Imagine walking into a professional development course and on the board at the front of the classroom is a colorful PowerPoint presentation that reads: Welcome! You sit down and take out your materials, excited and ready to learn. But then a few minutes go by. Teachers are filing in and taking their seats, but there is nothing for you to do while you wait. Will your attention stay on the impending training, or will it start to wander? More than likely, you will take out your phone, check your email, or begin talking to your neighbor to occupy your time. When the training begins, you’re distracted and it’s hard to focus on the task at hand.
This is how our students feel when they enter our classrooms if there isn’t a well-planned bell ringer activity to focus their attention. Without a bell ringer, students may become easily distracted, and you will have to waste precious time to get them on track. An easy way to increase engagement and improve focus is to include bell ringers at the beginning of your class every day.
What is a Bell Ringer?
The key to active engagement is to utilize engaging and interesting activities—bell ringers—the moment students enter the classroom. Bell ringers, also known as ice breakers or warm-ups, are opening activities that:
- Help students transition from their previous task or class to a new one
- Engage students in active learning from the moment they walk into your room
- Activate prior knowledge that they will need for the lesson
Bell ringers help to reinforce the habit that students should begin work as soon as they enter the classroom. Through bell ringers, students will be prepared, on-task, and ready to learn once they are in their seats. This way, even if you are greeting students at the door, taking attendance, or cleaning up from your last class or lesson, your students are engaged in a constructive activity from the moment they sit down.
How to Set Up a Bell Ringer
The key to an effective bell ringer is consistency and routine. Here are steps for achieving effective, student-friendly bell ringers in your classroom:
- Make bell ringers a part of each class starting from day. Be clear about your expectations for bell ringers and review them with students in the first weeks of school or at the start of a new semester.
- Make sure the bell ringer is explicitly connected to the learning objective; the bell ringer should kick off the lesson and serve as a way to engage your students and/or activate prior learning.
- Have the opening activity clearly displayed on the board for students to see as they walk in the room.
- Have all materials needed to complete the activity ready and easily accessible.
- Plan an activity that takes no more than 5-8 minutes. Set a visible timer for students. When time is up, quickly debrief the activity and move on. Otherwise, bell ringers can potentially hijack valuable instruction time.
- Bell ringers make fast and effective formative assessments. Randomly grade one or two bell ringers a week. By randomly grading bell ringers, your students will learn that being tardy or not taking bell ringers seriously will hurt their grade.
Bell ringers are the keys to a successful learning environment. By creating a lesson routine that starts with an effective opening activity, you will engage your students, hook them into the lesson, and provide a smooth transition into learning. Just as in athletics, by warming up at the start of class, students’ learning muscles will be active and ready to absorb new material.