In the last couple of years I have gone through some teaching position changes that I never thought would happen to me.

I taught self-contained 5th grade for three years (that included my student teaching). 

I knew nothing else, and honestly, at the time, I didn't really want to. Long story short, I moved across the state  and took a 6th grade position that I *thought* was 6th grade self-contained. Turns out not so much... 

To keep it brief, when I was hired for my 6th grade position, not only was I told I would be only teaching ELA, but I was also told there was an issue with my teaching partner situation. 

By December, I was on my 7th (YES 7TH) teaching partner. I was the only consistency our 6th graders had, but I was struggling when they were coming into my room after whoever was their math and science teacher that day. 

I had always loved Harry Wong's First Days of School, but again, my classroom management had been "manageable" until I was into this new position. 

In general, my homeroom was okay, but the second class (who had a different teacher almost every week), was making me lose my EVER LOVING MIND. I'm talking literal wrestling, yelling, not getting ANY supplies... Just shear chaos. It was miserable for all of us. 

My homeroom came back to me at the end of the day as well... and that was also a super tough transition. I knew that I had to change though and had to try and control the things I could control. This is not always easy, but I have become very reflective and flexible in my short teaching career *survival of the fittest friends. Also, I really had mostly wonderful kids, so I knew it really wasn't their fault. 

Harry Wong talks about kids needing to have something to do right when they get into class. They need structure, routine, expectations, etc. You know the drill... My instinct was morning work, but hello middle school. No time to do that and no time to grade.  

Bell Ringers were one of those things I had always heard about when I taught elementary, but never really needed at that time. In fifth grade we did morning work. This worked in self-contained for a couple of reasons:

  1. They were ALL MINE all day long. One of the biggest adjustments for me (going from elementary to middle) had been the switching of classes... and switching classes in my previous situation was SUPER tough.
  2. We formed consistent routines. If we needed to change something I could because it just affected us. 
  3. I had no copy limits at my first school (THE WORST). Morning work, and even some bell ringers take copies, and I just didn't have that option at my new school. 
  4. I could "grade" the morning work when I had time. There were a million other things that my 5th graders cared about being graded than their morning work. My 6th graders only had me for ELA, so they knew if I wasn't grading consistently they didn't have to try that hard. 
So, I created ELA Bell Ringers, and swear I'm not product pushing, they changed my life. Here's why:
  • I made them all notebooks that had a section for bell ringers only. I spent a weekend buying the composition notebooks, making the tabs, and gluing them in. 

  • I modeled the heck out of how bell ringers should look: 
    • I knew that I would probably have to slow down to a crawl in December to teach my 6th graders, but nothing else was working so I was willing. 
    • I wanted the bell ringers to take 3, maybe 4 minutes... but I knew that it would take a week or two of 10-15 minute modeling each day to get to that point. So I did. 
    • In theory, I wanted it all to fit on one page, but knew that wouldn't happen with some of my #hotmessexpress students, so when I counted out the pages for Bell Ringers (yes, I counted the exact number of pages for each week) I gave a front AND back page for each week of bell ringers. 
    • So for a school year, they would need about about 38 pages (just to be safe). 
  • In the picture, you can kind of see how I graded, and this was HUGE for my 6th graders, and simple for me. 
    • I learned quickly that I had to be diligent about grading or they wouldn't do it.
  • Eventually, I didn't even have to check. I started letting the first 3-4 students who did quality bell ringers work, grade their classmates. They would just stamp for me. It even made some of my super reluctant workers get theirs done, because even 6th graders want to grade! 
  • Eventually I just bought some stamper markers (instead of initialing because you have no idea how much time that wastes) and then it was really fast! 
  • I am honestly not looking for "real" instruction here. I don't want you to think Bell Ringers are a waste of time, but I found that when I did morning work, I WANTED them to finish the work because it was very much a review of what we were learning. That means sometimes I HAD to teach the morning work (ugh). Not my goal. 
  • With the Bell Ringers, they teach the kids something, but nothing requires me to "instruct," because I need that time for attendance and such.
  • The Bell Ringers were the same, but varied ha! What this means, is that they did the same format every week, but the type of Bell Ringer changed every day and the content changed every week. They didn't get bored, but they always knew what to do. This is what a week of bell ringers looks like. 

