The Unraveled Teacher

Why You Should Be Using Bell Ringers in Your Middle School Classroom

Bell Ringers, Bell Work, Warm-Ups, Do Nows- or whatever you want to call them- can make a huge impact on your overall classroom dynamic. The beginning and end of class can be the toughest part of any day in the classroom, especially in middle school! The minutes just before and after the bell rings to begin class are tricky to navigate if you aren’t prepared. You’ve got to watch the hallways, you need to keep an eye on your classroom, and you’re already fielding questions from anxious students that want to know what you’re doing today or if you’ll accept late work from two quarters ago.

This is why establishing a a very concrete routine that begins as soon as students set foot in your classroom is key to managing the chaos that is middle school transition time. A Bell Ringer is simply an activity that students are required to work on at the very start of class as the bell is ringing. They do not require any active instruction or direction from the teacher, which is what makes them so useful and necessary for managing this time in the classroom. The day’s Bell Ringer should be posted clearly in the same place each day so students know exactly where to look and how to get started without any direction from you. This allows you to tend to any transition duties you may have, take roll, pass out materials for your lesson, or any other housekeeping items you need to get done in those first few minutes. In addition to getting a moment to take care of these things, Bell Ringers are enormously helpful for getting middle schoolers focused and feeling grounded in your class. There’s so much going on all the time with students in this age group so they crave (and deserve) structure. Because Bell Ringers are quick and often fun, they offer a chance for students to start class off feeling successful. That confidence transfers into your regular lessons and can make a bigger difference that you might expect! Using bell work (along with exit tickets) is also a way to achieve that “bell-to-bell” instruction your administrators are always talking about.

I primarily teach English so I always offer the chance for my students to share their work orally if the bell work requires writing. I like to offer a lot of creative writing Bell Ringers that somehow incorporate a theme or idea from an upcoming lesson, especially in the first half of the year. Later, I love to use our bell work time as a way to review specific topics or standards.

There really is no wrong way to do Bell Ringers as long as you are consistent in your expectations. You can also have students keep a journal specifically for bell work that makes for a nice weekly grade if that suits your grading style. I generally find that middle schoolers (especially 6th graders), find consistency in assignments and grading to be comforting. Remember, those students are dealing with huge changes both in how school works and in their own social lives.

It took me a while (definitely after my first full year of teaching) to really figure out how I wanted to set up my bell work. This can be frustrating as a new teacher because you’re so focused on the “meat” of your lessons that bell work can sort of take a back seat. But, let me tell you, Bell Ringers are a life saver and you should prioritize getting a solid plan laid out for your own bell work. Your lessons can be great but if you don’t have the attention and focus of your students, you might miss the mark. There were absolutely days when I was a new teacher when I’d be taking roll and some disaster would erupt. My class would get derailed and then I’d get a slap on the wrist for not submitting my attendance on time. Then, my teacher buddy let me use her bell work and I found that once I got into a routine, my class was so much better all around.

So, let me pass on some free bell work for you to try! This is specifically for middle school Language Arts classes and comes in a PowerPoint and PDF format. Included you’ll find three weeks work of Bell Ringer activities. Some of these items are back-to-school themed, but most can be used at any point during the school year. If you decide to give these Bell Ringers a try, I’d love to hear from you how they worked in your classroom! Click here or on the image to access your free download.


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