All you need is three minutes and a text.
Bell ringers are one of those teaching strategies that can truly change the tone of your class from the second students walk in the door. They create routine, set clear expectations, and get students plugged in and focused during the first minutes of your lesson. Here are ten easy-to-implement bell ringers for middle school ELA that require little prep and work with any text:
1. Name It
Provide students with a short text and delete the headline. Give students three minutes to read the text and come up with their own title. Once students have created titles, have them share and, as a class, choose the favorite.
Skills practiced: Identifying central idea. When students create headlines, discuss what makes a good title and how each title reflects a central idea. Not only does this help students polish the skill of identifying central ideas, it also helps them to recognize the importance of titles.
2. Best Evidence
Cut an opinion piece, editorial, or persuasive piece into two or three sentence strips. State a related claim and display at the front of your classroom. Give each student a sentence strip. In groups or rows, ask students to stand in order of best to worst evidence to support the claim. Once students are standing in order, ask them to share their evidence from best to worst and explain their thinking.
Skills practiced: Citing the best evidence to support a claim. This bell ringer will help students to be more discerning when choosing evidence to support their arguments. It also provides a great starting point to discuss the relevance and strength of evidence provided in published work.
3. Figurative Language Hunt
Provide students with an excerpt from a literary text or with sticky notes so they can mark their novels. Write the following prompt on the board: Mark and label as many types of figurative language (metaphors, similes, imagery, etc.) as you can in three minutes. After three minutes, instruct students to share their finds with a partner, then have a whole class discussion sharing examples and identifying them.
Skills practiced: Identifying figurative language in a text. Asking students to find examples of figurative language in context is an authentic learning experience that is more effective than teaching figurative language in isolation.
4. Figurative Language Sort
Ahead of time, label four sheets of poster paper: simile, metaphor, personification, and imagery. Provide students with an excerpt from a literary text or tell them to use their reading books. Give each student a sticky note and instruct them to write an example of figurative language from the text onto the sticky note. Next, instruct them to post their sticky note on the corresponding poster. Once students have posted, hand posters to four separate groups of students (one group would get the simile poster, one the metaphor poster, etc.). Ask students to examine the sticky notes on their poster and determine if they were appropriately placed. If a sticky note is not in the right place, tell students to move it to the correct poster. When students have finished examining their sticky notes, discuss examples as a class.
Skills practiced: Identifying figurative language in a text and analyzing literature. This bellringer gives students ownership of their learning. Not only are they the ones doing the work or identifying figurative language, they are also doing the work of analyzing responses and determining their accuracy. This helps to solidify their skills, tapping into higher level thinking.
5. Theme in Poetry
Print or display a short poem (I like to use poetryfoundation.org to find short, relevant, high-interest poetry). Post the following prompt: Identify the theme of this poem. Use at least two details from the poem to support your response.
Skills practiced: Identifying theme and citing text based evidence to support an analysis of the text. I’m a huge believer in sprinkling poetry throughout the school year and not just teaching a single poetry unit. Bell ringers are a great place to add poetry. Poems are short and sweet and provide opportunities to fine-tune standards-based skills quickly.
6. Context Clue Detectives
Give students a paragraph with challenging, related-to-your-content vocabulary (this could be a paragraph from a text you’re already reading). Ask students to use context clues to determine the meaning of an identified-by-you or challenging-to-them word (i.e., you can choose the word ahead of time OR you can have students choose a challenging term). Tell students to write the definition of the word based on context clues and use two details from the text to support their response.
Skills practiced: Using context clues to unpack the meaning of unknown words. Practicing this skill with texts students are already reading with the support of class review and discussion will help students to develop the ability to use context clues more independently later on.
7. First or Third
Give students an excerpt of any literary text or ask students to use their reading books for this bellringer. Post the task: Read through your text and identify the point of view as first or third person. Circle (or mark with a sticky note) the clues that allowed you to identify the point of view. Option: make this bell ringer active by asking students to stand on one side of the classroom if their novel is in first person and on the other side of the classroom if their novel is written in third person.
Skills practiced: Determining the point of view of a text. This is a bell ringer that would be fun to use several days in a row with different texts from different points of view. It can be expanded to included omniscient and limited points of view as well.
8. Fact Shaping
Give all students a single fact and ask them to do an argument quick write based on that single fact. After three to five minutes, ask students to share their writing with a partner and discuss how each student shaped their arguments differently. Share as a whole class and discuss the ways students used the same fact in different ways.
Skills practiced: Analyzing how authors (the students) writing about the same topic shape their arguments in different ways. This is a great way to give students perspective and jump start explorations about the ways different published authors use facts to shape their arguments.
9. Argument Analysis
Give students a paragraph from an editorial. Ask students to read the editorial as they enter class and stand on one side of the room if they believe the author’s reasoning was relevant and strong and on the other side of the room if they think the author’s reasoning was not strong. Tell students they must be prepared to share their reasoning with the class backed up with text based evidence.
Skills practiced: Trace and evaluate an argument, determining if the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient. This is a great warm-up because it gets kids physically moving and thinking through their analysis.
10. Transition Word Graffiti
Ahead of time, post a large piece of chart paper in your classroom and label it, “Transition Word Graffiti.” Give students in your classroom markers and several different texts (or ask them to use their reading novels). Students search the text for their favorite transition word and add it to the graffiti wall.
Skills practiced: Identifying transition words in published writing will provide students with a model of ways to create cohesion and clarify relationships among their own ideas in writing. The best thing about this bell ringer is that it provides students with a visual reminder or a wide range of transition words that can remain hanging in your classroom all year long.
Bell ringers provide students with a warm-up to learning. I use text-based bellringers from a journal I created for my students every day. Students come into my class knowing the expectation is to jump into learning independently.
About the Author
Teaching middle school ELA for the past 18 years has been one of my greatest adventures. I learn something new everyday. This year, I started to share the lessons I've learned, the resources I use, and some of my teaching adventures on my blog, www.readitwriteitlearnit.com
10 No-Prep Bell Ringers for Middle School ELA