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Bell Work : A Tool for Classroom Efficiency

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Also known as a bell ringer, do-now, entry ticket, etc., bell work is the task students are expected to begin working on as soon as the bell rings to begin class.  You may have read about the idea in Harry Wong’s First Day of School. That is when I first learned the practice as I cannot think of a teacher that ever used bell work when I was in school. There are many ways to implement bell work into your classroom, but however you make it work for you, the main thing is that you use it. It is one of the best tools for classroom behavior, classroom efficiency, student engagement, and student learning.

Why is Bell Work Important?

As a secondary teacher, our students are switching between multiple classes per day. Depending on their schedule, they could see up to eight different teachers with different content, different teaching styles, and different spaces. Students may come to your class from an hour-long lecture, a hands-on science lab, P.E., lunch, a pep rally, etc. Their readiness to learn will vary wildly and it is important to quickly get all students on the same page. Bell work can help students calmly activate the part of their brain they need to maximize their learning in your class.

You set the task, so selecting a meaningful activity that will prepare them for the day’s learning is crucial. This may be a review of yesterday’s learning. It may be a skill from years ago and you need to activate their prior knowledge for success in today’s lesson. It may be an open-ended question to get them thinking deeply about a particular topic that serves as a hook for the coming lesson. When used strategically like this, bell work will allow students more brain capacity for learning.

Bell work is also a powerful classroom management tool. In the schools I have taught in, the time between class periods has always been a bit chaotic. Students run to the restroom, chat about the latest gossip, shove their way through busy hallways to come from across campus, rush to avoid being tardy, or stay late to talk to their last teacher. Calming that chaos when my class begins is not always a simple task. But having a consistent bell work procedure helps. The students know what their expectation is and even if I must gently remind them, it is easier to calm them and get them focused with the bell work procedure already set in place.

Along with calming the chaos, it provides you will a few quiet minutes at the beginning of class to take attendance and do other house-keeping things. I would use this opportunity to return graded work or distribute materials for the lesson. To read more about how I use procedures to calm the chaos, check out this post.

What are the Keys to Successful Bell Work?

CONSISTENCY.

The number one key is consistency! This is also the hardest one for me. I often leave the bell work prep until after the lesson is planned and prepped so that know exactly which questions I want to use to activate their brain for that day. However, this would sometimes mean running out of time or forgetting to put it up. I would be standing in the hall between classes and students would come out to get me to tell me there was no bell work posted. Face palm. To make it work successfully, it needs to be posted every day and in the same spot. Students will get into the routine and the class will eventually start itself.

Clear Student Expectations.

Setting clear student expectations is important to successful bell work time. I begin teaching the expectations the first and second day of school when I teach my classroom procedures. Here are a few of the structures I use:

  • Begin as soon as the bell rings. The bell triggers the thinking. It is clear and consistent.
  • Bell Work is silent time for everyone (including me). This is a crucial part of calming the chaos. It is important for students to have quiet for them to think and since the thinking is a major part of bell work, I require silence. I also adhere to this rule, even though it can be hard.
  • No working together, no teacher help. As someone who loves to see students collaborating, this seems harsh and rigid. However, it is important. I want students to activate their own brains, not their neighbor’s. And some students are quite content to get “help” from neighbors in the form of copying their answers for the sake of completion. Additionally, if they are talking to a neighbor or to me, then we are breaking the silence rule and distracting others who are trying to think through the problem. (For this rule, it is important to select bell work content that students should feel confident with.)
  • Wrong is better than blank. Try something! I require students try, even if they are not confident in their answers. If this is not a requirement, many students will cop out and do nothing, which is a waste of their time.
  • Correct your work. Students need timely feedback. And if the bell work was material they need to access before the lesson, then they need to know what mistakes they made and how to correct them. I always go over the problems before starting the lesson, so students get the most out of the bell work. I require they write down the correct solution if they did not get it independently.

Hold Students Accountable.

When bell work is well set up as an expected classroom procedure, students will generally meet the expectation. However, not always. Because I view and treat bell work as an important piece of the learning process, I grade it. Students earn a grade for a week’s worth of bell work. If they are absent, they are excused from that day.

ASSIGN MEANINGFUL WORK.

As I mentioned, I view and treat bell work as an important piece of the learning process and spend between 5-12 minutes of class time on it. It must be meaningful to the engagement of the students and their brains. Select tasks that are going to help students access the content for the day’s lesson. Want to see an example of what I do? Get this free sample of my geometry bell work by clicking here.

How do you Post it?

There are lot of great options and it will depend on teacher preference and/or available materials. These are my three favorite options.

1. Write it on the white board in the same spot each day. I had a board entirely for bell work and it was labeled as such.

2. Another option is to have a slide created digitally and project it onto a screen or white board. This is handy because you can easily save it for future use.

3. As a geometry teacher, sometimes students need the geometric sketch to write on and mark up. In this case, I print the task 4 per page and each student picks up a slip from me as they enter the classroom. When I use this option, I write on the board that bell work is to be picked up from me, so that they are trained to look at the same spot on the white board no matter what.

Happy teaching and enjoy an efficient classroom with these bell work strategies! 

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