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A starter should:

  • Be a rapid exciting and often novel start to a lesson (grabs attention and engagement)

  • May or may not be related to main content

  • Be imaginative – use photos, artefacts, problems, challenges, literacy, numeracy, matching, sorting, classifying, word games, music

Starter activities for different purposes

  • To begin a new topic or introduce a new idea

  • To remind pupils what they have learned

  • To set out the learning for the lesson

  • To find out what pupils already know

We suggest that planning a good start to a lesson should involve asking yourself three questions.

  • ‘How will I get the pupils to remind themselves of prior learning?’

  • ‘What do I want the pupils to know/be able to do by the end of the activity or lesson?’

  • ‘How can I inspire interest in the learning to come?’

Of these three questions the last is probably the most challenging, however, there are a number of pitfalls to avoid when considering the first two.

The first question quite deliberately includes the phrase ‘remind themselves of prior learning’. It is not effective practice to talk through the content of the last lesson, nor is it effective to begin every lesson with a question and answer session based on the last lesson. In its simplest form ‘reminding themselves’ might involve pupils spending two minutes (giving a set time is vital to the process) reading over notes or worksheets from the last lesson and picking out the three most important ideas covered.

The teacher can then bring the class together and ask representatives to suggest their most important learning points. It should mean that pupils are all actively engaged in reviewing prior learning rather than listening to the teacher talk about it and ask questions of a few selected pupils.

What makes an effective starter?


Plan effectively, with a clear reason for the starter which will enable a smooth transition from starter to the main tasks of the lesson, and a useful link to the plenary.


Develop a wide range of interactive teaching strategies and techniques. This will also help establish pace, engagement and challenge immediately. You can tailor the timings to suit the age and ability of your class, like


Ensure that you are aware of the techniques required to shape and develop learning from the starter, onwards. A confusing starter will often lead to lack of clarity understand the lesson’s objectives Starters are an excellent opportunity to engage students immediately with learning objectives. If you don’t like the starter at a restaurant, what does it say about the main meal?

What's hot!

  1. Make sure that starters create a challenge.

  2. Create an expectation that all students will be involved in the starter.

  3. Plan it as a discrete element of the lesson.

  4. Make sure that starters show progression over time, and that there is a variety of tasks. You could include sound effects, music and actions.

  5. Keep the instructions clear and precise.

  6. Reward positive involvement in starters.

  7. Peer observe and discuss ideas in departmental meetings.

  8. Keep starters short (roughly 5 minutes), and intervene to move the lesson forward.

  9. Create links between the previous lesson, current learning objectives and the plenary. This enables students to relate ideas and information to previous knowledge and experience.

  10. Reflect on the interactive teaching skills necessary to maximise the learning.

What's not!

  1. Make sure that the starter does not simply target a particular group.

  2. Avoid administrative tasks e.g. register, which sometimes holds up the starter and creates an opportunity for disruption with certain groups.

  3. Make sure that the starter does not eat into the main body of the lesson.

  4. Don't just consider the starter to be a reluctant add-on.

  5. Don't make starters too easy.

  6. Be careful not to introduce starters which may disrupt the lesson.

  7. Don't make the starter an action of reproducing facts and information.

Starter Ideas

Starters, Middles and Plenaries

1. Shark (Version of hangman)

A volunteer from the class chooses to be the person walking the cliff. Draw them on the end of the cliff. Pupils call out letters, teacher writes correct letters into the word and notes incorrect ones on w/b as a reminder. For every incorrect letter, the person moves further along the cliff, finally falling into the shark's mouth. This can be made kinaesthetic by having a pupil move along an imaginary cliff.

2. Key Word Bingo

Pupils have key words on their bingo cards. The teacher reads out definitions, pupil crosses out matching key word. The first to cross out all their words shouts' Bingo' and wins a prize.

3. Constantinople

Pupils have 5 minutes to make as many words as possible from the letters in a long word.

4. Blockbusters

Split the class in half and assign each half a colour, see below. The red team have to get from top to bottom and the blue team have to get from left to right, (not necessarily in a straight line). The teacher begins by asking a question for the letter in the middle of the grid, e.g. what '5' is another term for 'taking away' or 'minus'? Pupils must put hand up and not shout out answer (tell pupils that if they shout out, it will go straight to the other team to guess). The correct answer wins the team a blob of their colour in the square, that team then chooses the next letter. The first team to get from one side to the other wins (can be a zigzag line)

5. Spelling Patterns and Spelling Roots

Teams find as many words as possible with the same spelling pattern or root, e.g.: light, sight, bright automobile, autograph, autobiography

6. Key Word Pictionary

Split class into 2 teams and split the w/b in half by drawing a line down the middle. One member of each team comes to the w/b, the teacher shows them both the same word to be drawn. The students draw the word in their half of the w/b and the first team to call out the correct word wins a point (it doesn't matter if they are looking at both students' drawings). Repeat.

7. Memory Game

Write 15 words on the w/b or on flashcards. Give pupils a couple of minutes to memorise them then rub out / remove words. Pupils see how many they can remember. This should be differentiated by using words varying in difficulty, both in terms of meaning and spelling. Can be played in teams with more words.

8. Just a Minute - or two

Put pupils in groups of 3-4 and give them a topic to talk about (this could be a revision topic or a means of introducing a new topic). The aim is for the group to talk for a minute (or 2) about the topic. One pupil is chosen to start talking, he/she will need a talking prop to pass round (e.g. a pencil case). As soon as the pupil runs out of things to say or begins pausing, he/she should pass the pencil case to another pupil to continue. Pupils in the group can offer to take the 'prop' and continue talking when they feel someone is drying up.

This can be done throughout a unit of work - the more pupils learn, the longer they should be able to talk about the topic. The repetition should consolidate pupils' learning, and by gradually extending the time, pupils will also see that their learning is 'extending'.

9. Missing letter Note

Ask pupils to rewrite a note without using a particular letter. E.g. rewrite "Your dinner is in the dog'" without using the letter 'd'. . Could also be done using key words and definitions.

10. Change the Word

Pupils try to change a word into another word in so many moves, by changing one letter each time. E.g.

Warm - Cold: Warm Warg WQrd ford Cojd

11. Sentence Expansion

Pupils add words and phrases to a sentence to See how much longer they can make it. This can be done in teams as a competition.

'King ...... was a bad king' can become, ' ...... King ...... who ........ in ...... when ......... was a ....... bad king because he ............. and ............... which meant.. ............ ' , A vice can be dangerous' can become, A vice which is used to ...... can be .... dangerous if.. ........ ...... because it can ......................... which will cause ............ '

The winner is the team with the most words in a grammatically correct and well punctuated sentence.

It can be used to revise facts, events, cause and effect etc and also to produce creative writing.