Learning Center


Explore bell-ringer options

March 1, 2019

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. While journaling seems like a good option, this requires the average middle or high school ELA teacher to spend hours reading entries and leaving comments…for 120-150 students every week. (TEACHER TIP: If it takes longer for you 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 provide opportunities for students to practice recently learned literacy skills.

Provide a passage

Main-Idea Sentences - Teacher ResourcePRACTICE VISUALIZATION: Generate a short descriptive paragraph using an AI tool. 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 sentence that captures the article’s main idea. At the conclusion of the exercise, students share out their single-sentence suggestions and compare them to the original.

Reveal a photograph

Single-Sentence Contest - Teacher ResourcePRACTICE 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 including a 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: Emphasize correct grammar. 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.

Barber-Shop Image - Prepositional Phrase Activity
Blizzard Image - Prepostional Phrase Activity

The bell-ringer directions might be one of the following:

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, and 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, capitalization, and paragraph indents. Wearing ear buds, each student plays the clip on his own device, adding in all the appropriate mechanics (e.g., quotation marks, commas, periods, capitals, etc.).

PRACTICE ASKING QUESTIONS/MAKING PREDICTIONS: Prepare a clip from America’s Funniest Home Videos with the audio muted. (The host often gives away what will happen within his commentary.) The clip should include only the first portion, leaving students to predict how the scene ended. Have them complete an Inference Silhouette identifying the text details that led to their hypotheses. 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 also jumpstart 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.

Bell-Ringer Teacher Resource - Collection of bell-ringers for reading & writing instruction
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