The bellringer is often helpful to running your classroom. It gives you time to get a few things done, such as attendance and missing work. It is also very useful in helping students review material that is critical to the day's lesson.
But if you are not careful, it can take up too much of your time and reduce the time spent teaching the new content. Using too much time can be incredibly harmful to your classroom dynamic. You can end up with frustrated students, too little time spent on new content, and a rushed feeling causing you to forget to pause and evaluate the understanding of your students.
But with a few strategies, you can be sure the bellringer time is a time to review previous material without taking over your whole class. The whole process should take no more than 7-8 minutes.
These strategies have helped many of my clients gain control of their classrooms and obtain valuable instruction time.
Strategy 1: Use a Timer
I usually begin with this strategy in the fall: a simple timer that creates urgency. I prefer egg timer for its ease of use. I know there are many out there, but this one will get you started without a getting caught in the Google search vortex.
I give my students five minutes that begin promptly at the beginning of the class period. I like to display this on my whiteboard. It is clean and straightforward with nothing to distract my students.
It sets the tone that every minute is valued and that I want them to succeed, and be sure to share that with your students! Once the timer is up, we quickly go over the problems. I call on students and keep things moving along.
If the instruction takes longer, I cut the number of questions and reduce their work time to keep within my 7-8 minutes. If it consistently takes longer, see No. 5 below.
Strategy 2: Just Pick 2
This strategy is one of my favorites. I allow my students to choose any two of the problems from the problem set. I try to offer different difficulty levels for my students. For this bellringer -- reviewing literal equations -- Nos. 1 and 4 will be simpler. I would bring that to their attention and challenge them to try Nos. 2 or 3.
Amazingly, most students will choose the harder problems. I had to spend more time telling them that it was okay to pick the easier ones at first to get used to how much time they have to complete the task.
Naturally, I still had that one hour where everyone chose the easiest problems. But most kids, most the time, will pick appropriate problems for their level. If I know I need more instruction time for a given lesson, I have them pick only one question.
For most of my classes, I will choose one student for each problem to come and put their worked-out answer on the board. We always give a "thank you" to those students as a class, and everyone writes down the problem. So, even if they were not able to complete each question individually, we provide them with worked-out answers. Afterward, I take a few questions, and we move on to our lesson.
Strategy 3: Partner Work
Sometimes within a class, you have a few students less prepared than others. These students can get frustrated because they don't have the skills to complete the work and can hold up the class because they want to understand. This circumstance can often be the most frustrating!
What teacher does not want to help an eager learner? But, in the long run, this is stealing time from the goal of the day and is giving this struggling student even less time to learn new content.
I love to partner these students up with solid math students.
Make a point to always ask permission before partnering up your students. Meet your students for a quick discussion at the door -- it can be a quick 10-second conversation. "Hey, I notice Alicia was asking a lot of questions yesterday, and she wants to learn this material, can I put her near you and let her know you are willing to help?"
This strategy helps both students and can save substantial time in your classroom.
Strategy 4: Do What You Can in 4 Minutes
This strategy can frustrate students if not introduced because they will feel they were not allowed to finish.
Here is an example of how I open my class:
"I know you love to get all the problems done and you feel frustrated if they are not all done. But, today only, I don't want you to worry if you get them all done. In fact, I don't think I am going to give you enough time for anyone in the class to finish. But I want an honest effort for the four minutes I am going to give you. You can work in any order you choose."
After that, I start my timer. This strategy is similar to the pick 2, but if you have drastically different abilities in your classroom, it keeps everyone working so that the faster students don't distract the others.
Strategy 5: Set High Expectations, But Let Go of Perfectionism
I saved the hardest one for last. Hopefully, with the above strategies, you will find something that works for your students and yourself. But, the most difficult thing is to say, "They worked had, we reviewed the concepts, they didn't get everything, but we are moving forward."
Keep your bigger goal in mind. What is today's goal?
Remember, as you put more time into each day's concept, you won't need to re-teach it the next day during the bellringer. If you are losing a lot of time with the bellringer, you are in a downward cycle.
You spend extra time on the bellringer because they didn't understand it fully yesterday, so you spend less time teaching today's concept. Then tomorrow, you will have to spend too much time on the bellringer, and the cycle continues.
This cycle can stop! And you can stop it. Use the strategies above and break the cycle. You will feel better, and your students will feel better. You've got this!