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Using Bell-Ringers in ELA – Answers to Your 10 Most Asked Questions!

Have you ever thought of using bell-ringers in your ELA classroom, but still aren’t sure exactly how they work? Don’t worry: I have you covered. Bell-ringers have been a real game-changer for me, and I know they can be the same for you. So, here are the answers to your 10 most asked questions about using bell-ringers in ELA.

If you’re interested in trying out four weeks of bell-ringers for free, you can do so by clicking here.

1. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF USING BELL-RINGERS IN ELA?

Using bell-ringers gives you more time at the beginning of class

Ever wish you had an extra 5-10 minutes at the beginning of class? Want some more time to take attendance, get papers ready and/or passed out, and prepare tech? What about catching up with students who have been absent or preparing for your next period? One of the great things about using bell-ringers is that they give teachers the gift of time, and they do so without compromising the ELA lesson plan.

Bell-ringers improve classroom management and routine

In my experience, students tend to arrive to the classroom amped up from the hallway antics that so often occur in between classes. Bell-ringers help improve the transition back into the academic setting. They help to minimize classroom management issues while also helping you to establish an effective classroom routine. As we all know, there is a lot of uncertainty in a teenager’s world. Although they may not admit it, students actually crave predictability and routines. Once a routine is established, you’ll even find that students will get started on the bell-ringer before the bell even rings.

A low-stakes way of practicing and assessing ELA skills

By using bell-ringers at the start of class, you’re giving your students a low-stakes opportunity to practice the ELA skills you’ve been teaching them. Given that they aren’t heavily graded on the bell-ringers (or not at all), the pressure often associated with other tasks is alleviated. Still, they help you meet standards you have been diligently working on throughout the year. Bell-ringers are perfect for putting what you’ve taught to the test in a creative, fun, and low-pressure way.

Using bell-ringers in ELA - bell-ringers example

2. SHOULD I USE THE SAME TYPE OF BELL-RINGER EVERY DAY?

If you are using the same bell-ringers every single day, their novelty can wear off for you and for your ELA students. This is why I like to mix it up. I’ve found that it’s helpful to actually dedicate certain days to a specific skill/theme that will be addressed by the bell-ringer. Here are some of the different types of bell-ringers that you might consider using throughout the week:

  • Correct grammar errors
  • Locate figurative language
  • Have a short discussion or debate with a partner
  • Watch a short video clip and respond to a prompt
  • Improve word choice
  • Use a picture to spark narrative writing
  • Infer the meaning of new words in context

 

3. WHAT PROCEDURES SHOULD I FOLLOW FOR ASSIGNING BELL-RINGERS?

From the first day, you’ll want to demonstrate to your students exactly how things are going to play out. I like to start by literally walking them through the process of entering the classroom and retrieving their bell-ringer booklets. Once they have completed their work, you might think of getting them to hold onto their booklets to put back at the end of class. I would recommend against this. It wouldn’t be unusual for someone to accidentally take it home. And even if they do put them back at the end, students are more likely to hurriedly throw the booklets onto the shelf, thus damaging them. Real-life teaching, right?

Instead, I would suggest that you establish a system for collecting bell-ringer booklets right after they are done. You can go through the process with them a few times to practice. Who would think something as simple as collecting the booklets would be an issue. But you know as well as I do that having a plan makes things run so much more smoothly.

For a standard classroom set up (desks in a row or in pairs):

Get each row to turn around to collect the booklets from the row behind them, moving them forward. Repeat this process until they are in the front row. Select a student who will collect them all from the front row and put them back in their designated spot.

For classes with desks arranged in groups:

Have one member from each group responsible for gathering the booklets at the end. Then, have all groups pass them over to the group closest to where you store them. Get one person to put them all back. On the first day, I like to practice this 2 or 3 times and set a timer to see how fast they can do it. I tell them they are in competition with the other classes. This makes it fun, but it also establishes a routine and helps to make the process of collecting these booklets efficient.

Bell-ringers for ELA

4. SHOULD I GET STUDENTS TO BRING BELL-RINGERS HOME?

Not to be a pessimist, but we all know what would happen if students brought their bell-ringers booklets home…They would return damaged (or they wouldn’t return all). So, no. Just don’t do it.

