5 Ways to Get Students to Self-Start

Do your students come in, sit down and immediately start their warm up? If so, I’m in complete awe of you. Mine come in, sit down, and stare at the activboard until I start. I know, I know, this is completely and utterly my fault. And I admit I need help! I recently posed the following question on Facebook:

How do you get your students to get 
right to work on their warmups?” 

and got some AWESOME answers. Some ideas were new to me, some I already knew and had forgotten. Still others were things I already do and hearing that others do them reinforced the good practice. So THANK YOU everyone who answered my plea for help! Here are 5 ways to motivate kids to self-start their warm-ups.

1: Ask them
Jeff wrote “ I would start just by having a conversation with them. Explain what you're expecting - they'll try the warm up, and correct it with you. Then ask why they keep waiting. The first day, don't defend your choices vs their comments ("But you know you need to try it"). Instead just listen, and let them see that you "get it". The next day review the expectation again.”

2: Personalize
Joy adds a little something to her warm ups, something that teenagers love- a place for them to talk about themselves. Joy writes, “The first part of my warm ups has students describe how they are feeling. Even the simple sentence "I feel __ because..." get students to pick up their pencil and communicate their thinking. They are more likely to do the math work when I check in on their day first.”

3: Stamp it! 
A few people suggested using stamps and stickers. It’s amazing to me how easy it is to forget things that work, and stamps definitely work! I used to stamp everything, but my stamps and stamp pads have been sititng on my desk for years – untouched. Here are a few things said about stamps:

Edlyn wrote, “I change my stamp up all the time. It seems the more elementary school like the stamp is, they more my high schoolers like them. I have weekly sheets that are really a chart. For each day there is a space for the student's work for the day and a space for the stamp. Students get one grade for the week. If someone is absent, they have to make up the problem and check it off a classmate.

Cathie wrote, “I recently started using stamps and stickers....as the kids are working, I randomly stamp their papers or give them stickers. A set number of stamps are required for a grade....even my boys LOVE the stamps stickers. They just have to be working independently to get one because some of my kids just struggle with math.”

Michelle B wrote, “I go around while they're working on them and stamp for a GOOD attempt (showing work or strategies, attempting, etc.) depending on the kid, this could be a variety of things (even just looking back in notes, etc.) This also allows me a chance to "catch" errors before they get too frustrated. A stamp gets them HALF credit, and the correct answers (they can correct as I go over them) gets them the OTHER half. So, if a student JUST copies what you write, that's fine, but they will only get half credit that day. I look at warm-ups as more of a chance to get spiraled information in, review strategies and steps, etc.

4: Use a Little Martial Arts
Though I have never seen it in use, I have heard good things about Class Dojo and Michelle C makes it sound like a great way to motivate students to self-start: “My warm-ups are review. They work on them while I am stamping their homework. I have a document camera and use the app "Class Dojo". When I am done, I place my phone under the document camera and class dojo randomly chooses a student to come up with their work. The students gain points (participation). But they are responsible for showing and explaining their work. The student audience listens and corrects their errors OR they respectfully fix the error of the student presenting. I do not do the work.

5: Timing is everything- go go go!
Susan suggests to manage time down to the second: “Have students that are randomly called upon answer the warmup. Break the warmup into times: 1st minute - self thought, 2nd minute - self answer, 3rd minute - group thought - 4th minute group answer/check. Sometimes I even break up the times into 30 seconds or make them longer like 2 minutes depending on the warmup. I love my timer - it helps keep me and my students on task.”

Here is a pack of motivational warm-ups I am using this year to get my students thinking outside of the box and motivated. 
You can get the free pack here.


  1. Nice post! The cool thing is that activities like this get everyone excited and engaged right off the bat. That includes the teacher, and our personal engagement with them is one of many motivators we have. Since my math materials are group-oriented and largely self-paced, students have an expectation that they will start working in their group before the bell rings. What I often do is begin by circulating and asking groups where they are at in the activity and how they like it so far. I think for me it's important for students to know that I and their peers care about and notice their level of engagement, and the suggestions above point to great ways to do that! Thanks!

    1. As I read your comment, I imagined being a student in your classroom and having high expectations for my success and involvement. I bet your students feel that they and their time is respected and that they want to do well. Thanks so much for replying!

  2. How do you handle late students and the length of time for the drill

    1. You hit on my weaknesses! First about late students. This depends. If students look like he was rushing to get to class on time but didn't or look like they are having a bad day, I usually let it go. I always still mark them tardy and 3 tardies to class equal an absence (school rule). Students risk losing credit for the class if they are absent too many times (also a school rule). Even if students saunter in with a bag of chips and being disruptive, I still let them in. I will give them a little sarcastic grief ("Thanks for showing up today"), but the most important thing to me is buy in and that they are physically in class. Kids will be kids and they will always push limits. And I'll always be a pushover and not send kids out of the room for being tardy.

      As for length of time. I use a timer. I time a lot of what goes on in my class. The main purpose of this is to keep ME on track, not them! I tend to lose track of time and need a reminder to keep things moving. Our warmups usually take a long time - 15-20 minutes. They are more of a review than they are a warmup because a lot of my students lose information overnight. As students are working, I walk around looking at student papers to get a sense of how much more time is needed. Then I'll set a time and announce that we have X number of minutes left. It's not a perfect system but it gets all but the most checked-out students working.

      I hope I helped!