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by Erica Fischer on Oct 18, 2014

What Are Effective Goals and Formats for “Bell work”?

Before the #langchat “bell” could ring, participants were logging onto Twitter and counting down the minutes! Last Thursday, Langchatters met to discuss “bell work.” They worked to define “bell ringers,” discussed how they fit into a typical class period, shared their thoughts on the importance of routine and relevance for a given unit, and offered ‘fun and engaging’ examples of “bell work.”

We would like to thank everyone who contributed to the conversation last week! We also extend a big thank you to our moderators, Kris (@KrisClimer), Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Amy (@alenord), Laura (@SraSpanglish) and Cristy (@msfrenchteach), for moderating a discussion filled with lots of important questions about and reflections on “bell work.”

What Are Effective Goals and Formats for “Bell work”?What is a “Bell Ringer”?

Langchatters began by attempting to define bell ringers. Some instructors said they “are activities students are expected to begin at the sound of a bell” (@Sralandes). Other instructors described them as tools to get students into a target language or language-learning mindset when they enter the classroom. For example, @CoLeeSensei defined them as “[something] to…. get [students] into my TL frame of mind.” These activities can set students’ language-learning gears in motion, as one participant noted: “For me, the warm-up task … gets learners’ gears grindin’.” Some participants wrote that bell ringers have too often been viewed as forms of “busy work.” For example, @SECottrell said, “I’ve seen bell ringers used too much as busy work to keep kids quiet while teacher does [something. I] would love to hear [about] communicative uses.” @CatherineKU72 pointed out that “[bell] ringers come in many styles and purposes,” adding, “Busy work is not something my students see.” @CoLeeSensei said, “I don’t think of [bell ringers] as ‘busy’ but as ‘getting ready,’” and @SraRoar also felt that “[bell ringers] should be communicative and engaging, not just time-fillers.”

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When do your “bell ringers” start? During transition time or after the “bell” has rung?

Instructors shared their thoughts on when bell ringers really start. @CatherineKU72 likes to give her students time to take a breath between classes and does not make them deeply engage in an activity before the bell rings: “My thoughts [are that students] need 5 minutes between classes to relax [and] process. I respect that down time, but have music, images to entice.” Other instructors want to get students into bell work before the bell rings. For example, @ProfeCochran said, “I really prefer to have something that engages them even before the bell rings.” @SenoraWienhold agreed, writing, “[My students] are expected to start [the] task as soon as they enter. They should be started when bell rings.” @Sralandes notes that it can be important to consider student level. For her “high level kids,” bell work begins right away, but, for most classes, it begins after the bell.

Do you use “bell ringers” everyday?

Many participants said that they do use bell ringers everyday. @Sralandes stressed her regular use of bell work, writing that she uses them “EVERY class.” For @axamcarnes, students’ language level determines the frequency with which he uses bell work: “I use bell ringers every single day [with Spanish] 1 but not with [Spanish] 3 honors.” Although many instructors claimed to use bell work on a daily basis, they sometimes make exceptions when students have an exam. One participant said, “Yes, I have a warm-up every single day unless we have a speaking quiz (in pairs) which can take up the whole class period.” @cbdamasco wrote, “I have a [bell ringer] everyday except perhaps on a test day, but [I] may use a warm up as a way to start a review.”

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Do you use a routine “bell ringer”?

Many instructors seem to vary the form that bell ringers take but routinely use one to start class. @KrisClimer wrote, “I don’t have a routine [bell ringer] per se, but do use something to engage, recap, open the lesson.” @SraSpanglish said, “I’m with @SenoraWienhold [about] having a routine for each day–that way [students experience the] variety [and] interest [and] comfort of routine.” In general, @MmeLohse felt that routine use of bell ringers can serve as a source of comfort: “I think that [students] find comfort in [bell ringers] because they give a sense of structure. Things can be varied and switched up after.”

How much of the class time is the “bell ringer”?

Instructors had very different ideas about how much class time bell ringers should take up. @tmsaue1 said that a bell ringer should “technically [not take up any class time],” adding, “[It] should stop when the bell RINGS.” Most participants seemed to feel that bell ringers should occupy between 5 to 10 minutes of class (@alvin_irwin: “five [minutes more or less]”; @CoLeeSensei: “We’re [doing] 5-10 minutes – [Sometimes] I ask them to go longer to press them to go ‘deeper’ into their [conversations]”). One instructor said that her bell ringers usually take “at least 15 minutes, often more like 20, but they’re into it, so…” A couple of participants expressed surprise: @tmsaue1 wrote, “[That] sounds like the first activity of the class to me,” and @KrisClimer said, “15-20 [minutes]? Wow, that would be third to nearly half of my class!” While these comments encourage limiting time devoted to bell ringers, @SECottrell commented, “[If] it’s a communicative task, it should last as long as it needs to for them to do it.

