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Five Bell-Ringers for Middle Grades and High School

A Week’s Worth of Bell-Ringers

Bell-ringer activities are a great way to start class, get kids settled in, and ready to learn. And I should probably clarify that perhaps I’m not using the term “bell-ringer” accurately. While these five activities could be used as true bell-ringers, with students starting them independently as soon as they walk through your door, you can also use them more like I have done as class-openers or warm-up activities. It’s your call.

Honestly, I’ve used all of these with success, but I will admit that I’ve been okay with changing them out during the year. For example, last year during my juniors’ Gatsby unit, we abandoned bell-ringers so we could get right to the novel and its activities. After Gatsby was complete, we resumed schedule.

Another idea: last year, I modified my First Chapter Friday to read a chapter of the same book (Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild) so we could finish it. I’m aware of one teacher who actually reads a chapter of Gatsby every Friday instead of a different book each week. Bottom line: use your own judgment to decide how best to use bell-ringers.

I’ve included five different ideas below. If you’re on a four-day week, like I was previously, then just nix one… or cycle that one in occasionally to mix things up a bit. Read on to see how I’ve used these bell-ringers to get my classes going.

Monday: AOW Turn-in

Article of the Week assignments, inspired by Kelly Gallagher, have been a mainstay of my classes, whether for middle school or high school. Read My Number One MOst Effective Writing Assignment: Gallagher’s AOW for the whole story.

My Number One Most Effective Writing Assignment: Gallagher’s AOW

I usually made the AOWs homework assignments, and gave students a full week to complete the assignment. Generally, I would assign the AOW on the first day of the week and then have it due one week later. So, the “bell-ringer” on the first day of every week was to print, if needed, and turn in the previous week’s AOW, and also receive and discuss the AOW due the following week.

Tuesday: Poetry Transcription

Have you ever transcribed a poem? I tried this new activity, inspired by this post on Liz Prather’s blog, and absolutely loved it. Total winner! Read New Poetry Idea for High School: Poetry Transcription for more about this fun poetry strategy.

To make this activity work as a bell-ringer, you’ll take ten minutes or so to dictate a short poem word-for-word to students, who copy down the poem as you read. After you’re finished dictating, choose a volunteer to read the poem without interruption.

After the reading, have students discuss their noticings… word choice, unusual punctuation, imagery, white space, enjambment choices, and others. This single activity generated the most engagement and richest conversations about the tools writers use. And while I used poetry transcription with my poetry class last, I think it would be an awesome way to start a regular English class. Try it!

Wednesday: Laura Randazzo’s MUG Shots

I’ve used Laura Randazzo’s MUG Shots ($7.99 on TpT) for two years. The series is a set of nineteen sentences with various grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors. The error-filled sentences appear on one slide followed by a marked-up key on the next slide.

The MUG Shots are basically a Daily Oral Language activity and that’s what I don’t like about them. While a way to practice skills, the activity often feels like mere proofreading. In addition, the writing always seems disconnected to whatever we happen to be reading or writing in class at the time.

However, even though it feels like DOL, here’s what I do like about Randazzo’s MUG Shots:

They do provide some opportunities for real-time critical thinking.

For instance, it seemed that nearly every MUG shot we worked on in class presented some grammatical conundrum that often contained multiple solutions. Discussing the multiple solutions allowed for some good discussions about voice, word choice, and such. It got us talking about style, writing purpose, and oh-so-important… writing for an audience.

Of course, when you’re talking about standard written English with high school juniors who just want a solid right-or-wrong answer so they can “get it right”, you may want to pull your hair out. Language isn’t always that simple. After all, language is fluid, ever-changing, and often the solution to any given grammar problem may also involve talking with your editor, your publisher, or checking a style guide. In other words, “getting it right” can mean many things.

Here’s MUG Shot number one, the first of nineteen exercises to cover an entire semester with an extra week or two just in case you need it.

In any case, Laura Randazzo’s MUG Shots provided many quick discussions about basic spelling and grammar rules, as well as allowing us to go deeper with those style and usage areas mentioned above.

Thursday: Vocabulary

Vocabulary work is something I’ve always done on Thursdays, the day before First Chapter Friday. For the most part, I’ve always pulled new words from the reading that I find in the first chapter of that week’s book. It’s fun to notice students looking up from their sketchnotes when they hear the word they just learned the day before.

Of course, I really have to have my entire week planned out to do vocabulary this way, so however you plan to introduce vocabulary words to your students, consider exploring those words using one of eight strategies found in my blog post titled, “Eight Ways to Explore New Vocabulary Words.” In this post, you’ll find creative ways or “options” for kids to use to learn about new words. Some of these options include Symbolic Representation, Create-an-App, Haiku Poem, Horror Movie, Word Art, Cartoon Drawing, and more. (Most of these strategies were discovered on one of my favorite websites operated by Corbett Harrison and The Writing Fix at

Also: Visit this post to download my free PDFs to support these vocab strategies!

This activity takes me about fifteen minutes total. I spend about five minutes discussing the new word, its meaning, and how it’s used in the real world followed by ten minutes of kids exploring the words using one of the options.

I make a Google Slide with the word, its definition, synonyms, antonyms and some photos of the word found “in the wild”. To find the words out “in the wild,” I google the word with another word such as “politics”, “sports,” or “entertainment.” This will usually yield a news story with the headline or a phrase that contains the word. Then I take a screen shot of the news story or article and add the screen shot to the Google slide.

Here’s an example of the “symbolic representation” option. Students draw an object to symbolize a word’s meaning. They also need to explain their symbol in a sentence of two.

Also: I usually have to stress that this activity isn’t an art project, and that the goal is to make sure they understand the word and how it’s used… not to win an art contest.

Friday: First Chapter Friday

This is a now well-known idea inspired by Betsy Potash at Now Spark Creativity. First Chapter Friday involves you choosing a different book to read from every Friday at the beginning of class. If you can find time to read the whole first chapter, go for it.

However, in my experience, I’ve often had to read parts of a chapter or extend a first chapter over two weeks. Last year, I changed things up a big and read one chapter for several consecutive Fridays from Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I know some teachers have read entire books in this way. For example, you can carve out nine weeks to read one chapter from The Great Gatsby each Friday. This may allow you to pack more literature into your class if reading one book during FCF works for you.

To do FCF, I read aloud the chapter as students listen and draw or take traditional notes, (their choice). So many students have told me they actually look forward to sketchnotes each week. I think it allows them a low-stakes activity to relax and just listen, knowing their notes will be the only required work to turn in. It’s a treat for them and me.

Check out Potash’s website here for free sketchnotes sheets that you can pass out to students. I usually use the same template each week, but since Potash offers a variety, I often mix things up and pass out different templates from time to time. Also download her posters and use them on a bulletin board as shown in the photo.

Thanks for reading!

I hope these five ideas give you some inspiration for how you want to begin your classes in the upcoming school year. Whether you use them as a warm-up or a bell-ringer, know that these ideas will help you get class started pronto and with focus.

Questions about how to use these ideas in the upcoming year? Drop me a comment below or leave a message on my Contact page. I would love to help!

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Treasured Object Poems

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