George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

Bell Ringer Exercises

Because of pressure to teach bell-to-bell -- the pedagogical equivalent of force-feeding geese to make foie gras -- many classrooms now start with bell work, short exercises that students complete while the instructor attends to attendance and other administrative chores. Journal prompts and concept questions can focus students on nutritious academic content and initiate a positive tempo for the next 90 minutes of class.

With the help of graduate student David Fictum, I collected several creative, practical and entertaining exercises that can function as bell ringers or sponge activities. Here they are:


Education über-blogger Vicki Davis writes 20 things she is thankful for in a joy journal, citing research studies indicating that this practice produces greater long-term happiness than winning the lottery -- serious happy. Some of my students volunteered to write joy journals before each class this semester. After five minutes, I ask if anyone in the class wishes to share good news. Each announcement earns a 3-2-1 clap.

Lateral Thinking

Brain Food lists number and logic puzzles. Even better are its lateral thinking puzzles.

Situation: A man marries 20 women in his village but isn't charged with polygamy. How come?
Answer: He's a priest -- he's marrying them to other people, not to himself.

Pop Culture

"Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations," according to TVTropes, a wiki that houses hundreds of these figurative concepts. In the tempting fate trope, for example, the hero says, "At least it's not raining." An instant later, she's drenched. Have students identify horror movie or police procedural tropes, then reveal the answers from TVTropes to see how many they selected.

Challenge students to deduce whether a story is true, a scam or an urban legend, using scenarios featured in TruthorFiction, Hoax Busters and Snopes. Despite video evidence, Bruce Lee never played ping pong with nunchaku -- but he could have.


Like its cousin, Daily Oral Language, Education World's Every-Day Edits features a new error-filled text for students to diagnose and rewrite every day of the school year. An answer key is included. Animals A to Z is the primary grade version: "The skills emphasized in the series are those found on all standardized tests in grades 2 and 3: simple word usage, end-of-sentence punctuation, comma placement in a series, basic spelling, and others."

Reading and Writing

For an entire school year, ninth graders in Sarah Gross' and Jonathan Olsen's humanities classes at High Technology High School in New Jersey started each day by reading The New York Times and composing current event essays. Watch the students in this inspiring video talk about how much they learned from the experience.

On the hilarious Writing Prompts That Don’t Suck Tumblr blog, prompt #570 challenges students to write "a story about a massive cat colony and the one human who knows about its existence." In contrast, WriteSource categorizes more orthodox writing topics ("the hardest thing I've ever done") by grade level.

Geography and History's geography questions for grades 6-12 align with the Common Core State Standards. Citing the Common Core's emphasis on cultural literacy, the site also offers short cultural literacy quizzes for every day of the school year. History questions abound. (Classical civilization hangman, anyone?) contains blank outline maps of every country, province, state and territory in the world.

Clever Bell Ringer Procedures

The Pennsylvania State Education Association describes a novel way for students to sign into class. "Write each child's name on a strip of tag board, laminate it, and glue a magnet to the back. Each day, post a question and possible answers on a whiteboard. Students can 'sign in' by placing their magnets in the appropriate answer column."

Patty Kohler's round table review requires minimal teacher effort. "I have students get out a sheet of paper and write a list of numbers from one to ten. Then I instruct them to put one important idea from the previous lecture on the first line. The paper is passed to the person on the left. Each time the paper is passed, the person receiving the paper writes a different idea. After a few minutes I call time, and the papers go back to the original owner. This represents a collection of ideas for future review and study."

Finishing Touches

Play Chopin to signal that your classroom demands different behaviors than the hallway. Always locate bell work instructions in the same place. Save the ones that students appreciate the most, the ones that they'll be glad to remember.

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Rosemary Larkin's picture

Thanks for the ideas, Todd.

I want to echo Michael's thoughts, and caution teachers that StudentNewsDaily does not try terribly hard to disguise their conservative slant. I may still use it with my high school students, but only after carefully vetting the information contained in each article. The extra work I would have to do to utilize that site makes it much less appealing.

moumita de roy's picture

Hello Todd sir,
I can't be more thankful to you for this article. this piece is immensely resourceful not only in terms of the ideas you have dished out but also the links. will definitely use all the ideas and will continue to use the one which click better.

I would definitely like to share here one of the activities that i use as bell ringers and it is rapid fire. This is basically the recapitulation of what my students have come across in the previous classes. one example is they one after another, they stand and frame a sentence on a word they have already learned. or i draw some pictures of the board and each one chooses one of those and shares what comes to his or her mind when they see that picture. These activities work so well. these not only churns their their language use through nurturing the intellectual faculty but also fills the classroom with laughter, banter, fun and humane reflections

Cinthia Marquez's picture
Cinthia Marquez
Sixth grade teacher in Argentina

How interesting and motivating! I'm delighted with everything you share. smart, precise, challenging!

i'm a real fan !

Lindsey's picture
7th gr science teacher in Seattle, WA

So glad this popped up into my feed! What a handy compilation! We have 10-minute "check in" with homeroom teachers at the beginning of the day, and some of these would be great overall starters to the school day - I love the Joy Journal!

Another cool option for schools where the kids have 1-to-1 internet-enabled devices is "Google A Day" - - I'm planning to use that one some this year.

Swms's picture

Cool photos are great for journal prompts. My middle school students love them! Tons are available on Pinterest. I keep a running PowerPoint of pictures found so that I can pull them up easily as bell ringers or as a filler when kids finish something faster than I anticipate.

Thanks for writing this!

tenk's picture

We always had morning journal time. Love the daily grammar exercises with an answer key. Students could then use it to peer and/or self correct. Wishing that the links in Edutopia articles could be a darker color. Small type font and their light color make them difficult to see

Asma's picture
ICT Teacher

Creative Ideas,
Thanks for sharing, I specially like round table review idea and am going to try it with my students. First time to hear about bell ringer term, I do such activities or exercises in my classroom but I didn't know that its called bell ringer and my school already ring bell between classes, I used such activities to start the lesson and gather their attention. I would definitely like to share here one of the activities that i use as bell ringers, when my students come to my and log on their PCs they start one level fast type game, another one is that I show them colourful picture related to the last lesson and they start sharing what comes their mind when they see that picture, very useful and it works with them.

Kristen Franklin's picture
Kristen Franklin
Managing Editor at Edutopia

Thank you, Syd, for your feedback and sharing your concerns; we've looked into it, and decided to remove the resource from the post.

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