“What seems impossible today will one day become your warm‑up.”
Just like athletes benefit from a warm-up where they stretch their muscles to prepare them for a good workout, our students benefit from stretching their mental muscles before jumping into a lesson.
One type of warm-up is a bell-ringer activity, which is a simple 5- to 10-minute task students complete as soon as they walk into class, allowing the teacher time to attend to other business (such as taking attendance). Below you will find tips and resources for using bell ringers to engage language learners.
A web search for “bell ringers” will provide you with several examples. Here is a list of three types of bell-ringer activities and ideas to get you started. These bell-ringer activities are specifically aimed at helping language learners build vocabulary, acquire grammar, practice writing, or develop one of the four skills (speaking, listening, reading, and writing).
Writing prompts are the most popular types of bell ringers. Students respond to a question or statement within the allotted time.
- Change this up by giving students the option to respond through a written paragraph, sketchnote, concept map, drawing, or comic.
- Practice different forms of writing, such as getting students to write an email, a poem, text message, tweet, or dialogue, or having them complete a graphic organizer.
- Make these more interesting with visual writing prompts. See examples of visual writing prompts here, here, and here.
- Try comic or cartoon prompts. Give students a comic strip with blank speech bubbles to fill in based on what is happening in each frame. If you subscribe to ESL Library, you have access to thousands of images that can be used for making your own comics and prompts.
ESL Library also has ready-made writing prompts in the Guided Writing section.
Enhance speaking and listening skills with discussion prompts. Students work in pairs and take turns responding while the other peer listens and writes down the key ideas. While Student A responds verbally to the prompt, Student B writes down the main ideas expressed. Then Student B reviews the key ideas with Student A who confirms the statements are correct. You could give them sentence starters, such as “Student A believes…” or “Student A is against…”.
Try choosing a topic and question from ESL Library's Discussion Starters section. You can use the lesson afterwards if your students seem engaged.
Get students to respond to an age-appropriate photo. Find free copyright-friendly photos to use in the classroom on the following websites: Photos for the Class, Pics4Learning, ELTPics, MorgueFile, the Creative Commons Search Engine, and Wikimedia Commons. Then get students to complete one of the following tasks:
- List nouns, verbs, adjectives, or emotions associated with the image and create sentences using these words.
- Draft sentences describing what the people or animals are doing.
- Imagine the photo is the news of the day and create a news story.
- Write down the conversation or thoughts of the people or animals in the photo.
- Imagine taking a trip to the place and share the itinerary or reason for traveling there.
- Compare and contrast two photographs.
- View a sequence of photos, determine the order, and describe the event.
For lower levels, print a few flashcards and put them together. You could also print a whole set and have students write down all the words they know. Here are 10 Ways to Use Flashcards.
The main purpose of a bell ringer is to help teachers and students prepare for the upcoming lesson. Keep the following tips in mind when designing and using bell ringers.
Establish a routine.
Most teachers get students to complete a bell-ringer activity at the beginning of nearly every class so students get into the habit of walking into the class and immediately working on the bell‑ringer activity.
Keep them short, simple, and achievable.
Bell ringers help students apply knowledge and skills they have already acquired and the instructions should be simple and clear so you can attend to business. Students shouldn’t have to ask you several questions about the task.
Don't grade them.
The aim is to engage students and help them build confidence and prepare their minds to learn. A bad mark at the beginning of class hinders student achievement.
Use them as formative assessments.
The bell-ringer activity does not have to relate to the topic of the main lesson, but can assess if students have gained the essential knowledge and skills their upcoming lesson will build upon. Bell-ringer tasks can test students’ knowledge from a previous class or unit and let you know if you have to restructure the lesson or review previous material. Find some quick worksheets in ESL Library's Grammar & Usage section.
Change them up!
Bell-ringer activities should assess different skills and knowledge in a variety of ways to keep students engaged.
Delivery and Collection
The idea is to keep your delivery and collection of the bell ringers consistent. The choices you make for the presentation and collection depend on the format of the bell ringers, your teaching situation, access to technology, and your preferences. These are a few options to consider:
Paper Slips/Entry Tickets
One idea is to create paper slips or cards that students can pick up as they enter the class. These are sometimes called entrance slips, entry tickets, or admit tickets. One idea is to place these in a basket labeled “Bell Ringers” and instruct students to pick one up as they enter the class. Students can later place their completed paper slips in a basket labeled “Turn In.”
Designate an area on the chalkboard/dry erase board to display the bell ringer.
Display the bell ringer on a screen for students to see when they walk in.
Many teachers instruct students to keep a notebook or journal of their completed bell-ringer tasks. This works well with the three presentation methods listed above if there is limited access to technology. The digital version of this method would be student blogs.
Students log onto their class website or learning management system (e.g., Google Classroom, Moodle, Edmodo, Schoology) and click on the bell-ringer task and submit it online. This is probably one of the fastest and easiest ways to quickly collect and assess these tasks, but it also requires Internet access.
There are several free web tools that work on multiple devices to help you quickly design, deliver, and collect bell-ringer responses. Tools such as Socrative, Go Formative, Near Pod, Quizzizz, Get Kahoot, and Seesaw make it easy for students to quickly complete a bell ringer in a variety of ways, such as answering questions, polling, drawing, submitting photos/screenshots, and so forth. As students submit their responses, the teacher gets important assessment data in real-time. Teachers are able to quickly see what percentage of the task students answered or completed and which questions/steps students struggled with the most. Teachers can also see how much time was spent on the bell ringer and get other data. If you have enough devices for most students, then these free apps are a great option.
Browse through the Resource section on ESL Library, and consider making a Folder of bell ringers.
The following links have more bell-ringer activities: