The with a journaling activity asking them

The need to use every drop of class time for educational purposes has made teachers creative. Ever hear of a bell-ringer? In this case, it isn’t a person who rings bells. Read on to find out how teachers use bell-ringers to increase student learning.

What Are Bell-Ringer Activities?

The pressure is on teachers to move through content at a pretty steady pace.

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Material needs to be covered and using each minute between the beginning and end bells helps reach this goal. Bell-ringers are exercises students work on while the teacher takes attendance and prepares to begin the lesson. Typically short and independent activities, bell-ringers have become common for grade school and high school students in all content areas, with some schools mandating use. What’s with all the love for bell-ringers? Let’s look more deeply at the purpose behind them.

Why Use Bell Ringers?

All teachers have been in a situation like this one: 30 students file into a social studies classroom after changing time. They’re talking, goofing around and letting off some steam between classes.

Some take their seats, but others mill around, visiting friends and checking out the latest scores in sports. The bell rings, Ms. Smith closes the door and instructs the students to calm down. But wait – she isn’t quite ready to teach just yet. Administration requires her to take attendance, collect homework and answer emails before beginning instruction.

How does Ms. Smith engage the students in a meaningful way that relates to her lesson and keep them in their seats and working productively?Ms. Smith knows how important those first few minutes are.

She needs to set the tone for learning and keep the pace moving. If the class gets off to a rocky start, she’ll struggle to regain control. She needs an interesting task students can do independently without teacher instruction – something predictable and routine. Luckily, she’s a bell-ringer pro and has things covered. Whew!

Types of Bell-Ringer Activities

Bell-ringers need to be predictable, routine and independent of teacher input.

They’re typically short – five to ten minutes – and relate to the current lesson. Bell-ringers do not include task-oriented activities like taking notes or correcting another student’s homework. These activities will turn learners off and slow their minds down. Bell-ringers are designed to rev up learning and get students interested in the lesson.Teachers have a few good choices to use when creating bell-ringer activities for social studies, including:


Writing exercises aren’t only used in language arts.

Many teachers use daily journaling as a bell-ringer to connect students to the lesson and get them thinking about their learning. Some journal entries can be a response to a prompt that requires students to think about content in a new way, such as ‘Look over notes from yesterday on the Gettysburg Address. Write a paragraph about your favorite line.’ Or social studies teachers may challenge students with a journaling activity asking them to list important events, dates and names. Some teachers allow creativity every now and then with prompts such as ‘If you could be any president, who would you be and why?’ Because of the limited time, students need to get right to work, organizing thoughts and writing answers.

Daily Oral Geography

Daily oral geography, or DOG, is another popular bell-ringer for social studies. Much like daily oral language exercises for language arts, the students fine tune geography skills by focusing on one specific geography question a day.

Teachers write the question on the board or provide a template, and students use their memory, notes or maps to answer the question.

Example of a daily oral geography worksheet

Game Challenges

What student doesn’t love a game? Teachers can capitalize on this love by using game challenges as bell-ringer activities.

Games like puzzles and word scrambles, as well as ordering timelines and identifying which doesn’t belong in a set, are quick and engaging. List five cities, four of them capitals and one not, and see if students can find the one that doesn’t belong. Teachers can display the game challenge on the board, smart device or document projector.

Tips for Bell-Ringers

Keep a few things in mind when developing and putting bell-ringers into practice:

  • Bell-ringers are meant to engage students in a short amount of time while the teacher takes care of administrative tasks.

    Don’t make them so difficult that students will need help. They’ll either ask you or another student, defeating the purpose entirely.

  • Consider grading. If you want to take grades on bell-ringer activities, make sure you don’t create more work for yourself than you can handle.

    Remember, bell-ringers are completed daily. Taking grades on each one is a lot of scoring and entering.

  • Teach procedures at the beginning of the year. Take the time at the upstart to teach students precisely how you want bell-ringers to look, sound and feel. Practice until they’ve demonstrated that they fully understand and can complete the activity without your help.
  • Review each time. Don’t just collect bell-ringer activities after completion.

    Share answers, talk about solutions and take time to honor the effort students put into their work.

Lesson Summary

Bell-ringer activities are designed to keep students actively engaged at the beginning of class so administrative duties can be completed. They should be quick, independently completed activities related to the content that revs students up for learning. Examples of social studies bell-ringers include journaling, daily oral geography and puzzle-like games.


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