The bell rings–and students immediately start responding to the question on the board, the (ungraded) quiz on a handout, or the prompt on a PowerPoint slide. Bell Ringers have become an effective beginning-of-class routine, focusing and preparing students for the day’s lesson and activities. Some teachers use the information they garner as quick formative assessments while others are grateful to have the 5 minutes a bell ringer provides to take attendance or to take care of other daily tasks before starting class in earnest.
At the beginning of the school year or semester, teachers have a unique challenge–building a classroom community–and well-written and executed Bell Ringers can help meet that challenge. You can get to know your students, they can get to know and bond with each other, and they can get to know you–all with Bell Ringers!
In my classes, I project one bell ringer a day for the first 2 – 4 weeks of class. I’ve created slick slides with eye-catching photos and one thought-provoking, teen-focused prompt because from day one, I want my students to buy in to this activity—and, for the most part, they do. Currently, my students write their responses on notebook paper that they keep in their three-ring binders—its very simple and nothing fancy—but you can use a journal, a prong-folder with pre-printed pages, Google Docs or Google Classroom, or some other method that works for you.
We all know the traditional procedures for using a bell ringer. Typically, students respond to one bell ringer and then, if appropriate, share with the class or another classmate. In order to make this process work smoothly, I suggest adding these procedures to your Bell Ringers:
1. Share This Disclaimer: Tell students upfront that their responses will be shared and that they should keep that in mind as they write. You MUST tell students this in advance so that they feel comfortable and not blind sided once writing time has ended and sharing time begins.
2. Self-disclosure and Conversation Starters are a sure bet. In order to use Bell Ringers to build your classroom community, you’ll want prompts that encourage self-disclosure and conversation. I suggest that you avoid highly charged or controversial topics, because creating divisiveness is not the goal, but, instead, select topics that particularly appeal to teens and will show their unique thoughts and feelings and, simultaneously, allow them to connect as classmates.
3. Set a writing time limit—usually 3 to 5 minutes—set a timer, and say “Pencil’s down!” when the timer goes off. Stick to it no matter what, even if that’s hard to do. If students know that they will be writing for a limited amount of time, they will get to work right away. Additionally, they will learn that they can trust you to stop the writing time when you say you will (and not let it drag on, something that frustrates many students.)
4. “Brain Thinking” and “Pencil and Paper Thinking.” Ask students to begin writing right away. Remind them that if they need to think, they can use “brain thinking” for 30 seconds or so and then go to “pencil-and-paper thinking” after that. Tell them that writing begets writing so students who brain think for too long may end up with great thoughts in their heads but nothing tangible on paper—and with Bell Ringers, need to see their thoughts written out on paper.
5. Teach The “Do Over” Technique: Once students begin to write, they may discover that they have written something they don’t like, so they need a plan to keep them on track and avoid wasting time. Teach them the “do-over” technique which means that when students need a “do-over”, they simply skip a line and start over. NO crossing out! NO wadding up their writing into a ball! NO feeling badly about needing to start over! Encourage them to just take a breath, skip the line, and begin again. Remember this: students who need a do-over are writing the same way that professionals do–start, stop, revise, start again–so it’s all good.
6. Reset the timer for sharing. When the timer dings, have students stop writing immediately, and reset the timer for another 3 – 5 minutes. Asking students to share with a shoulder partner or someone nearby /someone far away, before sharing with the entire class, can produce good results. I often ask students to share something that they heard another student say that stood out to them—with the student’s permission, of course. Limit classroom sharing time to 5 minutes as well—and don’t forget to set your timer! It’s easy to share for much longer than you have planned if you’re not careful.
7. You, too, are part of your classroom’s community. When using classroom community building bell ringers, I strongly suggest that you write with along with your students, if at all possible (and it may not always be possible, I know.) Writing, thinking, and sharing along with your students is a terrific way to build your classroom community along with your students.
If you’d like to take a look at the bell ringers I use in my classroom, you can see them here in my TpT store: