Explore Bell-Ringer Options
Many ELA classes begin with a bell-ringer task–a short exercise students complete in the first 3-5 minutes while the teacher takes care of attendance and other things. Journaling is a typical bell-work assignment. However, for the average middle or high school ELA teacher, this typically requires hours of time spent reading entries and leaving comments…for 120-150 students every week. (TEACHER TIP: If it takes longer to assess the product than it does for students to create it, it’s time to reconsider the task!)
Consider alternative bell-ringer ideas that are faster to assess and that provide practice experiences for recently learned literacy skills.
Provide a passage
PRACTICE VISUALIZATION: Find or craft a short descriptive paragraph. Require students to read the paragraph and sketch out what they visualize based on the text. At the conclusion of the bell ringer task, students share their sticky-note sketches.
PRACTICE MAIN IDEA: Find a high-interest or trending online article that is 1-2 paragraphs long. Before projecting the article, remove or cover the headline. When students first enter the class, they are to read the short passage and identify a 4-8 word main-idea title. At the conclusion of the exercise, have students share out their single-sentence suggestions and compare them to the original.
Reveal a photograph
PRACTICE SENTENCE-WRITING SKILLS: Project a photograph that will serve as the topic. The task is for each student to generate one sentence that describes the image applying a recently learned skill. Depending on the grade level, the bell-ringer task might be:
- Write one compound sentence that describes this photo.
- OR, Write one complex sentence with a dependent clause that describes this photo.
- OR, Write one sentence with a relevant simile that describes this photo.
At the conclusion of the activity, students each share their single sentence and the class votes on the best/favorite one. TIP: If the sentence entry is a run-on, it’s automatically disqualified from the contest.
PRACTICE PARTS OF SPEECH: Even simpler than a single sentence, students could generate lists as a bell-ringer activity. Project a busy or high-action photo. (The following are examples from Highlights magazine.
- List 10 nouns evident in the image.
- List 10 verbs evident in the image.
- List six verbs and coordinating adverbs evident in the image.
- Secretly select one subject within the image. Write 10 prepositional phrases so everyone can guess which subject you chose. I am behind the ___. I am next to the ___. I am looking toward the ___.
At the conclusion of any of these exercises, have students share out a couple of their listed examples.
TIP: The same photographs can be used for a variety of purposes. There is no need to find a new one for every task.
Play a video clip
Beyond still images, consider using video clips–short, 10-20-second clips from movies, popular online videos, commercials, even clips from America’s Funniest Videos (AFV).
PRACTICE PUNCTUATING DIALOGUE: Select a short excerpt of a movie and type up a transcription of the conversation minus all punctuation and capitalization. Play the clip during the bell-ringer time and have students add in all the appropriate conventions (e.g., quotation marks, commas, periods, capitals, etc.).
PRACTICE ASKING QUESTIONS/MAKING PREDICATIONS: Show a clip from America’s Funniest Home Videos with the sound turned off. (The host often gives away what will happen within his commentary.) Show only the first portion of the clip and have students make a list of reader questions/predictions about the content. After students have shared out their predictions/questions, then play the entire clip with the audio so students can determine if their predictions were accurate.
Explore bell ringer exercises that not only provide practice of recently learned skills, but that also jumpstarts the class. Create tasks that are fun, exciting, and motivate students to dive in. Photos, videos, and high-interest print text can do just that. They are more likely to prime the pump and prepare students for the rest of the class period.
For a list of all these suggestions and more within a printable document, download the Bell-Ringer Activities document.
Article originally posted September 12, 2016 and updated in March 2019.