to a useful class discussion and then a lesson about structure.
8. Photographs – Give students a photograph which they must annotate with ideas about what might have been happening / information about the people. This can then be used as a basis for a narrative writing task.
9. Back to back – As a useful starter for descriptive writing, ask students to sit back to back. One should be able to see an image on the board and describe it to their partner, who must sketch it according to their partner’s description.
10. Apostrophes – Put a series of sentences on the board which contain an example of either an apostrophe for possession or an apostrophe for contraction. Students should use mini whiteboards (or scraps of paper) to show which they think it is.
11. Homophones – The above activity can also be used for homophones.
12. Silly persuasion – Put a ridiculous statement on the board, such as “English lessons should be banned”, and give students five minutes to write the opening of a speech based on this statement.
13. Creative writing – Give students an image or a written writing prompt and allow them 10 minutes to write a creative piece. No assessment. No discussion. Just let them create.
14. Vocabulary builder – Draw a nine box grid on the board with a letter in each. Make sure the letter in the middle is a vowel. Ask students to make as many words as they can. You could give them points according to the length of the words they create.
Literature starter activites
15. Guess who? – Put the students in pairs. Write the name of your text’s characters on a post it note and stick it to one of the student’s forehead without letting them see it. They have to ask their partners questions to find out who it is, but the partner can only respond with yes or no. Can be done back to back with the character on the board at the front to save time / post it notes!
16. Taboo (my all-time favourite!) – Put the class into teams. One person from the team has to stand with their back to the board. On the board you need to display a key word which the rest of the team has to try to get their teammate to say. You need to include a list of associated words underneath the key word which the team are banned from mentioning. This can also be done in pairs with a set of cards, but I find it’s more fun as a whole class activity.
17. Sketching – Give students a set amount of time to produce a visual representation of what they know about a topic / what they remember from last lesson. I’ve had some pretty brilliant results from Macbeth with this one!
18. Pub quiz – Split the class into groups and keep a tally of each group’s correct answers. First hand up within the group gets the question. Bar snacks optional but in my experience they go down rather well.
19. Performance – In small groups, ask students to act out a character or short extract from your text. The rest of the class have to guess who / what it is.
20. Compare and contrast – put two images on the board (such as Lady Macbeth and the Witches) and ask students to make comparisons between them.
21. Hot seat – Another favourite of mine. Start the lesson by asking students to write three questions they would like to ask of characters / the writer of the text you are studying. Ask for volunteers to be that character for the hot seat.
22. Alphabet adjectives – Ask students to write the letters of the alphabet down one side of their books. Then give them a character from the set text. They must use as many letters as possible for adjectives to describe that character. This is great for vocabulary building.
23. Key term acronym – Of course students need to know what to do with the key terms and be able to comment on their effect, but they need to be able to spell the term correctly! Give them a key term and the pair who come up with the best acronym wins. These can then be displayed. I find that this touch of personalisation really helps with the spelling.
24. Bingo – Continuing with key terms, ask students do draw a quick grid and add a key term to each box. You read the definition or an example, and they can cross it off. This can be differentiated by not giving them a full list of key words at the start, or by making the examples more challenging.
25. Storyboard – Ask students to recap a previous scene by creating a quick storyboard of events. This is great for encouraging them to evaluate the important sections. Extra credit if they can include some key quotations!
26. Key Quotation charades – This. Is. Hilarious.
27. What if? – Pose a series of what if question for students to discuss in pairs. What if Macbeth hadn’t been married? What if Macbeth had never met the witches? What if Banquo hadn’t seen the witches?
Language or literature starter activities
28. 60 seconds – Put students in pairs and give them a topic. They must talk about the topic for a minute without hesitation or repetition. The partner times them.
29. Opinion spectrum – One end of the classroom should be “strongly agree”, the other “strongly disagree”. Give students a statement and they must decide where they will be on the line. They have to be able to justify their position.
30. Odd word out – Place three or four related words on the board. Ask students to identify which is the odd word out and to justify their choice.
31. True or false – Write a series of statements on the board (or read them out) and students have to decide if they are true or false. This can be done with whiteboards, standing / remain sitting, left hand up / right hand up and so on.
32. Three things – Ask students to write a minimum of three things they learned last lesson. Give them a clear time limit. They must be prepared to share their points with the class.
33. What do you know? – At the beginning of a new topic, ask students to write down everything they know about it. Mind maps work well for this. It’s also useful to revisit this at the end of the topic when hopefully there will be more to add!
34. What is the question? – I love this one as it is easy to prepare and it’s great for differentiation. Simply give students a key word, number or statement and ask them to write down what they think the question could be.
35. Annotation – Give students an image, book cover, quotation or passage of text and give them five minutes to annotate it with their ideas. This works well as a pair / square activity.
36. Make a sentence – Put a key word on the board and ask students to write a sentence which contains that word. Credit for creativity!
37. Peer questions – Put students in pairs and ask them to prepare questions to ask their partner about their learning of the previous topic. Double revision!
38. Splat – Write a variety of items on the board. Split the class into two teams. A member of each team must come to the front. You read the clue and they must touch the relevant word.
39. Throw a question – Make sure you trust your class before attempting this one! Ask a question and throw a light ball to the student you pick to answer the question. That student must then repeat the process, asking a question then throwing the ball to another student to answer. A blow up beach ball works well for this.
40. Cryptogram – This can be really useful for key quotations or rhetorical devices. It also helps to tick the numeracy box! I use this website to create mine.
41. Ranking activity – Ask students to rank a series of statements from most to least important. As an extra layer, you could ask them to write the statements based on a topic before you set the ranking task.
42. Diamond ranking – Similar to the activity above, but they must form a diamond shape with the statements, adding and extra layer to the evaluation element of the task.
43. Mallet’s Mallet – Those of you of a certain age, like me, will remember this one but you’ll probably have to explain it to the students (or show them a clip) Ask the students to work in pairs, give them a key word, and play the word association game. Mallet optional.
44. Target setting – Shocking revelation time – I’m not a fan of target setting unless it is really useful for the student. This one I like and I would suggest using when you know the class well and are revising a topic. Give the students the lesson to revise what they feel they need to revise and their starter is to set themselves a target to address this by the end of the lesson. This kind of self-directed learning is one of my favourite things to do, but you must have the class where you want them before you can attempt this!
45. Top Tips – After a topic or unit, ask students to write down their top tips for that topic at the start of the recap lesson. It can help them to get to grips with the topic or skill and it is a useful indication of their learning for you.
46. Circle questions – Ask students to stand on two circles, one inside the other, facing each other. They need to ask a question about a previous topic then move around.
47. Dominoes – Create or steal a set of dominoes based on your set text. Or ask pairs of students to create them.
48. Find three things – Display a fiction passage on the board. The opening of a novel works well. Pose a question which requires students to scan the passage for their response. Repeat this activity with a shorter time frame each lesson.
49. Spelling test – Love them or hate them, they are a useful starter activity!
50. Thunks – Engage student brains at the beginning of the lesson with a thunk (I have a playlist of thunks on my YouTube channel).
If you have a favourite starter activity you’d like to share, please comment below.