Classroom Management: The Perfect Bellringer

Those first few minutes of a class are always hectic.  Someone needs to go to the bathroom, someone else needs to get their missing work, and someone else needs to show me their newest poem about a fight they had with their mom this weekend and how they incorporated an extended metaphor to explain their pain.   I’m expected to take attendance and submit it electronically ASAP.  Not to mention checking homework, reviewing due dates and upcoming projects and tests.

No matter how many classes I have taught, I always feel a little frazzled for the first five minutes.

Once things settle down a little, I’m fine, but I definitely need a strategy to get students quietly working in their seats while I take care of all those little things that drive teachers crazy.

Like with everything else that I do as a teacher, I came across the best way to start class by trial and lots and lots of error.  My strategy for dealing with the first five or ten minutes of classes this:  Do the same thing every single day.

Yes, I vary my lesson plans and incorporate cooperative learning and different learning styles and I challenge my students to push themselves to grow… but I don’t do any of that until they are all in their seats and I have taken attendance and checked homework.

So I get them to do the same thing at the beginning of class.  For me, this usually means a five-minute freewrite on a high interest writing prompt as that fulfills all of my personal requirements for a good bellringer.  Any activity could work, as long as you follow a few guidelines.

My strategy for dealing with the first five or ten minutes of classes this: Do the same thing every single day.

These are my 5 tips for creating a good bellringer.

  1. Find something simple.  Preferably, a good opening activity is one that doesn’t take much explanation on my part.  Actually, no explanation is even better than a little.
  2. Do it quickly.  My bellringers take five minutes at most.  I have had the experience of opening activities that ended up taking 15 or 20 minutes.  At that point, it feels like half the class is gone.  Short is good.
  3. Make it relevant.  Just because an activity is “high interest” doesn’t mean it’s actually worth the class time.  Even five minutes is a lot to waste on something if it has nothing to do with the rest of the curriculum.  Gimmicks also go away because they aren’t worth the time no matter how flashy they seem.
  4. Focus on a skill that benefits from repetition.  For me, this means grammar or freewriting.  No matter how many times I explain that you use a comma after teacher in “My teacher, Ms Gil” if if you have one teacher and no comma if you have more than one teacher, there is always that one kid who has a lightbulb moment in late May.  Similarly, the best way that I have found to get my students comfortable with writing is to get them to write today, tomorrow, and the day after that.
  5. Make the work physically accessible.  If students need to come up to the front of the class to pick up a notecard and then go find a partner, the chaos has already increased exponentially by that point.  Make sure that they already have whatever they need to do the bellringer.  In my case, this means that they have a list in the room with notebook pages so that they can find the work and get started right away.

During my first few years of teaching, I felt like all of my energy went towards classroom management, but it did get easy with some useful routines.

What are your biggest classroom management issues?  How do you define the perfect bellringer?


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