  • These are my 7th and 8th grade Bell Ringers. There's a couple reasons they are designed like this. 
  • First of all I am teaching 7th and 8th grade this year. I don't want them to have the exact same bell ringers both years. 
  • I am at a Core Knowledge school that has specific root words, vocabulary, spelling, and also foreign phrases our students have to learn. I plan to do it pretty much the same as I did in 6th with just some change in content. AND I have to take attendance every hour (LORD HELP ME) so I need these in place from week one. 
Here is a week view of each of these. 

What were the results of implementing bell ringers last year ?
  • My kids got to work right away
  • I had kids coming straight into class (without wrestling, touching, being all around insane- that's a win in middle school)
  • They were learning! 
  • I also had to make ZERO copies 
  • Grading was simple and it guaranteed a grade every week. 
I also realized that my morning routine was kind of a mess in 6th grade last year. 

Being the oldest students (we were 6th grade in an elementary school) we had specials first. Not usually a big deal, except my students had to put their stuff away, eat breakfast in the classroom, walk to specials (HUGE school so it took us like 3-4 minutes) all in a matter of about 15 minutes because specials were at 8:15!

All the other teachers just had their students JUST eat breakfast. That's all nice and dandy, but then my students were crazy, because they would shovel breakfast into their mouths so they could talk to friends until we took the 4 minute walk to specials. I HATED it. 

So I wanted bell ringers that made them sit down, turn their brain on, but not impede on breakfast time. Basically I wanted bell ringers that took about 30 seconds just for routine, but also kind of taught them something :). 

Only my home room did these, I just gave them notebook paper in a folder, and their folder was on their desk before they left for home each day. Here is what these look like and I'm not kidding when I say it took them about 30 seconds to a minute each morning but they actually learned some roots and affixes: 

Why not do something like silent reading? 
  • If you know me, you know I am a HUGE advocate for creating life long readers by using the philosophies as outlined by Donalyn Miller in Reading in the Wild. In 6th grade, I still did "Daily 5" even though we only had two rounds, so my students read silently for 20-40 minutes each day. 
  • In 7th and 8th grade we will still have at least 15 minutes of reading at the end of class each day. 
  • That 5 minutes of Bell Ringer time is precious, but I've learned that having my students coming into class at the start and reading right away doesn't work for me. I'm not saying that's the case for everyone, but not me. 
  • I want that reading time to do conferences and groups (and even reading sometimes), and if I am spending it getting kids settled, taking attendance, and other stuff, I don't get to be a part of that reading time. 
  • I actually remember my 6th grade teacher having us read at the start of class. I was, and always have been a reader, but I seriously can't remember ever actually reading during that time. I spent those 10 minutes getting my homework out and watching her come to my desk stamp it and "pretending to read" because 10 minutes just didn't seem like enough. 
  • It also just seemed like something for us to do until she could stamp the homework and take attendance. The point is, I didn't see the reading as the goal for her. 
  • If you have to choose between Bell Ringers and reading: CHOOSE READING, but if you need a structure for the start of class, and still have time for reading, then Bell Ringers are seriously life changing. 
I know that sometimes you hat to commit to something, for by clicking the links below you can try each for free for a few weeks:

Middle Grade (4th-6th): 3 Free Weeks
7th Grade: Downlowad Preview for 2 Free Weeks
8th Grade: Download Preview for 2 Free Weeks
Roots and Affixes: Download Preview for 2 Free Weeks

Thanks for sticking with me friends. 



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  3. I just discovered your blog and I know I will be visiting regularly! This is my first year teaching 5th-8th grade ELA at a Core Knowledge school so I'm excited to see what treasures you have for me! I'm a little bummed I didn't find your bell-ringers before I found the ones I ended up purchasing. I love that yours has the Core Knowledge aspect added in already. I'll have to plan to budget for it next year if I end up with the same position. Thanks for your blog!

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