Do “bell ringers” always need to relate to theme?

Langchatters reflected on whether bell ringers must be somehow related to a unit theme. Some participants felt that theme relevance was simply irrelevant! @CoLeeSensei said, “For me communication or interpretation trumps theme.” @KrisClimer agreed: “As long as [students are] doing something in the TL, I’m happy.” @crwmsteach added that it is “[sometimes] nice to have non-related [activities, such as a] current event.” As several participants mentioned use of current events, @connolly335 shared some useful resources: “Euronews has video and text by topic. The RTVE Telediario 1 en 4′ is great too.” @SraSpanglish provided another reason why theme relevance should not be a main focus: “I want to hit as many kids’ interests as possible in any given lesson, so a nonthematic activity allows more variety.”

Some instructors disagreed, viewing theme relevance as important for a variety of reasons. @SECottrell noted that using bell ringers related to themes can help teachers maximize use of short class periods: “I think I disagree, I think keeping it to the theme helps discount our time problem.” @tmsaue1 added, “[A bell ringer] doesn’t have to relate but seems like a lost opportunity otherwise.” Finally, @MmeLohse wrote that use of theme-related bell ringers can facilitate student learning: “I think that trying to relate [them] to a theme gives more [students] a chance for success because they have a context.”

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What is ‘fun and engaging’ for “bell work”?

#Langchat participants shared their ideas for ‘fun and engaging’ bell work. These included:

  • Applications for technological devices (@magisterb480: “Because we have 1:1 iPads I review material with Socrative, Geddit, or Kahoot. [This] gets the [students] motivated, engaged [and] ready to learn.)
  • News clips (One instructor: “Lately, we watch a 1-2 [minute] news segment from a French TV station (TF1-13j). We LOVE it so far! I use same segment for 3 [levels] now.”)
  • Slideshows (@CoLeeSensei: “Sometimes I just use a unit slideshow to ‘visually’ set the stage [and] get them ready to go; @SECottrell: “I love using a slideshow to hook students!”)
  • Catchy songs and music videos (@SraSpanglish: “I just really want my kids to get HOOKED [and] catchy songs do it every time [and] they reinforce vocab [and] structures”; One instructor: “Sometimes, I play [appropriate] music [videos] before class. [Students] tune in then sometimes.”)
  • Memes (@alenord: “[Love] to use TL memes and have students write comments in TL about them or TL hashtags.”)
  • “Secret Person of the Day” (@tmsaue1: “[Have] a secret person of the day (assign a student) [and] ask students to find out who it is through asking questions.”)

No matter what activities you use, participants stressed making bell ringers purposeful activities. @tmsaue1 said, “Bell ringers are engaging when they have purpose, [when students] see value in them for the rest of the learning for the day.” @tmsaue1 added that “bell ringers also function as the magical transporter that [takes] the students into the new language [and] culture environment.” He further noted, “[If] the [bell ringer] is a conjugation chart or a translation worksheet, you are not transporting students anywhere.” @crwmsteach pointed out that different activities will be engaging for different groups, so instructors should take their students’ interests into account: “Fun [and] engaging depends on class makeup; [a picture], song or video clip that motivates one class could totally distract another.”

Do you recommend any “bell-ringers” with comprehensible input (CI)?

Finally, Langchatters suggested a couple bell ringers with comprehensible input.
@KrisClimer said, “I like the well-chosen song, with visual [or] video to help.”
@crwmsteach offered another option: “[You can give students] proverbs to figure out; words are CI but meaning is a fun challenge.”

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Langchatters described bell ringers not as “busy work” but as activities to set the stage for class and engage students once, or even before, the bell has rung. They generally favored the idea of routine implementation of bell ringers and differed in opinion over whether or not bell ringers should be tied to a theme. Participants offered a variety of ‘fun and engaging’ ideas for bell work. No matter what kind of bell work you implement, they stressed the importance of making it purposeful!

Thank You!

Thank you again to all those who “attended” #langchat last Thursday and to our moderators, Kris (@KrisClimer), Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Amy (@alenord), Laura (@SraSpanglish) and Cristy (@msfrenchteach) for directing a reflection-filled hour.

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. If you have a topic you’re eager to discuss, send in your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!


Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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