5. SHOULD I GRADE THESE BELL-RINGERS? 

The last thing I want to do is add more paper to an English teachers’ pile. Trust me. Bell-ringers are a type of formative assessment that actually don’t have to be graded. They’re a quick and effective way for students to develop their ELA skills. With that said, however, I have added a quick rubric on the bottom of some of my student handouts. In these cases, I tell students that only one week out of the month would be graded, but that they wouldn’t know which one (insert evil laughter). If I don’t, I know that some students wouldn’t do them. Or at least they wouldn’t do them to the best of their ability. This method of random assessment lessened my grading overall. But these spot checks helped me see who was (and wasn’t) doing the work and where I needed to focus my instruction.

6. HOW LONG SHOULD I SPEND ON BELL-RINGERS?

In my experience, bell-ringers typically take between 5-10 minutes to complete. However, this will vary depending on what type of bell-ringer you are doing. Some teachers prefer a short, 5-minute bell-ringer, while others prefer to dive in a little deeper and spend more time as it pertains to their lesson. It may only take a quick 5 minutes if students are improving the word choice in a passage or practicing locating figurative language.

On the other hand, if they’re discussing an ethical prompt or watching and responding to a video clip, it may take closer to 10 minutes. In any case, it’s important to keep in mind though that sometimes your students will be so engaged in a bell-ringer that it takes longer than expected. This isn’t wasted time! The bell-ringer is still part of your curriculum. It still helps students hone their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. And hey, sometimes it’s during an unplanned part of the lesson that the best learning happens.

Bell-ringer example figurative language Friday

7. HOW DO YOU MANAGE ALL THE PAPER?

Good question! Here’s my system. Oh, and just to reiterate: don’t let your students bring their binders home. That’s just a nightmare waiting to happen…

  • Have each student purchase a small binder. It just needs to be big enough to hold all of the bell-ringer response sheets (a 1-inch binder or a three-clasp folder works).
  • Get students to write their names in bold letters on the spine of the binder, or on the front of their folder. I encourage the use of a variety of colors for these. It makes it easier for them to find theirs on the shelf (see below).
  • Place a bookcase somewhere near your classroom door.
  • Assign each of your classes distinct areas of the bookcase. Get students to grab the binder upon entering. Get them to return it right after the bell-ringer is done. This will make it easy to for them find their binders each day.

 

8. DO BELL-RINGERS IMPROVE CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT?

Yes! Routines are your friend…I know that I learned fairly quickly that consistently expected procedures are crucial for classroom management. Bell-ringers really are a great way to set the right tone in the first few minutes of class. I know that I would often spend the first 5-10 minutes of class quieting my students down and preparing them to get started. After implementing a bell-ringer routine, students immediately began working when they entered my class!

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9. SHOULD I DO BELL-RINGERS EVERY DAY OR JUST SOME DAYS?

I personally think it’s better to do bell-ringers every day and to stick to that routine. If you’re often skipping the bell-ringers, or only doing them here and there, students will lose that important sense of consistency, and you won’t really get all those classroom management benefits.

Yes, you can certainly make it work if you don’t want to commit to doing it every day. But in this case, I would suggest writing on the board or projecting on a slide whether there’s a bell-ringer that day. This is so you’re not constantly answering the question, Is there a bell-ringer today? 

Bell-ringers in the digital classroom

10. CAN BELL-RINGERS WORK IN A ONE-ON-ONE OR DIGITAL CLASSROOM?

Yes, absolutely. You might share one bell-ringer a day in a slide format using Google Slides, for example. You can get them to make a copy of the slide and send you their answer for an individual bell-ringer, but this can become overwhelming if you have a lot of students. I prefer to share a week’s worth of bell-ringer slides on Monday and get students to send them back collectively at the end of the week.

Ready to get started with using these bell ringers? Find the right full-year set for you here: Browse Presto Plans’ Bell-Ringer Sets

Still have questions about using bell-ringers successfully in the ELA classroom? Don’t hesitate to reach out!

I hope you found this helpful, and best of luck!

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