Taking the time to consider how to start each ELA class for the entire year has so many benefits. First, it helps streamline your lesson planning. Second, when you spend some time planning before the school year begins, it saves you tons of hours in planning throughout the year when teaching can get overwhelming. Using bell ringers is an excellent place to start with your planning.
Figuring out the routine for the start of each ELA class also helps set your students up for success. Once you figure out a quality and efficient way to begin each class period, your students will know what is expected of them, and they can get right to work when entering your classroom. Having a system in place eliminates the down time where students are waiting for instructions from you, which then allows you to handle typical “start of class” items … speaking with a student, taking attendance, grabbing your materials for the class, etc.
In this post, we will be sharing how we found a winning system using bell ringers (also known as “do nows” or bell work) that helps our students practice key reading and writing standards each day, while ensuring our class period is off to an efficient start.
BACKGROUND ABOUT BELL RINGERS IN OUR CLASSROOMS
Previously, we had both taught at schools where Daily Oral Language (DOL) was used to start each ELA class period. However, we didn’t feel like that was the best use of our students’ time. Students were bored doing the same thing each day (correcting two sentences for grammar errors) and we were UNDERwhelmed with the results after all the time spent on DOL. In fact, we weren’t seeing any improvement in students’ application of the grammar skills outside of the isolated five minutes of class time spent on correcting the DOL sentences.
So, we knew we wanted to create a routine that addressed a variety of ELA standards and had students apply their learning in different activities. We spent months creating a spiraled bell ringer, making sure the content built on previous lessons and wasn’t monotonous. The results spoke for themselves: we were able to touch on TONS of our grade-level reading and writing standards and students began applying what they learned in other lessons. And, we only spent 5-10 minutes at the start of each class period using these bell ringer activities!
Our 60-minute ELA block was set up like this:
- 9:00-9:10 Bell ringer work
- 9:10-9:45 Into, Through, and Beyond Lessons (literature units, writing lesson, etc.)
- 9:45-10:00 SSR (Sustained Silent Reading)
THE FIRST WEEK USING BELL RINGERS
Now that you have a bit of background on why we made the switch to bell ringers, let’s focus on how we introduced the bell ringers and our expectations to our middle schoolers. First, we batch copied all the necessary bell ringer pages for the entire semester so we could distribute them to our students all at once and not have to make weekly copies. (We also created a Google Slides version, so if need be, we could share them with our students digitally via Google Classroom – a great way to save paper!)
Each student was instructed to place their packet of papers in a bell ringer binder. During the first week of school, when we were going over classroom expectations, we explained that these bell ringer binders were to be a constant companion in our class, along with a personal choice book. Students were expected to have these two things in class every day (along with our other supplies).
We also set goals for that first week of school, knowing that extra time spent laying the foundation for how the bell ringers would work in our classrooms would pay off throughout the year! The goals included:
- Familiarizing students with the physical routine of using the bell ringers
- Supporting students in becoming independent workers and attempting each lesson on their own
- Clearly stating the expectations for neatness, quality work, and the amount of time students would have for each day’s lesson
To work through these goals, we methodically practiced each component of the bell work: walking into the classroom and getting to work, how we would correct each day, and how students would be assessed.
THE FIRST WEEK OF SCHOOL
During that first week of school, we wanted to make sure students knew exactly what to do and how to do it. So, we practiced walking into the classroom, immediately sitting down at our desks, opening our binders, and doing that day’s activity. For the first five days, we did this all together, and we would answer all the typical questions:
- Can I use a pen instead of a pencil? (Yes)
- Can I work ahead and do the whole week in one day? (No)
- What do I do if I don’t understand the lesson? (Raise your hand silently for help.)
- What do I do when I’m done? (Read your personal choice book silently.)
We practiced leaving the bell ringer binder open on our desks when students were finished and taking out a correcting pen so they could take additional notes and fix any mistakes.
We explained to students how correcting each day’s lesson would work. We would spend the last two to three minutes of bell work time going over answers. Some days this would take a few more minutes, and sometimes it would be a quick one minute, so it would all even out during the year.
We also modeled for students what we would be doing while they were working on the day’s assignment. Using our bell ringer checklist, we would be walking around the room and putting check marks next to each student’s name to show that they had participated/completed in that day’s bell work. At the end of the week, we would enter a participation grade for students based on completion of all the bell work.
Spending extra time going over the expectations for how our bell ringer routine worked made such a difference during the year. We had smoother transitions and accomplished so much more since students knew exactly what to do when they entered the classroom.
WHAT’S INCLUDED IN OUR BELL RINGER
It was important to us that our bell ringer work was both engaging and rigorous. We didn’t want to fall into the DOL trap mentioned earlier, where students got bored with the repetition and still didn’t apply their learning. So, we sat down with the Common Core State Standards for our grade level in front of us and mapped out as many activities as we could, trying to address each standard. But, we also knew that we would need to revisit some standards so students could become more proficient.
The bell ringer work we created for our students includes practice with reading literature, informational text, writing, and language/grammar standards. The work is different each day, often spiraling back so students get ample practice with each standard. Since each day either introduces a new concept or builds upon a previous lesson, there is no boredom among students, and instead, engaging (dare we say, fun!) holiday activities are built into the routine.
We noticed that our students began to take the lessons from their bell work and apply it to larger units or assignments done in class. For example, after a bell work day that included practicing setting the scene before including a quote in evidence-based writing, they began to do this in their literary analysis essays. To see the crossover from the bell ringers into their other work was absolutely phenomenal!
BRINGING EFFECTIVE BELL RINGERS TO YOUR CLASSROOM
Making the switch to an engaging and rigorous bell ringer to start off each ELA class period can make a tremendous difference in your classroom! It ensures students are practicing necessary standards, sets the tone for learning from the minute students enter the classroom, and can provide a predictable routine that promotes calm, focused work (with some fun sprinkled in!).
While we like having students work directly in their bell ringer binders, some teachers who have also made the switch to these bell ringers, prefer to use a Google Slides version. They simply project each day’s activity/lesson and have it ready for students when they walk into the room, so they can immediately begin work in their notebooks.
Either way, part of what makes these bell ringers so effective is their consistency!