Secondary Smorgasbord: Bell-Ringers (or getting class to work)

This month for the Secondary Smorgasbord Blog Hop, teacher-bloggers wrote about our best tips for starting class off right.  Here's my take on it:

I don't like to waste time in class. Even before there was this emphasis of bell-to-bell teaching, my colleagues and I found that there just wasn't enough time to do everything. But procedural realities of attendance and questions can't be helped.  And even the most savvy of teachers spends a little time on paperwork, particularly at the beginning of class.

Still, with the goal of no time wasted, I have slowly developed several opening activities to get students started even when I wasn't readily available.  My requirements for the activities:

  • Meaningful
  • Self-directed
  • Rich in skill and/or content development
  • Student selected

Student selected is difficult because I didn't want the bell-ringers so open-ended that students could easily end up doing nothing.  For the moment my students in my social studies classes have 4 choices:

  • Read a history related fiction or nonfiction text
  • Respond to a journal prompt
  • Ask a what's the question
  • Project work (depending on what ongoing projects are currently happening)

1. Read a history related text -I once heard a student complain that the problem with school was that there was no time to read. For those students, I have Horrible Histories, social studies magazines, articles I find, and other fiction and nonfiction books. When students come into class, they can simply start reading.

2. Journal prompts: I post writing ideas related to what we are studying on a bulletin board and as well as current events. Students can select one or generate their own as long as they are writing about a social studies topic or current event.

3. What's the question:  this is my new favorite warm-up (some of my students' favorite as well). I post an answer (or sometimes several answers) related to our current unit. Students write a question for that answer. If the answer is: Ponce De Leon; then a student might write: Who searched for the fountain of youth?   But I challenge students to think deeply or find obscure facts.  For example, instead, a student might pose the question: "Who was the first governor of Puerto Rico?"  Mix the questions up later, and you have a fun game.  This activity appeals to many of my students who end up conducting research on the topic to go beyond what we did in class and generate a "tricky" question. I post questions with the answers. The what's the question is open to all who come in so I've even had other students and staff post questions.  You can grab free U.S.History and World History.

4. Project Work: Finally, when students are working on projects, they can always choose to start the day by just focusing on their project.  

I like students to just feel like this is their classroom and that they are in charge of their learning.  I don't want them waiting on me.  I love the energy that the day starts with, and I find these procedures help students focus their energy as they transition into class. 

What do you like to do to start the day? Share your ideas and check out what these other teacher-bloggers do to start their classes in the links below.



  1. "What is the question?" AWESOME! I could see collecting them for a game during a free moment. I also like how they have so many choices that work for you. Definitely autonomous learning. :)

    1. What is the question is definitely my new favorite. I am only now thinking about all the ways we can use the question cards, and the students LOVE it. It's super fun to see them try to find more obscure information than the last question. I think it is the most research I have ever seen out of some of them - and I don't even think they realize they are doing research :)

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  3. Great requirements and super-engaging Bell-Ringers.
    I'm going to add a reading option to my routine from now on!

    1. Thanks for the input...definitely some of my students prefer reading or just want a quiet moment. Plus they find some stories that inspire them and then they want to do the other work to find out more.

  4. Love, love, love your "What's the question?" warm-up! I hope to try something like this in my classroom. Thank you for the idea!

    1. Thanks OCBeach Teacher. I use it in math, too, where I put up a number and then students come up with the equation. It is super fun.



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