by Nikki Hansen
I will be the first to admit it: my fifth hour was chaos. Somehow, I found myself in a class stacked with 25 boys and only 3 girls. Many of them had been previously labeled “difficult” either by other teachers or administration... and they knew it. In some cases, they wore the label with pride, almost as if to say “If you believe I am difficult, then I am going to show you just how difficult I can be.” It was not uncommon for students to enter the classroom running, hitting each other with backpacks, or even screaming.
I told you: chaos.
Did I mention it was my first year teaching? I was drowning and felt like I had used every trick in the book to try and get the students into class and on task in a quick and effective way. Many times I wanted to just throw my hands in the air and give into “the difficult.”
I decided to turn to my mentor for support, and he recommended the simplest of solutions: why not try a bell ringer? The idea of implementing bell ringers as a way to transition students into class seemed too easy. It also meant doing something different than my grade level teach-alike partner, who taught a word of the day at the beginning of each class.
So I was skeptical. A bell ringer seemed too obvious, but trying something different was really the only option I had.
To dive in, I found a goofy image (something I knew would catch their attention) to match the word of the day (this day it happened to be awry). I gave students the definition of the word, and then prompted them to write a story about a time when their plans went awry. It was too easy. It didn’t feel like it had enough depth. I was convinced it was never going to work.
I was wrong.
Students did still come crashing into the classroom full speed ahead, but they quickly stopped to stare at the funny photo on the screen. They read the text. They looked at me. One student asked “Hey, Hansen, do we need to do this right now?” I nodded and...he sat down, pulled out his notebook, and started to write!
I could have cried. It wasn’t perfect. They chattered with one another about their stories. “I am going to tell a story about that time I tried to ask Nora to be my girlfriend” followed by another student: “I am going to write about that time I set my trash can on fire trying to make ramen noodles.” I will repeat: it wasn’t perfect. But they were writing. They were communicating about writing. They were demonstrating understanding about the word of the day in a personal and authentic way.
I implemented the writing bell ringers across all hours and it proved beneficial for every class. Students became accustomed to this process and a culture of writing – signaled by the bell – was born. Many wonderful things came from using this simple behavioral and instructional intervention.. We had fun conversations about hard-to-pronounce words. We experienced challenges trying to find ways to include weird vocabulary words (I am looking at you, defenestrate) and we connected to each other through our written stories. We laughed. We cried. We wrote letters to the district about getting better food for the school.
I not only found a valuable classroom management tool in bell ringers; I also found a way to authentically engage students with the curriculum, their school, and each other through writing.
Now, I have the opportunity to create thousands of Bell Ringer Writing opportunities for other classrooms on Write About. Here are some of my favorites, and a few suggestions:
Personal Narrative Ideas:
- If there is one thing I learned with bell ringers, it’s that students love to write and talk about themselves! Here are a few of my favorites:
- Have you ever jumped to the wrong conclusion? Or thought the wrong way about something before you knew all the facts? Write about a time when you formed an opinion that later changed.
- What family traditions do you want to carry on when you get older? What makes them meaningful to you?
- How do you see the world in a way that is different from those around you? What shapes how you see and experience the world?
- If we were all required to wear a warning label, what would yours say?
General Language Arts:
- Each of these Ideas is relevant to the ELA classroom to engage students with literary devices and the conventions of writing in an authentic way.
Content Area Ideas:
- You don’t just have to be an ELA teacher to take advantage of bell ringers in your classroom routine!
The literacy gains that result from dedicated daily writing are too important to ignore. To get students writing more, try Bell Ringer Writing to start racking up some easy wins!