How to Start Your ELA Class Effectively and Purposefully Using Bell Ringers - EB Academics

Grab Your Free Writing Guide

Become an EB Insider Today

How to Start Your ELA Class Effectively and Purposefully Using Bell Ringers

August 1, 2019 6 min read
Cover of bell ringer resource with student planner

How to Start Your ELA Class Effectively and Purposefully Using Bell Ringers

August 1, 2019 6 min read

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.

Bell ringer binder work with a grading checklist

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.


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!

Bell ringer work with different days of the bell ringer laid out

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) 


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).

Cover of bell ringer resource with student planner

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.


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. 

Student bell ringer work for greek and latin root words

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. 


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. 

  • Bell ringer work displayed on a google slides version
  • Sample pages of bell ringer work
  • Sample pages of bell ringer work
  • Sample pages of bell ringer work
  • Sample pages of bell ringer work

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!


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!

If you’re ready to give bell ringers a try in your own classroom, grab your 6th, 7th, or 8th grade bell ringer and feel free to share any questions in the comment section below. 

Bell ringer resource image

All posts


  • Meredith August 8, 2019 at 6:29 am

    Can these be used digitally? My district going 1:1 with chrome-books.

    • Caitlin August 8, 2019 at 11:42 am

      Hi Meredith!

      Yes! We recently added a Google Drive option, so you could easily share out to your students chromebooks 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by the blog!


  • Heather August 9, 2019 at 8:46 pm

    Do you ever collect their Bell Ringers and “grade” them, or are they simply used for the participation grade weekly?

    • Caitlin August 12, 2019 at 11:33 am

      Hi Heather!

      We do a simple credit/no credit every time. If you find a way to grade them that is quick and effective, please let us know! ebacademiccamps @ 🙂


    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.



    Hi there! We're two middle school ELA teachers with a mission to share ideas, tips, and tricks for effectively teaching reading and writing in the secondary classroom. We're so happy you stopped by!

    Caitlin + Jessica

    Your 15 Free Resources Are Waiting!

    Immediately receive access to our
    Free Resource Library

    We promise we won't spam you.

    Let’s Connect

    Popular Posts

    Our Latest Posts



    • But really, please do this for all of your students ♥️⁣⁣
Let each and every one of them know that you love them. That you care about them. That you are a person who has their best interest at heart. That you want to see them succeed. And that you will love them. ⁣⁣
I loved today’s podcast episode because pieces of advice like this one and the other two quotes included in this post are going to help you find success this year. ⁣⁣
Just little pieces of advice we would have loved to have told our first-year teacher selves before that first day of school. ⁣⁣
Pieces of advice that would have maybe made teaching easier, and if not easier, more meaningful for us that first year. ⁣⁣
And since we can’t go back in time, we’re sharing our advice with you today, so you can hopefully take some of these and make them into a mantra of sorts for your school year. ⁣⁣
At the end of the day, it’s about the kids. Love them, and love them with your whole freaking heart ♥️♥️⁣
You can listen to our podcast by going to the link in our profile or sending me a DM, and I’ll get the direct link right over to you 😘
    • Hard to believe I married my husband, Bob, 9 years ago today!! I’m not going to post a sappy love story post because that’s just not my MO ... what I will do instead is tell the truth ... and that is that marriage is hard. There are so many challenges that arise, but when you find someone who is willing to work with you to create a beautiful life together, something magical happens. This guy is everything to me, and I really could not be more thankful that he walked into the restaurant where I was working 12 years ago and gave me his phone number 😂♥️ Happy Anniversary to my incredible life partner!
    • Let’s talk classroom design for a bit ... over the last two years, I’ve learned SO much about the physical classroom environment from two of my most amazing friends @coreinspiration and @researchandplay ♥️ What used to be a need for all kinds of crazy bright colors and tons of stuff on the bulletin boards changed to calm colors and far fewer items on the walls. These pictures are of my favorite classroom to date by far!

And I have to say that it made a difference even for ME. If you’d like to learn more from them, they both have stories shared to their profiles about their thoughts on the physical classroom environment!
    • How many more days do you have left of summer? (Or have you already gone back?) For the remainder of the summer season, I’ll just be sitting here dreaming about this view in Hermosa Beach 🏖 (@researchandplay and I walked into an open house where we proceeded to take a picture as though it was ours 😂). Hope you guys have been enjoying your weekend!
    • This is SO, so difficult for me, but it’s something I try to remember often ♥️ My friend Kim from @believetheycan always shares posts that make me stop, think, and reflect, and I so appreciate that about her ♥️ Hope you guys are loving your life this weekend 😘😘
    • Double tap if you’ve used sketchnotes before! ♥️🤗 I hadn’t ever used them in the past, but I’d be curious to know your experience with them. Will you share in the comments? Would love to get a discussion going! Also, these sketch notes are from my friend Amanda @mudandinkteaching ♥️ She has them in her store for ELA if you’re interested!

    Follow @ebacademics